Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 36
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

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Iris Interiors

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Big Ideas Proposed for the Princeton Ridge Could be Achieved by Use of Small Spaces

Matthew Hersh

The prospect of building senior housing in Princeton Township has brightened, then dimmed, only to be illuminated again last month when a Bunn Drive senior housing project that had once appeared to be completely dead in the water suddenly came back to life.

And those prospects could hinge on the role that a small, 3.13-acre piece of land could play in achieving the required level of affordable housing that would be mandated if the senior housing proposal were to be successful in the approval process.

In August, architect J. Robert Hillier approached Princeton Township Committee with a development proposal for a 20-acre expanse along the western edge of Bunn Drive. That plan, which envisions an estimated 146 units, would be marketed for an age 55-and-up demographic, and, housing advocates say, would help satisfy the growing appetite for market rate, age-restricted housing in Princeton Township.

Mr. Hillier, a shareholder at Town Topics Inc., also asked the Township governing body to consider relaxing the zoning on that land to house residents who are 55 and over, rather than the current zoning, which allows for ages 62 and up.

The Township created that zoning as part of its Residential Senior Community overlay zone in 2001 after it identified three parcels as possible destinations for senior housing. That overlay was later reduced to two sites, finally settling on the Bunn Drive property, and a 30-acre parcel north of Redding Circle off of Mount Lucas Road. A developer was given the go-ahead in May to build a 49-unit, 62-and-up, development on the latter property.

Mr. Hillier's proposed project involves the estimated $10 million land purchase from a Short Hills-based couple, William and Laura Lowe. The completion of that, Mr. Hillier said, is contingent upon the Township changing the zoning to allow for a younger demographic, thus widening the development's marketability. However, that land sale not only includes the 20-acre primary parcel, but also a three-acre lot across the street, just south of the main entrance to Princeton Community Village.

The parcel could accommodate anywhere between 12 and 20 units, depending on the level of density there, according to officials familiar with the project. Part of Mr. Hillier's planning proposal would be to include several affordable units on the primary Bunn Drive parcel. However, it is not yet known who would develop the smaller parcel. Mr. Hillier proposed to design the units on the three-acre tract, but the Township is still seeking a partner to develop that land.

A potential partner could be found in Princeton University, a major in-town developer in its own right currently awaiting word from the state's Council on Affordable Housing as to what type of affordable housing growth share its continued construction around Princeton will require. The Council, or COAH, is expected to redraft a growth share formula for municipalities, after a previous draft was shot down by a state appellate court's ruling that COAH had used outdated or altered criteria for determining the low income housing mandate for 382 New Jersey municipalities.

While the final number of low-income units required from Princeton University is not yet clear, University officials say that land is needed to build affordable housing, particularly in light of recent on-campus building approvals, like the new chemistry building slated for Washington Road.

PU is also looking at a developable portion of nearby Princeton Community Village as a possible solution for low-income units. "We're in the early stages of site design," said Kristin Appelget, the University's director of Community and Regional Affairs, adding that the University was still doing site evaluation determining how many COAH-qualified units could be built. Ms. Appelget, however, could not comment on the University's involvement in the three-acre parcel to be acquired by Mr. Hillier.

The number of affordable units to be added to Princeton Community Village, Ms. Appelget said, is still being determined.

Mr. Hillier's tentative agreement with the Lowes comes nearly a year after developer K. Hovnanian backed out of an approved plan to develop the Bunn Drive site with 140 units marketed to residents aged 62 and up.

The Township Committee is expected this month to begin considering Mr. Hillier's proposal to lower the zoning mandate on the Bunn Drive site. Mr. Hillier has yet to submit any formal site plans for review.

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