Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 47
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
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Environmental Commission Eyes Strict Building Limits Along Princeton Ridge

Matthew Hersh

The Princeton Environmental Commission last week changed tactics its in an ongoing battle to preserve a northwest section of the Princeton Ridge, this time seeking assistance from Township Hall to limit the capacity of a proposed development project there.

The Commission, which has long opposed new development on the ridge, particularly along the Bunn Drive corridor, is now responding to specific requests made by architect J. Robert Hillier, who is seeking to build a 158-unit, age 55-and-up, housing development on about seven acres of a 17-acre parcel on Bunn Drive, just south of Hilltop Park.

Recognizing the governing body’s long-stated goal of providing market-rate senior housing in the Township, members of the commission have moved away from their plea for an outright removal of an overlay zone in that area that allows for senior housing, and are now looking to Township Hall to reduce housing unit allowance, require more undeveloped acreage, require certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and to ensure that the unit count in Mr. Hillier’s overall plan be reduced.

In a letter sent this week to members of Township Committee, the Environmental Commission expressed “deep misgivings about this planned high density development on the Ridge” and instantly brought a new discussion to the table that has been brewing since the Commission began sending communications earlier this year to the governing body regarding ridge development.

Mr. Hillier, a shareholder of Town Topics Inc., proposes to design and develop an “Italian Village” on a portion of a tract that was to be developed into senior housing by developer K. Hovnanian, who pulled out of the project in late 2006. That project, Four Seasons, outlined 140, age 62-and-over housing units, spread out over 50 percent of the tract. Hovnanian balked at the project, approved by the Regional Planning Board of Princeton in 2005, amid concerns over the senior housing market.

The Hillier plan, which was first pitched to Township Committee in August, outlined the same density related to the building area on the land and coverage, but would take up about half the space of the Hovnanian project. The plan also seeks a relaxation of the current zoning, which requires residential development for age 62 and up, to mandate an age-55 requirement instead. The current zoning was put into place in 2001 along two overlay zones: the Bunn Drive site, as well as a 30-acre site between Mount Lucas Road and Route 206. A developer, Princeton Senior Townhomes, LLC, received approval in May to build 49, age 62-and-over, units on the Mount Lucas site. While that project is currently moving forward, it appears likely, according to sources familiar with the plan, that the developer would want to reduce the age restriction to 55 if Mr. Hillier’s proposal were to pass.

The Environmental Commission is also looking to maintain the number of units approved in the Hovnanian plan. That plan outlined 140 units with no affordable housing requirement whereas the Hillier plan is for 146 market rate units with 12 affordable units built in. Moreover, Mr. Hillier said that he would design 12 low-income units along a three-acre tract across the street for a planned expansion to the Princeton Community Village, bringing the total number of new units to 170.

The Short Hills-based Chatham Capital Investors, LLC, owns both properties. Mr. Hillier, who is the contract purchaser for both parcels, said he would contribute the three-acre land to Princeton Community Housing, the firm that manages Princeton Community Village, and design new units, but that he would not be the developer in that project.

In its memo, the Environmental Commission also worried that the proposed 158 units, on top of Princeton Senior Townhomes’ 49 approved units, as well as another Bunn Drive parcel that has been zoned for up to 30 housing units, exceeds goals in the Princeton Community Master Plan that indicate 75 additional senior units could be achieved.

While Mr. Hillier declined to comment on the memo, members of the Commission praised the architect on the environmental elements of his concept plan last week at a hearing before Township Committee. The development would include sod roofs and rainwater recycling.

An ordinance for amended zoning on the Bunn Drive tract is set for introduction by Township Committee on November 26, at 7 p.m., at Township Hall. The ordinance would then go before Planning Board review on December 6, at 7:30 p.m., at Township Hall, and then back for final Township Committee review at Committee’s December 17 hearing.

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