At the next meeting of Princeton Borough Council on April 10, residents of the neighborhood surrounding the site soon to be vacated by the University Medical Center at Princeton plan to turn out in force to protest what the developer AvalonBay Communities, Inc. want to put in its place.
The company’s request for rezoning, which was approved 5-1 by the Council last month for recommendation to the Planning Board, would allow for higher density and fewer affordable housing units in the community proposed by AvalonBay, a national developer of rental complexes. The developer is set to take over the property on Witherspoon Street once UMCP moves to Plainsboro May 22.
Neighbors and others concerned about the size, scope, and environmental impact of the plan, which involves demolishing the existing hospital building for new construction, have been mobilizing their efforts to convince Council, and later this month the Planning Board, that the plan does not adhere to local standards.
“The buildings are absolutely counter to the Borough Code,” says Joe Bardzilowski, who lives on Henry Avenue and has been instrumental in efforts to oppose the plan. “I’m talking about things like setbacks and the height of the buildings. It’s a big monolithic building which, in Borough code, it is clearly stated that it should not be. It’s essentially one building.”
Among citizens’ concerns about the plan is access to open space. Princeton Borough Code states “Open spaces and plazas should be inviting to the public and serve as a connection between the surrounding neighborhood and any new development.” Those opposed to the development plan say it does not adhere to those standards. “All of the open space will be removed from the existing neighborhood,” says Mr. Bardzilowski. “It will be exclusive to AvalonBay members. This will be not even a gated community, it’ll be a walled community.”
In a press release issued last November when AvalonBay was selected to develop the hospital site, senior vice president for development Ron Ladell said the company was looking forward to “working in partnership with the Princeton community to realize its vision for a new and vibrant residential community that will further -energize Princeton’s downtown.” The release outlined such features as “increased open public space” and buildings of four and five stories. The complex would have two interior courtyards.
Mr. Ladell, who has appeared at Borough Council meetings in recent months, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.
Environmental concerns about the proposed development center around the fact that the rental complex will not adhere to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] rating system, but rather to the system known as Energy Star. Princeton Borough Code says that new construction should comply with LEED rating system “to the extent practical.”
“LEED is virtually required by Borough Code, so there is bound to be a collision at some point,” said Daniel Harris, a Township resident opposed to the plan. “But even if there isn’t a ‘collision,’ it is certain that anyone, including the Princeton Environmental Commission, wants more environmental features right up front before there is any thought of a giveaway in terms of a density bonus. And even if there weren’t a bonus, any developer really should be putting on solar roofing.”
Mr. Harris said he has spoken at length about solar roofing with Mr. Ladell. “To my amazement, he said you couldn’t put solar roofing on a ‘stick’ building [constructed on site rather than modular]. I wrote to three architects and they all said there is simply no problem at all in installing solar roofing. Even if they don’t do that, they should agree to do white tile [roofing] that would reflect heat rather than absorb it. That might be said for the siding as well.”
Mr. Harris has additional environmental concerns. “Being environmentally sustainable also means having plants that are native and non-invasive,” he said. “The list AvalonBay has submitted has some species that are not native and are classified as being potentially invasive in New Jersey.”
Regarding the issue of open space, Mr. Harris said the AvalonBay plan is not user-friendly to the neighborhood. “Borough Code insists it be usable by the public, so much so that it specifies that any development in the zone must allow regular pedestrians to walk through it,” he said.
An online petition at change.org, opposing the plan for the rental complex as it currently stands, has been signed by 94 people. “They have a huge amount of homework to do,” Mr. Harris said of AvalonBay.