November 7, 2012

AvalonBay Misleads Our Community, Seeks to Override Master Plan, Code

To the Editor:

AvalonBay demands a building for 324 units (to maximize profits) for the bonus of 44 over 280 originally planned. They want only 17.3 percent affordable housing units, seeking to override the Master Plan and Borough Code, which admirably stipulate 20 percent. They want more floors than the International Fire Code permits.

AvalonBay wants to do less in other areas: less sustainable building than the Master Plan’s (MP) goal for new or remodeled buildings as “models of environmental, economic and social stewardship” (2006 MP, page 39). They’ve committed publicly only to using EnergyStar appliances, stating that they’ll discuss other green, sustainable measures “at the appropriate time” — unnamed: a refrain echoed March 2012. And almost zero public open space, despite Borough Code requirements.

Aggressive withholding of information has been an AvalonBay method. At the SPRAB meeting on October 10, 2012, they provided so few documents that SPRAB Board member Harry Cooke remarked that “given the fact that items such as reports requested by the PEC and engineer, use of the garage and traffic studies are not complete, and particularly that the design does not meet the established Princeton Design Standards, he could not, in good conscience recommend that the Planning Board approve this application” (SPRAB Report, 10/20/12, pp. 4-5). Ron Ladell, for AvalonBay, said all questions would be answered in a “letter”; he did not say when.

Probably not in time for municipal staff or committees to consider the responses. People should know that AvalonBay turned in replies to Borough and Township engineer’s reports so late that staff could not review them before the first Planning Board meeting on October 25. The replies that came in are refusenik: everyone should hang tight until formal “testimony” before the Board — including issues about parking calculations, ADA — compliant parking spaces, fire protection information (for this all-wood building), the physical connection between the garage and the apartment complex, etc. Right now, there’s still no accurate Environmental Impact Statement (requested by Derek Bridger at PEC on October 10), and no complete Traffic Impact Study.

The Planning Board should push back against such disrespectful shenanigans and repudiate AvalonBay’s attempt to intimidate the community. AvalonBay claims that, because it has finally consented to build 20 percent affordable housing (Code requirements), every moment lost before an approval is granted is somehow a communal violation of an “inherently beneficial use” of the hospital site (for affordable units). This is nonsense. So is Avalon’s calculated withholding of information necessary for Princeton staff and Planning Board members to conduct a responsible review. Yes, 20 percent affordable housing is beneficial; and yes, Princeton will follow its own Code, and any developer will have to provide it.

But of course AvalonBay’s Princeton is not our “Princeton.” Its “private community” would be named “AvalonPrinceton.” Are we ready to have the new consolidated town’s name absorbed into a monolith that defies years of intelligent urban planning?

Helmut Schwab

Westcott Road