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Vol. LXV, No. 46
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

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Iris Interiors

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Weather Forecast

Avalon Bay Presents Plans for Rental Units That Will Occupy Current UMCP Property

Anne Levin

AvalonBay Communities, the developer under contract to purchase the property that University Medical Center at Princeton will vacate next spring, wants to build 324 rental units instead of 280, the number approved under current zoning. This increased density would impact market-rate units, while keeping the number of affordable units the same.

Ron Ladell, senior vice president at AvalonBay, presented the company’s plans for the 9.8-acre property on Witherspoon Street to Borough Council on Wednesday, November 9. While Mayor Mildred Trotman announced before Mr. Ladell’s presentation that no action would be taken on his request, the Council changed course and voted unanimously to refer the project to the Regional Planning Board for further discussion. Borough Council would have to amend the zoning ordinance to allow for the higher density that AvalonBay requests.

Under the plan, the existing 500,000-square-foot hospital building will be demolished to make room for the new rental community. Avalon Princeton would offer units ranging from studios to three-bedrooms, at approximately $1,600 to $3,200 per month. AvalonBay is under contract to buy the hospital building as well as nine homes on Harris Road and the hospital’s parking garage. The medical center will keep the office building at 281 Witherspoon Street. The homes on Harris Road that are currently rented will not be changed. Those that are currently uninhabitable will be improved.

“We’re not a merchant builder,” Mr. Ladell said at the start of his presentation. “We’re not someone who builds a community and then flips it. We build the property, we own the property, and we keep it for decades. We like to become part of the community we’re in.”

AvalonBay owns 199 rental communities across the country. The Princeton development would be its fourteenth in New Jersey. The company currently has apartment complexes in West Windsor, Lawrence, and Princeton Junction, and recently bought the Fox Run apartments in Plainsboro. “We view this opening in Princeton as a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Mr. Ladell said.

Affordable units in the new development would represent 17.3 percent of the total apartments, slightly higher than the industry standard of 15 percent, Mr. Ladell said. Normally, the Borough requires 20 percent of a development to have affordable units.

The preliminary design for the new community, by the Stamford, Connecticut architecture firm Perkins Eastman, features a complex with buildings alternating between four and five stories, as opposed to the current hospital building’s seven. Two interior courtyards, a fitness center, pool, and clubhouse are part of the design. Outdoor space in front of the complex will be open to the public.

“All along Franklin and Witherspoon streets, we are envisioning stoops, which will give a brownstone-style look,” Mr. Ladell said. The brick-and-masonry facade will be designed to incorporate existing architectural styles in Princeton.

Councilman Kevin Wilkes asked Mr. Ladell about the environmental effects of the existing building’s demolition. Mr. Ladell responded that asbestos removal will take “months and months and months, a long time,” before the building can be demolished. The hospital has already removed some of its underground storage tanks, and AvalonBay would finish that job. “This site is actually pretty good from an environmental perspective,” he said.

The hospital is moving to a new site on Route 1 in Plainsboro next May. The downtown Princeton property was originally under contract to the Philadelphia developer Lubert-Adler for $55 million. That company, which would have included light retail, pulled out of the deal last year after the collapse of the market. AvalonBay’s plan does not include retail establishments.

Mr. Ladell said eight or nine full-time employees would lease and manage the site. The parking garage will be used for residents and patients visiting the medical offices at 281 Witherspoon Street.

Members of Borough Council expressed praise for the plan, saying its rent prices are lower than others in Princeton. “It addresses an unmet need we have identified for a very long time,” said Councilman David Goldfarb.

The AvalonBay development will be the subject of a panel discussion and conversation sponsored by Princeton Future on Saturday, November 19, from 9 a.m. to noon, at Princeton Public Library. That event is open to the public.

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