Property building rights, neighborhood preservation, and worries about increased stormwater flooding all took center stage last Wednesday as residents of the Littlebrook section of Princeton Township voiced their discontent with new development going up throughout the neighborhood.
And while this has been an ongoing concern of several neighborhoods throughout the Princeton community, the crowd of concerned residents, through a discussion organized by the joint-municipal Princeton Environmental Commission, were house specific: a 6,000 square-foot rebuild on a 1.75-acre lot at 73 North Littlebrook Road.
Wesley Derbyshire of Clover Lane, who can see the KP Burke Builders LLC home from his home a block away, suggested placing a cap on square-footage commensurate with the number of bedrooms in a newly-constructed house, while recognizing that such limits, if construction falls within the municipal zoning mandates, could infringe a builder's property rights.
"Where are we going to stop?" he asked, emphasizing not only neighborhood appearance, but also environmental impact. "When is enough enough? I think this Commission really needs to work with the Township Committee and pass new laws that help us."
Mr. Derbyshire is not alone in his concern, as the Environmental Commission discussion drew nearly 20 of his neighbors. Moreover, the issues concerning residents of Littlebrook and other parts of Princeton Borough and Township are also on the minds of suburbanites throughout the country. As the pre- and post-World War II housing stock reaches an age where a property owner can either invest significant monies toward rehabilitation, or simply tear down the aging structure and start anew, builders like Burke, Barsky Homes LLC, and private homeowners are finding opportunities to put up modern structures, all in compliance with the existing zoning code.
Kyle Burke, who oversees the project at 73 North Littlebrook, told Town Topics last week that new builders like his family's firm are unfairly targeted, pointing out that what they are doing conforms to zoning code, and that homes like the $2.5 million Littlebrook home are salable, since the market dictates what some homeowners want these days.
But Littlebrook residents have experienced flooding from a strained Harry's Brook and fear that an increase of impervious surfaces will only exacerbate a flooding problem that, Township officials have conceded, could remain at mark, but will likely never improve. KP Burke, for its part, has altered its building plan to divert stormwater runoff directly into storm drains, rather than having it flow into an existing drainage ditch.
Then there is the issue of neighborhood character. Barbara Trelstad, the Borough Council liaison to the Environmental Commission, said that these 1950s-era developments are indeed historic, and implied that neighboring homesteads should remain in character with each other.
"We have housing stock in this community torn down for these McMansions that is going to disappear, and it is historicyes, it was built in 1950, but we are going to lose that era, an amazing era, in our community," she said.
While 73 North Littlebrook is located in the Carnassa Park development of Littlebrook, a neighboring development, the Deer Path/Clover Lane district, is being considered by the Township's Historic Preservation Commission for historic designation.
And although those homes are viewed as potentially historic for their modernist style of architecture, some homes from the same era, Ms. Trelstad said, are "just nice, 1950s, split-level houses."
Vicky Bergman, the Township Committee liaison to the Commission, said maintaining a sense of individualized neighborhoods is important: "Community and neighborhood lifestyle and look, feel, is something that really makes Princeton what it is," but she added that if limits were to be put into place, residents would have to look not only at what their neighbors are doing on their properties, but at what could be done on their own properties as well.
The Environmental Commission is expected to draft a letter to various municipal entities citing the issues raised. Commission Chairman David Breithaupt urged residents to appear before Township Committee to express their concerns.
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