Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 40
 
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
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Iris Interiors


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Environmental Commission Continues to Urge Township to Halt Ridge Development

Matthew Hersh

In August, when a prominent Princeton area architect approached Princeton Township’s governing body with a proposal to rezone the area to meet the current market needs for senior housing, it sparked the most recent chapter in a decade-long discussion over the viability of developing one of the most environmentally sensitive areas in the Princeton Ridge.

After last week’s discussion of ways to approach Township Committee in an ongoing attempt to curb any development along a handful of tracts in the northcentral and the northeast portion of the Township, the Princeton Environmental Commission is preparing to fire its latest salvo.

The Commission intends, for the second time this year, to draft a letter opposing any new development, particularly regarding concerns about potential stormwater runoff. New development, said Environmental Commission member and former Township Committeewoman Casey Lambert, would cause “disruptive flooding to downstream sections of the Township,” particularly, she added, to the Harry’s Brook region. Ms. Lambert addressed her concerns at a Commission meeting last Thursday, and pointed to increased flooding in the Harry’s Brook section of the Township while observing that any new flooding should be taken into consideration when developing the Ridge.

There is currently one approved plan to build 49 housing units for senior citizens aged 62 and up on a 30-acre expanse along Mount Lucas Road. That plan is moving through the permit process, according to Mark Solomon, the attorney for the developer, the Greenwich, Conn.-based Princeton Senior Townhomes.

A second proposal comes from architect J. Robert Hillier, who, in the aftermath of national developer K. Hovnanian’s withdrawal from developing a 20-acre tract on the western side of Bunn Drive, just south of Hilltop Park, appealed to the Township this summer to relax its Residential Senior Community overlay zone mandates to allow for residents aged 55 and up, rather than keep the age minimum at 62 years.

Mr. Hillier, a shareholder of Town Topics, Inc., who has yet to submit any formal plans, presented a concept to the Township that envisioned developing only a portion of the Bunn tract in favor of denser development. That plan outlined 149 units, with the potential to build state-mandated affordable housing either on the site, or along a three-acre plot across the street, just south of the main entrance of Princeton Community Village.

The Township is currently weighing Mr. Hillier’s proposal and is expected to hold public hearings on a potential zoning change later this fall. If the Township endorses the Hillier proposal, it is almost certain that Princeton Senior Townhomes would come back to the Township with a development amendment for 55-and-up age requirements. Typically, the age-55 standard requires that only one resident per housing unit be at least 55, whereas the age-62 classification would require that all residents are at least 62.

In a letter to the editor last week, Ms. Lambert, David Breithaupt, who chairs the Environmental Commission, and William Wolfe, chairman of an advisory board to the Regional Planning Board of Princeton, called for senior housing to be developed on vacant land owned by the Princeton Shopping Center, or at the Merwick Care Center on Bayard Lane, after Princeton HealthCare System, Merwick’s parent company, vacates the site for its new facility in Plainsboro.

Mr. Hillier, who is the contract purchaser of the 20-acre Bunn Drive site, as well as the three-acre site across the street, has said that the estimated $10 million land sale is contingent on a zoning change there. Both properties are currently held by long-time owners William and Laura Lowe of Short Hills, through their enterprise, Chatham Capital Investors, LLC.

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