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(Image courtesy of Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners)

15 YEARS IN THE MAKING: Revised plans to build 19 townhouses and 81 apartments on the northern side of Palmer Square along Paul Robeson Place were received favorably at a Princeton Regional Planning Board hearing last Thursday. The new façade, architects say, was conceived to better accommodate residents of the John-Witherspoon neighborhood that lies directly north of the site across Paul Robeson Place. Residents have complained that any development at that site will create a "wall" between the neighborhood and the central business district.
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Revised Palmer Square Housing Plan Viewed Favorably by Planning Board

Matthew Hersh

The proposed luxury housing that has been a point of contention for residents living in the John-Witherspoon neighborhood moved forward last week when the Princeton Regional Planning Board heard plans that would make the development "friendlier" to the streetscape.

An updated plan to build luxury housing on the northern end of Palmer Square along Paul Robeson Place was viewed favorably at Thursday night's Township Hall presentation. Although the new plan was not formally submitted, as is expected in the near future, it is intended to change the scope and size of a townhouse complex that received initial planning board approval nearly 15 years ago.

But since that time, while battling with the Borough about placement and number of affordable housing units in that development, the developer, Palmer Properties, LLC, decided to make some changes. Plans have increased the number of dwellings to 100 from the approved 97 in 1990. However, in the original approval, all 97 units were to be townhouses. Under the new proposal, there would be only 19 townhouses and the remaining 81 units would be apartments – most of which would be single-level flats.

The façade changes along Paul Robeson Place have apparently resulted from neighborhood concerns that feared any development there would cut off the neighborhood from in-town activity and effectively create a "wall" that would prove to be a dividing line between affluent luxury housing and a middle-class, well-established neighborhood. As even some board members admitted, the original plan would not have been good for the neighborhood.

Board Planning Director Lee Solow affirmed that sentiment, observing that the façade, under this new proposal, has changed for the better, and calling the view more "friendly, more inviting," and something that had been a "struggle" for the landscape subcommittee of the planning board. Nevertheless, this new proposal features more open space with wider entrance points for pedestrians.

David Daines, the attorney representing the developer who also worked on the original 1990 ad hoc committee in putting together a building application, asked the planning board members to view the new plans as "a possible alternative" to what was originally approved. "What we've done is we have tried to address a lot of the concerns that were raised in the ad hoc committee and [to] present an alternative."

The 1990 approval, however, along with the 2003 developer's agreement with Princeton Borough regarding the number of affordable housing units within the development, remains intact, Mr. Daines said, adding that he and his client are "fully prepared to go forward with that."

The 10 affordable housing rental units, Mr. Daines said, are in the process of being positioned and it is not yet clear whether they will be part of the new development or scattered throughout current Palmer Square structures. The original 1990 approval required no affordable units. Borough Council's agreement to provide 10 such rentals was the stipulation to be met if Palmer Square were to increase the units from 97 to 100.

The 10 affordable units will not completely satisfy the Borough's requirement for affordable housing mandated under the Council for Affordable Housing (COAH). On December 20, COAH mobilized stricter requirements to provide affordable housing for all new developments. Under those provisions, for every eight market units, one has to be an affordable unit. The requirement, known as a "growth share," would call for 12 to 13 affordable rentals. As such, when this project gets built, those two to three other units will have to be built somewhere within the Borough's affordable housing plan.

Under the agreement with the Borough, the affordability of those 10 units is finite. "At some point, the restrictive pricing or the affordable housing limitation expires," the developer's Mr. Daines said, when addressing COAH requirements.

Mr. Daines said that he and his client will submit two more architectural plans delineating traffic circulation and landscaping and will "hopefully" file a complete application in May.

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