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Bunn Drive Proposal Held Up As Planners Weigh Need vs. Impact

Matthew Hersh

Bill Enslin, a member of both the Princeton Township Committee and the Regional Planning Board of Princeton, offered a terse assessment Monday as to the need for additional senior housing in the community: "There are no units of market-rate senior housing in Princeton."

Mr. Enslin and Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand, who have both long advocated the creation of additional age-restricted housing, and who both sit on the Regional Planning Board of Princeton, can be expected to vote this Thursday night in favor of a plan to build 140 market-rate, 62-and-over age-restricted units on the western side of Bunn Drive, just south of Hilltop Park, and southwest of the Princeton Community Village (PCV).

The 20.9-acre site, in the Township's Office Research Zone, was established as a senior community district overlay zone in December 2001 through the support of Township Committee.
But since that time, several municipal boards and commissions have questioned the idea of building on that site, which, as part of the environmentally-sensitive Princeton Ridge, consists of rocky soils, bedrock, and steep hills.

Also of concern to environmentalists is the Transco pipeline that, according to the proposal, would be straddled by the five three-story garden apartments designed by K. Hovnanian.

The project has been taken to task by the Princeton Environmental Commission and the Planning Board's own advisory board for these reasons, but with seniors moving out of town, several elected officials have identified increased senior housing as a major goal.
"We have, in both communities, lots of senior moderate- and low-income housing, but we have no housing for people who want to sell their large home and move," said Ms. Marchand last Thursday at the Planning Board's preliminary hearing for the proposal. That session, which was attended by residents both for and against the plan, was cut short due to the late hour and will continue tomorrow evening. Ms. Marchand regretted the fact that Princeton has lost aging residents to neighboring communities: "We miss them a lot. They were the volunteers, the mentors, and people who served on boards and commissions."

For many advocates of age-restricted housing, the Ridge is one of the few areas that can accommodate seniors in close proximity to in-town amenities. The Princeton Shopping Center is just under one mile from the site.

But for those worried that the plan will upset the sensitive environmental conditions on the Ridge, the issue of the long-term efficacy of the development has come into play.
One issue is that the Hovnanian proposal, tentatively called "Four Seasons," does not provide medical or dining services. "Seniors who move there will simply have to uproot themselves at some later and more difficult point when they need such help," according to Casey Lambert, a member of Township Committee from 2002 to 2004, and a current member of the Princeton Environmental Commission.

Ms. Lambert also worried that building on that part of the Ridge would endanger flood plains to the south of the area, and cause potential damage to houses from the blasting that would be required to break through the bedrock. "At a time when Princeton is working hard to put mandated flood mitigation plans in place, it is intolerable that we should destroy a large geological landscape that plays a major role in preventing downstream flooding."

Members of the Planning Board's advisory panel, the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB), said that the design for the development itself was incompatible with the land, and that requires too much blasting.

On the other hand, after meeting with PCV residents, Transco, the state Department of Environmental Protection, and Elizabethtown Water, which maintains a nearby waterline, Hovnanian attorney Shirleen Roberts said that Hovnanian was "proud" of its design process.

"We have not haphazardly designed the site," she said, adding that the development design conformed to Township zoning standards relating to density and open space requirements.

Township Engineer Robert Kiser said it was "possible" that the water and gas pipes could be damaged by blasting, but added that all procedures are supervised by both Transco and Elizabethtown Water representatives. Transco has indicated that blasting is acceptable, "up to a certain point," according to Hovnanian officials, but the company has not yet specifically outlined how much blasting will be permitted.

The September 29 hearing will continue at 7:30 p.m. at Township Hall. A public hearing is scheduled for that time.


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