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Planning Board Should Deny AB Application If Sovereign Cannot Responsibly Complete Report

To the Editor:

As I write, the Planning Board has just voted to ask Borough Council’s agreement to retain Sovereign Consulting to review the AvalonBay (AB) Environmental Impact Statement and related documents. That EIS contains serious misrepresentations, as indicated by Aaron Kleinbaum, legal director of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, in a series of letters to the Planning Board and the Princeton Environmental Commission.

To its credit, the Planning Board understands the public health issues at stake. But if the review does no more than evaluate the documents thus far submitted, it will be inadequate. Mr. Kleinbaum has called for an independent investigation of the MRRO site, including soil samples that test for contaminant leakage and sewer overflows, before construction — not simply a review of documents to date. Mr. Kleinbaum has recommended sampling throughout the site, including testing underneath the garage. Steve Miller of the Princeton Environmental Commission has noted that the technology exists to test soils underneath concrete, and he supported such testing of the garage at its meeting on October 24 2012. The shortcoming of the Princeton Environmental Commission’s recommendation to the Planning Board is that it recommends “independent testimony … regarding whether the testing was adequate” (not new testing), and “To the extent that it is concluded that the testing was inadequate, we recommend that you request adequate testing from the developer.” The developer? — AvalonBay? hardly an independent party.

Indeed, Avalon is so lax in its environmental practices, and so glib on its website about supposedly sustainable measures (13 pages of fluff) — that AB’s corporate leadership has been called to task. On April 11, 2012, the Office of the Comptroller for New York City, which manages pension funds for its employees, issued a memorandum to AvalonBay shareholders setting forth substantive reasons why AB has “lagged behind” its peers in the commercial rental market: inadequate reporting on greenhouse emissions, water conservation, waste minimization, energy efficiency, and other environmental and social impacts (full text available from Daniel A. Harris).

We don’t know the scope of work the Planning Board requests, nor what Sovereign Consulting will recommend. We must hope that its proposals insist on an absolutely clean building site and that any further consideration of AvalonBay’s application by the Planning Board be postponed until such a clearance is given. Indeed, Sovereign will not be able to complete its work prior to November 15, when AB will demand that the Planning Board approve their site plan for the garage. But the Planning Board has ample legal grounds to deny this minor site application on the basis of insufficient evidence (as well as New Jersey case law upholding the rights of municipalities to deny developer’s applications on the basis of concerns about public health). Next step: if Sovereign cannot responsibly complete its report until after December 15, when the supposed “clock” for a Planning Board decision runs out, then the Planning Board will be absolutely within its legal rights to deny AvalonBay’s application on the grounds of inadequate and insufficient information.

Jane Buttars

Dodds Lane

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