November 7, 2012

AvalonBay Has Misrepresented Facts About Borough Code Related to Old Hospital Site

To the Editor:

Princetonians should know that AvalonBay has rashly misrepresented plain facts about the Borough Code related to the old hospital site. At the Planning Board meeting on Oct. 25, 2012, Jeremy Lang (for AvalonBay) stated that “The garage has nothing to do with design standards.” He was seconded by Anne Studholme, attorney for AvalonBay.

Both people are incorrect. The garage will abut seamlessly against the new apartment complex (if the Planning Board votes to approve the application). The “location” of the seamless join is in Princeton Borough; it is consequently governed by Borough Code. That Code stipulates that “the development shall have an enhanced system of public open spaces and pathways that provide linkages between and through the development” (17A-193B.d.4; see also d.1).

As the SPRAB report of 10/10/2012 indicates, the seamless abutment of residential complex and garage in fact eliminates the present public walkway from Witherspoon Street to Harris Road. If AvalonBay insists on closing off this public linkage, it must surely consent to provide others — and thus break up the monolithic cubes. Because the garage would become an appendage to the residences, enlarging the total overall footprint, the Planning Board needs to understand that the AvalonBay site plan is a direct and unacceptable violation of the Borough Code.

A development designed to be fully open to public access “crossing the site” is what the 2006 Master Plan envisages. Countless individuals spent hundreds of hours (and meetings) contributing to the plan. Barry Rabner, president and CEO of the Medical Center, through his architect-consultant Robert Hillier, “signed on” to the plan (as transcripts of Planning Board hearings show), in exchange for an excessive density of 280 units.

The design standards for the site define any development on this property. A stipulation such as the public’s ability to “[cross] the site” can be demonstrated by eye, hand, or foot. Either you can or can’t walk through and between the buildings. The design standards are written in such a way that a single monolithic building is not allowed — unless the present seven-story towers are sustainably retained.

The Planning Board must understand that the garage cannot be evaluated without reference to design standards in Borough Code and that there should be only one application.

The Planning Board must also follow these principles: 1) Design standards are not “vague” or “subjective” (as some have carelessly stated) — “crossing the site” is very specific. 2) The burden of proving that a design standard is “vague” or “subjective” falls on the developer, not on the municipality in whose code the standard is embodied. 3) The only legitimate venue in which a developer’s claim of “vagueness” or “subjectivity” can be upheld or denied is a court of law. 4) The only person who can sustain or dismiss such a claim is a judge.

I call upon the Planning Board to honor its responsibilities to Princeton, to invoke design standards wherever appropriate, and to deny the AvalonBay application completely.

The next Planning Board meeting falls on November 15, 2012. Please come and speak.

Cecil Marshall

Moore Street