Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 24
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
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Planning Board Grants Approvals For Hillier Senior Housing Project

Anne Levin

A preliminary site plan for Copperwood, the senior housing development proposed for Princeton Ridge, has been unanimously approved by the Regional Planning Board. Architect and developer J. Robert Hillier, a Town Topics shareholder, was given the go-ahead to proceed with the 153-unit Bunn Drive project at a special meeting last Thursday.

Scheduled to open in the fall of 2012, the 55-and-older community will offer units for rent instead of for sale, which was the original plan. The units will range from 718 to 1,296 square feet and are expected to range in price from $1,900 to $3,600 a month. Twelve of the units will be affordable housing.

While there is senior affordable housing in Princeton, Copperwood marks the first market-rate development in the area. Several plans for senior housing in the Township have fallen through in recent years. The Copperwood project has been subjected to delays due mostly to a three-year-old lawsuit over zoning between the Township and local environmentalists. That lawsuit was settled earlier this year.

“This is a thrill for us, and we’re very excited about it,” Mr. Hillier said this week. “It’s a real example of sustainable design on everybody’s part. There is no housing like this in Princeton and there is no design like this anywhere within 100 miles of Princeton. What we’re doing is enabling people who have spent their lives in Princeton to downsize and continue to live here. They have never been able to do that before in this quality of environment.”

At the meeting, Daniel Harris of People for the Princeton Ridge commended Mr. Hillier for addressing the group’s concerns in a revised plan. Wendy Mager, president of Friends of Princeton Open Space, also expressed her support for the plan but added she would like to see a portion of the land deeded to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

The history of trying to build senior housing on the 21-acre site known as the Lowe tract goes back to 2005, when builder K. Hovnanian first received approval. But Hovnanian pulled out of the deal, allowing Mr. Hillier to proceed with a plan for a project with a smaller footprint. Construction of Copperwood will disturb 18 percent of the site, while the original Hovnanian plan would have disturbed 77 percent of the site, he said. A total of 396 trees will be removed, to be replaced with 241 trees.

Plans for Copperwood call for five buildings, two with three floors and three with four stories. Small walkways, gardens and piazzas will separate the buildings. The ground-floor units will have private patios. Other units will look out into the woods or face gardens. The buildings’ exterior will be an olive gray green, to blend in with the wooded surroundings. Walls facing the inside will be a shade of yellow.

Among the amenities are a concierge, a cafe with a lounge, a health club, private meeting rooms, and a bicycle storage room. Sustainable design features include sod roofs to harvest rainwater for irrigation and toilets, semi-pervious driveways and walkways, energy efficient lighting, and environmentally-friendly food waste disposers.

Mr. Hillier told the Planning Board that the project currently has a waiting list of 75 parties. Leases will be for one, three, or five-year periods.

The complex will include a parking garage and outdoor parking. A total of 299 spaces will be available for tenants and their guests. Planning officials expressed concerns about the number of guest spaces, as well as the maintenance of the road into the development when there is snow and ice on the ground. Parking is planned to accommodate electric cars.

To protect the owners of the land as well as his company, Mr. Hillier requested that previous approvals granted to the Hovnanian firm remain in place until approvals from other agencies are obtained. The Planning Board voted 6-2 to allow the approval to revert back to Hovnanian should the Hillier project fall through.

Two residents voiced concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting about an emergency access road and its proximity to one of the resident’s property. Tom White of Mount Lucas Road suggested that the Township ask American Water if that company’s access road could be used as the complex’s emergency access road. But attorney Mark Solomon, who is Mr. Hillier’s lawyer, said that post-9/11 security would likely prevent such an arrangement.

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