January 2, 2013

Summarizing Reasons for Planning Board’s 7-3 Decision Against the AvalonBay Project

To the Editor:

The 7-3 Planning Board vote against AvalonBay was decisive.

After chastising AvalonBay for falsely claiming to have presented a concept plan, one member said, “We are as contemptuous of [AvalonBay’s] site plan as the applicant was of [Borough Code] design standards.” Another said, the plan “is the essence of a gated community” and stated that the word “through” — as in public “linkages between and through the development” (Code, 17A-193B.d.4) — was “not a difficult word” to understand; some design standards “are concrete,” the member said, after having received assurances of SPRAB’s “absolute” rejection of the site plan on fourteen counts.

Another criticized AvalonBay’s intransigence during ad hoc discussions (spring 2012) in failing to “provide the openness … the design standards are calling for” and in balking “when we suggested we might support an increased building height if they would go higher in the center of the site” (as stipulated in the design standards), and summarized, “The overriding theme was ‘AvalonBay is a brand and that’s what you get.’”

Another called the plan “monolithic and gated,” not “something that was integrated into the community.” One, also referring to the outsized scale, strongly discouraged in design standards unchanged since 2006, said, “We owe these neighbors … some semblance of a family neighborhood.” Another called AvalonBay “intellectually devious” in frequently using the term “cost-generation” (not permitted in a development that includes affordable housing) to threaten the Planning Board and satirized the developer’s private, “cost-generative” swimming pool.” One, though voting for the application, asked whether the development would be a “destructive unit” (harsh language); another wanted “a better design”; “disturbing” was the kindest word.

Planning Board members agreed: AvalonBay disregarded the design standards. Mr. Ladell audaciously tried to sham his way into an approval. “Not once,” he said, did “staff assert that the project needed any variance or isn’t conforming.” Eyes rolled. Attorney Ladell: you know that no municipal staff can “approve” an application; they “deem” an application “complete” when all preliminary papers have been submitted — and then study the plans for difficulties, ask for clarifications. They don’t vote.

Princeton should know that, just before the final hearing, the planning director, with Borough and Township staff, addressed the Planning Board: “Staff is not able to form an opinion on whether all the [design] standards have been adequately addressed as AvalonBay has only provided the Board and staff with one-dimensional black and white drawings of the building. Many of the design standards require a more expansive approach and we would expect the site designer to discuss the design criteria with the Board using exhibits to demonstrate the creativity, invention, and innovation that went into the design. None of the elevations have been rendered … the applicant has not provided any building material samples … detailing how it has addressed the design standards.”

Mr. Ladell, that’s no “approval”. It’s a rebuff based on the design standards you chose to disregard and your failure to provide information. You lost the vote. You lost community trust months ago. Leave. Do not appeal.

Daniel A. Harris

Dodds Lane