December 12, 2012

Given No Time to Respond to AB Testimony, Offering Comments That Would Have Been Made

To the Editor:

Since AvalonBay’s (AB) testimony regarding its proposal for the now vacant hospital property on Thursday night did not leave room for citizen comment, I would like to offer the comments I would have made had time allowed.

The design standards grew out of a public process asking what kind of development should replace the hospital when it left Princeton. Mr. Lang, AvalonBay’s engineering witness, spoke exhaustively about how he believes that it does, indeed, respond to the design standards; but it is my impression that AvalonBay’s response is superficial and that they should not be allowed to proceed until it responds to the substance of those standards.

1) Mr. Lang said, for instance, that there would be changes in color and texture of the facade, affordable housing, an overall setback larger than originally proposed, and stoops and front entrances on Witherspoon. In spite of such concessions the basic design has not changed: the proposed building is out of proportion to the neighborhood. It is a looming city block, not designed to fit into a neighborhood of one and two-story frame buildings.

Mr. Lang referred to the 119’ height of the hospital tower, saying that AvalonBay’s proposal calls for a maximum height of “only” 48’. He did not mention that this facade, like that of the Palmer Square development facing Paul Robeson Place, would dwarf the existing neighborhood. In fact, it would extend all the way around the block, altogether changing the character of the neighborhood. The fact that the houses on Harris Road would remain does not negate the additional fact that AvalonBay’s facade would tower behind them.

2) In order to promote pedestrian shopping, reduce automobile traffic, and encourage the stores currently in the neighborhood, the design standards call for retail to be included in the plan. AvalonBay does have retail in at least one of its developments, but Mr. Ladell now says that AvalonBay “does not do retail.” In Thursday’s presentation Mr. Lang said that AvalonBay does “not want to compete with” the existing stores. But I would think that in the right structures, AvalonBay might complement the services of these stores, thereby bringing them business. Actively considering retail would respond to the design standards, which sought to improve and encourage the retail offering in the neighborhood, not bypass it.

AvalonBay should respond to the public cry for responsiveness.

Mary Clurman

Harris Road