Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 4
 
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
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Board Gives Nod to Senior Housing Change; Final Township Vote Scheduled for Monday

Matthew Hersh

For a brief moment Thursday, it looked as though a proposed zoning change to accommodate a wider age demographic on a 20-acre Township parcel was going to hit a stumbling block as the Regional Planning Board of Princeton weighed in on housing policy, the merits of age-restricted housing, and developing environmentally sensitive land.

But after all concerns were aired, the board voted nine to three to endorse amending the zoning provisions for the Township’s RSC-2 district, an area that covers a three-lot 21-acre Bunn Drive site which, for over six years, has been identified in the zoning code for market rate senior housing.

The amendment’s signature component would lower the existing age minimum there to 55, down from age 62. The amendment was crafted after J. Robert Hillier, an architect and likely developer of the site, addressed Township Committee in August 2007, urging the Township to widen the age demographic, reflecting market trends. The municipal planning department, after consulting with Mr. Hillier and after several public hearings, returned to the governing body with a proposed ordinance introduced earlier this month that, in addition to lowering the age mandate, would also provide residential preference for current and former Princeton residents, as well as select municipal employees.

Mr. Hillier, a shareholder of Town Topics Inc., is the contract purchaser of the Bunn Drive parcel. The land is currently owned by William and Laura Lowe, principals of the Short Hills-based Chatham Capital Investors, LLC. The Lowes’ most recent attempt in developing their land ended in 2006 when developer K. Hovnanian backed out of a Planning Board-approved plan to build 140, age 62-and-up, units. The developer’s attorney cited declines in the 62-and-over market in withdrawing from that project.

The Hillier plan outlines 158 age-restricted units developed on roughly seven acres of the site, with 12 units designated for low- and moderate-income residents, and 24 units sidelined for middle-income residents. While no formal application has been submitted, the discussion has set off a heated discourse over the long-stated need for senior housing in the Township, and the environmental sensitivity of the Princeton Ridge, where the Bunn Drive parcel is located.

Thursday’s Planning Board meeting did not depart from that ongoing discussion. With any zoning district change, the Planning Board must sign off on the measure before sending it back to the governing body for a final vote, slated for this Monday.

The board will send the zoning ordinance back to Township Committee with various minor recommendations, but one potential change could actually lower the number of units allowed on the site. The Hillier plan outlines 158 units, but in 2001, when the Township placed senior overlay zones over the Bunn site, as well as a nearby, 30-acre Mt. Lucas Drive site, residents opposed to development along the Ridge agreed to cap units on Bunn Drive at 150, according to Township resident Tom White, who was part of that resident campaign.

Township attorney Edwin Schmierer was not immediately available for comment, but Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand, also a member of the Planning Board, said Thursday that the agreement could lower the number of units on the Bunn site.

The three board members voting against the measure took exception to a recommendation in the Princeton Community Master Plan that says the sites identified for senior housing should carry at most 75 units. Board member Marvin Reed, a former Princeton Borough mayor, defended raising the number of units, saying that those estimates, given in 1996, “didn’t seriously take into account senior housing needs.” Municipal planner Lee Solow backed that assertion, adding that the 75-unit recommendation was not a meant to serve as a “cap.”

Board member and Borough Councilwoman Wendy Benchley argued for increased environmental considerations, urging board members to vote in favor of mandating a U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver rating. Township’s introduced ordinance only mandates LEED certification, but not the more stringent, silver rating. “This is a very dense development for the Ridge,” Ms. Benchley said, “and it veers away from environmental concerns and makes housing concerns more important.”

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Princeton Township Committee is expected to cast a final vote on proposed changes to the Township’s RSC-2 zoning district this Monday, January 28, at 7 p.m., at Township Hall.

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