To the Editor:
At last Thursday’s Planning Board meeting reviewing AvalonBay’s request to change zoning, Marvin Reed told fellow members of the Board that two year’s of meetings among the community, neighborhood and hospital had resulted in a maximum number of 280-units for the 5.6 acre hospital building
site. The large number of units was much higher than the neighborhood and other town residents wanted and represents a major compromise. Mr. Reed called the 280-unit maximum “a big stretch.” The number would have been much lower if rezoning had been in keeping with the neighborhood character of single-family and duplex homes. As a compromise, Marvin Reed said that a plaza/park was to be provided for the use of the public on the site of one of the medical buildings which was to be torn down. When zoning was set at “up to 280 units”, this higher number set the price for the hospital building site. Before bidding on large-scale redevelopments, national real estate corporations calculate profitability based on purchase price and zoning requirements. AvalonBay put in a bid for the 280-unit site with 20 percent affordable housing requirement, as did the other bidders.
Raising the maximum number of units after a contract has been signed for no other reason than that the buyer requests it, is bad business. It is unfair to the community and to the numerous other potential buyers who are eager to redevelop the property, as well as to the seller. In December of 2010, a nationally prominent firm located in New York City began to market the property as a 280-unit property with a 20 percent affordable housing requirement. (Bluegate Partner website, news release, Dec 13.) Within less than nine months the VP of Marketing and Public Affairs at the hospital was quoted in the local press as saying “there were 125 companies that expressed an interest in the hospital property” (Packet, Aug. 5, 2011). Many potential buyers were identified quickly after a prominent national firm had been hired to market the hospital complex.
AvalonBay can build at 280-units if they wish. Or they should move aside and let one of the other 125 interested parties redevelop the property. Why didn’t Borough Council say “no” to the increased number of units immediately and move this process along? If AvalonBay does build, they need to follow the design standards in Borough code that call for open space accessible to the public (part of the compromise) and for varied architectural design. Given that AvalonBay is a national builder of standardized housing complexes, one wonders if the corporation can construct the kind of customized design that Princeton is looking for. Customized real estate development is not in AvalonBay’s area of expertise nor is it part of their business model. Other options do exist. An analysis presented to Borough Council shows that dividing the hospital building site into individual lots sized in keeping with the neighborhood would result in inexpensive land costs by Princeton standards and would reap the hospital the same or more profit.