To the Editor:
Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods (PCSN) wishes to thank the entire Princeton community for its help in rejecting AvalonBay’s application to build a fortress-megablock on the old hospital site that would have destroyed all chance to return the site to appropriate neighborhood scale. The Planning Board’s 7-3 vote to deny the application was a firm announcement that the new consolidated Borough will not be bullied into submission by a national corporation. Among those to be thanked:
The Planning Board (PB): for its tireless review of the application, its commitment to the Master Plan and related documents going back to 2004 — that is, its commitment to public policy and the public interest as attested by citizens working on urban planning for nearly a decade. The Planning Board upheld Design Standards, stating that they were not all “subjective” and could not be tossed out; two members asserted that AvalonBay had essentially ignored Design Standards. They also defended the fundamental commitment to publicly usable open space. They scorned the monolith. They told outside corporations they could not take over our Princeton. Even those members who voted to approve the application publicly stated that they disliked the design (but were swayed either by the 20 percent affordable housing component — required of any developer — or by concern that AvalonBay would appeal).
Municipal staff: for its long-term wrestling match with complex site plans and related documents, often inconsistent or lacking required information, and for its final memorandum to the PB firmly stating how much information AvalonBay had not provided as of December 19!
Our public citizen-activists: no fewer than 36 speakers argued against the application with passion, exactitude, and deep understanding of the site plans and their dangers to the community. They spoke eloquently. Their visual presentations had outstanding value in showing the Planning Board how destructive to neighborhood values this development would be. The Planing Board heard quotations from testimony dating back to 2005, as PCSN has recovered and transcribed Planning Board hearings.
The PCSN legal team and urban planner: Robert Simon, after questioning the Planning Board’s legal right to judge the application, systematically exposed problems of “permitted use” in AvalonBay’s case. Aaron Kleinbaum probed issues of environmental safety and has notified the community that an ad-hoc “see or smell” method of evaluating possible carcinogens, among other contaminants, is not sufficient. Peter Steck showed that AvalonBay did not meet the bulk requirement for 20 percent open space for “both public and private use” and was actually over 25 percent under the legal requirement.
Contributors who have helped fund our professional team: many have stepped up, in difficult economic times, to protect Princeton’s future. They have realized that, while we need both rentals and 20 percent affordable housing, we must not have them at the price of destructive development.
Princeton can do better. We are committed to returning the site to human scale. If AvalonBay sues, we believe the Planning Board will prevail. We know that you will continue to support our efforts. We thank you deeply.
Member, PCSN, Leigh Avenue