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Board Spurns Senior Housing Bid

Matthew Hersh

A proposal to build age-restricted housing along Bunn Drive failed to receive a recommendation from the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB) at last Wednesday's meeting.

The failure to win a referral, however, will not prevent the application for 140 units in five three-story garden-apartment style buildings from going to the Regional Planning Board of Princeton, possibly sometime in September, for final review.

At the hearing, representatives of K. Hovnanian, the planned developer of "Four Seasons," heard a litany of reasons that led SPRAB representatives to find the proposal inappropriate for the area.

The 20.9-acre tract, on which Four Seasons would lie, presents a geophysical challenge that would require extensive blasting due to the rocky soil and bedrock in the region, and the sloping nature of the site in general.

Additionally, the site straddles the Transco pipeline and the 85-foot wide corridor that surrounds it. Any blasting would have to be coordinated and overseen by Elizabethtown Water Co.

SPRAB Chairman William Wolfe said that while he has "seen a lot of improvements" to the general design ‹ including one reducing it from nine buildings to five ‹ the buildings themselves are "insensitive" to the nature of the site.

"It's very clear to me that those buildings are designed to sit on flat grounds, rather than being designed to sit on a slope and take advantage of that slope," he said.

As a result, Mr. Wolfe added, the Hovnanian proposal is calling for building on "ground that is notoriously environmentally sensitive." Mr. Wolfe added that items such as additional retaining walls could be discounted if the buildings were designed to meet the grade of the terrain rather than "bulldoze the hell out of the land" to accommodate the complex.

"I find these really environmentally offensive," Mr. Wolfe said, with several other SPRAB members concurring.

Shirleen Roberts, Hovnanian's attorney, said the developer has "done a lot" to work with the site constraints, reminding the board that while the entire site is 20.9 acres, the actual building area only comprises about 17 acres. To do a "meandering plan," she said, would require the developer to spread out the complex.

"It's impossible to do that and provide sufficient density which we need to be able to work on the site," she said.

She said that the costs incurred from spreading out the site would make the project more difficult to build, and that Hovnanian had already cuts costs by proposing fewer, albeit, larger buildings.

Citing results from various market surveys, Ms. Roberts said her firm found that seniors 62 and over tend to want to be in a "home" setting rather than an apartment.

"Why would people move from a three-bedroom ranch to an apartment?," she said.

After the meeting, Jefferson Road resident Roz Denard said she was surprised that the Hovnanian proposal had received as much resistance from SPRAB as it had. "We've done all this: the buildings had been changed to suit all of the complaints and all the criticism."

A founder of Community Without Walls, an organization dedicated to ensuring that seniors can age "in place" without having to move to the fringes of the community, Ms. Denard said she found it puzzling that SPRAB had revisited the initial concerns offered after Hovnanian presented a concept plan to the Regional Planning Board of Princeton in April 2004. "What are they doing? We're past this stage," she added.

A former Township Committeewoman, Ms. Denard cited the priority long put forth by Committee to provide more senior housing in the Township. Currently there are no market rate senior housing units in the Township.

"I was disappointed with the reaction of SPRAB, particularly in light of the number of years we have been trying to get senior housing in the community," said Committeeman Bill Enslin in a separate interview.

He added that the zoning of the site, in this case, the Township's Office Research Zone with a Residential Senior Community District overlay zone, accommodates the housing. Mr. Enslin also cited the nearby 606 New Jersey Transit bus, and the Princeton Shopping Center in his defense of the proposed locale of Four Seasons. Mr. Enslin said the environmental issues involved with the site would be carefully monitored. However, Ms. Denard suggested that additional obstacles could be addressed in the application's pre-construction phases. "The time has come, the changes have been made. Let's move on."

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