February 13, 2013

Rejection of AvalonBay Plan Made Official

At its meeting on February 7, Princeton’s Planning Board officially memorialized its December 19, 2012 rejection of developer AvalonBay’s proposal for an apartment building at the former location of the University Medical Center at Princeton. That clears the way for the developer to determine whether it will appeal the decision, something that has yet to be announced. AvalonBay has until March 24 to announce its intention.

In the meantime, the task force assigned last month to evaluate the site’s mixed use zoning has been meeting regularly. Discussions among members of the task force have focused on the possibility of increasing open space requirements, allowing separate structures instead of one large building, and decreasing the allowed housing density.

AvalonBay’s attorney Anne Studholme has attended the task force’s meetings, taking notes but rarely offering comment. She aired her opinions in a letter to the Planning Board’s attorney Gerald Muller dated February 7, complaining that the resolution describing the Board’s decision to deny AvalonBay’s plan, because it failed to meet Princeton’s design standards, “incorporates none of the record purposefully created by the board members and set forth with clarity and detail as the basis for each member’s vote on December 19, 2012.”

Ms. Studholme said that the Board “cherry-picks a few of the design standards and asserts that the application fails to ‘meet’ them. Given the repeated acknowledgment by yourself, and by Lee Solow, Princeton’s Director of Planning, that the design standards are inherently self-contradictory, and that they also contradict the zoning standards, we cannot tell, from studying the proposed resolution, let alone the transcript of the record, how it was the board came to find certain design standards requisite to be met, and not others.”

The Board said in its decision that AvalonBay’s proposal for 280 apartments, in a building ranging from three to five stories, did not allow for sufficient connections to the surrounding neighborhood. Rather, it calls for a “fortress-like” development with only one archway, “providing public access through a 60-foot-long passage to a dead end court. It excludes the public and turns its back to the broader neighborhood.”

Ms. Studholme said that the resolution quotes members of the public who object to the plan while not quoting remarks by Board members. “We are disappointed that the proposed resolution strays so far from the established record — in fact, that it ignores the established record,” the letter reads.

Meetings of the hospital site task force are open to the public. For the dates of upcoming meetings, visit Princeton’s website: www.princetonnj.gov.