Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 19
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
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For Housing Advocates, a Time to Rejoice

Matthew Hersh

Nearly 10 years after a housing plan submitted to the joint-municipal planning department sparked a philosophical, environmental, and developmental debate over market rate housing for senior citizens, the Princeton Regional Planning Board Thursday night approved a plan that will be viewed as a positive start for housing advocates.

The 49-unit development, to be built along a 30-acre, wooded tract, lodged between Mt. Lucas Road and Route 206, just northeast of Redding Circle, has been a long hard fight, but something of a hollow victory for senior housing advocates, many of whom have left Princeton over the years for regional housing developments.

Conversely, the approval is just the latest chapter in Princeton's ongoing struggle to build housing in an area bereft of developable land and one that is also regarded as environmentally sensitive because of its rocky composition, wildlife, and tree coverage.

Nonetheless, the board's approval, a unanimous nod, signals Princeton's desire for both market-rate senior housing, as specified under federal mandates, and an attempt to build without necessarily clear-cutting a wooded area. The plan calls for the removal of about 800 of 1,162 trees on the site, but the board's approval was, in part, based on the Township Engineering Department goal of providing a zero net tree loss, where new trees will be planted onsite, as well as tree plantings in other areas of the Township.

"The applicant has diligently worked to reduce tree loss," said Township arborist Greg O'Neill, referring to Princeton Senior Townhomes, LLC, and its principal, Ned White, who was in attendance for the board approval. If a tree mitigation plan is implemented in its current form, Mr. O'Neill said, the net reduction could hover between 120 and 150 trees. However, he indicated that the applicant had agreed to work with additional plantings both on- and off-site, as well as possible contributions to the Township's Shade Tree Commission.

That, however, did not quell the concerns of a handful of residents in attendance to voice their opposition. Township resident Ronald Flaugher, who has long fought the application, cited a "huge negative impact" on the surrounding neighborhood, and urged the board, as a condition of approval, to employ a "studious use of low lighting."

Jim Waltman, executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, worried that the development could eliminate not only trees, but also wildlife, as well as diminishing the overall hydrology of the area. "It comes as no surprise that the Watershed opposes this application," he said, adding that his organization, while supporting senior housing, considered this particular site too remote.

In 2001, the Township established three zoning options for senior housing: a 20-acre site west of Bunn Drive where developer K. Hovnanian had been approved to build, but pulled out due, in part, to a slowed housing market and financial disagreements with the property's owner; the 30-acre site off Mt. Lucas Road where Princeton Senior Townhomes hopes to build; and a 20-acre site near the northern end of Mt. Lucas Road, near the Montgomery Township border. Princeton Senior Townhomes, the only active proposal at this time, has reduced development plans along their site from over 300 units at one time, down to the current 49.

Since the most recent revision of the Princeton Community Master Plan was adopted in 1996, establishing a philosophical goal to build housing for Princeton's aging residents, only Acorn Glen, an assisted living residence, and the expansion of Elm Court subsidized housing, have prevailed. The Harriet Bryan House, formerly known as Elm Court II, officially opened its doors to residents this past Sunday.

Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand, a longtime senior housing advocate, said that when the Township began looking for locations suitable for this type of development, "there wasn't a person [who was] interested in senior housing who didn't explore every piece of open space looking for sites.

"No site is going to be agreeable to everyone, but this site has the accessibility," she said, adding that the application's approval represented a "historic night in Princeton."

Planning Board member Yina Moore acknowledged that the site is "isolated, but given our dwindling available resources, this is needed."

Board member Gail Ullman, who voted in favor of the application, was the least optimistic, saying that the number of units were not enough to address the needs of Princeton's senior population. "This doesn't satisfy me, and the senior advocates are probably not satisfied either. I don't think any of us is particularly happy."

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