December 5, 2012

AvalonBay Proposal Does Not Comply With Guidelines of 2006 Borough Code

To the Editor:

The redevelopment of the hospital site will have a permanent impact on our community. Unfortunately, years of thoughtful planning by the community, government, and hospital have not been incorporated into AvalonBay’s proposal.

The 2006 Princeton Borough Code added requirements for a Mixed Residential-Retail-Office, or MRRO, zone as “the Witherspoon Street Campus.” This MRRO zone was created for an urban campus, not a single building. It was intended to reintegrate the hospital site into the existing neighborhood through smart, rejuvenating urban design, with affordable housing and sustainable design. AvalonBay has presented drawings of 1 large building, a figure eight in plan, with 280 residential units. Not only does AvalonBay’s proposal not satisfy the 2006 Master Plan’s intent, it simply ignores the existing neighborhood.

Section 17A-193B of 2006 Princeton Borough Code includes guidelines that are not being met in AvalonBay’s proposal. To name just a few:

The Code’s paragraph A.6: “Buildings should be designed to avoid a monolithic appearance.” The proposal: Drawings show a continuous 3-story high wall running along Franklin Ave, almost two blocks long. From Witherspoon St, the wall runs 250 ft, jogs 15 feet back, then continues for another 240 feet.

The Code’s paragraph C.3: “Careful consideration should be given to the mass and bulk of any buildings to ensure they are harmonious with their surroundings and improve the present conditions.” The proposal: Drawings show one building and have not demonstrated any consideration of the surroundings.

The Code’s paragraph D.1: “Any applicant must document that the open space provides linkages between and through the development as well as the surrounding neighborhood.” The proposal: Drawings do not indicate any public walkways crossing the whole site. An archway from Witherspoon St permits access only to the smaller of two internal courtyards, which is a dead-end without any link beyond.

The Code’s paragraph E.1: “A new neighborhood street is envisioned. Access points should be open and accessible by the public.” The proposal: No new street is proposed crossing the site.

The Code’s paragraph E.4: “A private gated community is not allowed for the site.” The proposal: The larger of two internal courtyards is not accessible to the public, rendering the majority of the site as a private gated community.

For an urban plan such as this, a developer must either follow the existing zoning in place or the developer can modify the existing zoning on the basis of a new master plan. In the second scenario, the master plan becomes the de facto code for the urban design, similar to how the building code is the basis for building design.

The Planning Board is responsible for making sure that this design complies with the 2006 Master Plan’s intentions and guidelines. According to the Planning Board’s on-line mission statement, its first of 6 listed responsibilities is:

to assure that all permitted development is designed so as to be as harmonious as possible with the surrounding neighborhood.”

Yaron Inbar

Harris Road