December 12, 2012

If AvalonBay Proposal Is Turned Down, Vacant Site Could Have Negative Impact

To the Editor:

I have served on Borough Council for seven years during which time I have served on the Planning Board and have been part of the process involving the AvalonBay approvals. I write now, as a private citizen, in support of the approval of the AvalonBay development.

When Borough Council wrote the zoning that is currently in place, we had before us a potential model of what might be constructed on the hospital site. It was only a hypothetical guide. It was not a definitive model of what would be and we should not be beholden to that plan.

The first potential developer for the site dropped out because the model that had been suggested, with for-sale condominium units, leaving the seven-story hospital tower intact, proved not to be economically viable. In other words they would not make any money.

The hospital needs to sell the site now. They have chosen a developer who will pay the highest current price for the property, and who has the resources to build. This seems to be a rational and logical move on their part. The chosen developer is before the Planning Board with a compliant application. It may not be the most beautiful, but it is compliant with existing zoning.

The Environmental Commission on its first review of the project gave it a “thumbs up” for being smart growth. It is. This development puts density where density belongs, close to town, on bus lines, close to schools and other shopping. There is already an existing parking garage so parking is not an issue. Traffic in and out of the development will be greatly reduced from the 2,000-3,000 car trips per day that took place when the hospital was present.

Moreover, the development’s façade on Franklin Avenue will be broken up with front porches where residents might put a potted geranium in the summer time, or sit and chat with neighbors. Think of the façade now — it is monolithic and dead. The proposed development is far more neighborhood-friendly. And open space within the development is larger than required by the zoning.

If this application is turned down, what will happen to the property? The hospital has maintained it nicely in the short term, but what if, for example, there are problems with the site and the hospital finds it necessary to construct a cyclone fence around the property to protect it until a new developer can be found? This site could remain vacant for a very long time. This could have a very negative impact on the neighborhood and town.

Finally and most importantly, the developer is willing to devote 20 percent of this development to affordable housing. That is 56 units of very badly needed housing toward the Borough’s and soon Township’s unmet need of affordable housing units. The remainder of the rental units in this development will be market rate units that provide housing for working people in our town; administrative assistants, plumbers, electricians, teachers, policeman, social workers, etc. A recent letter to the editor bemoaned the fact that property taxes in Princeton are making it unaffordable for many to live in our town. This development would provide the housing needed to continue to keep Princeton an economically diverse and vibrant community.

I am troubled that the opponents of this development are elevating their otherwise laudable concern for the highest environmental standards to the detriment of another important value: providing affordable rental housing in our community. We need to work long term on improving our environmental building standards, but now is the time to provide a significant amount of rental housing here. I ask the Planning Board to approve the AvalonBay proposal and move on toward working on welcoming AvalonBay renters into our community.

Barbara Trelstad

Firestone Court