September 19, 2012

Critics of AvalonBay’s Rental Concept Hire Two Attorneys and Urban Planner

The Princeton citizens who have expressed repeated concerns about the rental community planned for the former site of the University Medical Center at Princeton have been less vocal in recent months. But that doesn’t mean they have slowed down their efforts.

A core group of between 10 and 15 has been gathering information in an effort to show what they see as major problems with the concept that AvalonBay Communities, the company under contract to build a 280-unit apartment complex, has for the site. Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, shepherded by Daniel Harris, Kate Warren and Alexi Assmus, has hired two attorneys and an urban planner to represent them when AvalonBay’s proposal comes before the Regional Planning Board.

The group will hold an informational meeting, open to the public, at Ms. Warren’s home at 17 Jefferson Road on Sunday, September 30 at 3 p.m. Then on Sunday, October 7 at 3 p.m., environmental lawyer Alan Kleinbaum, one of the attorneys they have retained, will address
the proposed redevelopment at another open meeting. “Sustainable Redevelopment in Princeton: The Legal Perspective” will be held at the Princeton Fire Engine Company #1 facility on Chestnut Street.

“There is significant concern about the development and a desire to have a better development,” says Ms. Assmus. “There seems to be a misconception out there that this is a done deal, that nothing can be done to change it. But that’s not the case.”

The group maintains that AvalonBay’s site plan, which was revised last June, is incomplete. Missing are details about hydrant water flows, fire prevention, traffic study data, and contamination of the site, they say. State documents regarding the decommissioning of the old hospital are also incomplete, they maintain.

In addition to Mr. Kleinbaum, the group has hired a municipal land use attorney. The group is raising funds to pay the lawyers and the urban planner they have also retained. “The big push now is to raise money to have these experts,” Ms. Assmus said. A teleconference was held by the group on September 12. A post on the group’s Facebook page September 6 said that $10,000 had been raised so far, but “at least $20,000 more” is needed.

Since AvalonBay was announced as the buyer for the former hospital site in November 2011 and first presented its plans, some neighborhood and outer area residents have expressed repeated concerns about scale, design, access, sustainability, and safety. An ad hoc committee addressed the design, making such changes as archways opening up the courtyard, a lower building height, and a reduced mass for the building. But many residents have said they were not enough.

“We would like AvalonBay to get their architects [Perkins Eastman] to do a truly custom design, working with the neighborhood and Borough code and the master plan,” said Ms. Assmus. “This really could work.”

Ron Ladell, senior vice president, development, of AvalonBay, declined to comment for this article.