July 24, 2013

Citizens Group Withdraws Objection to AvalonBay

At a meeting of the Planning Board last Thursday, Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods (PCSN) announced it was no longer opposing developer AvalonBay’s proposal for 280 rental units at the former site of the University Medical Center at Princeton. In a statement this week, PCSN supporters said the abrupt about-face was due to mounting legal and professional fees incurred over the past year and a half.

“The Trustees continue to carry a significant legal financial responsibility for full payment of debts,” the statement reads. “Presenting a case at the Planning Board meeting on July 18 would have involved yet further, sizable attorney and expert fees.”

The initial announcement, which was in the form of a letter from PCSN’s attorney Robert Simon, was read by Planning Board chair Wanda Gunning at the meeting, the third devoted almost solely to the AvalonBay proposal. At the final meeting this Thursday, the Board is expected to vote on whether to approve the company’s plan, which has been revised since the Board voted to reject it last December.

After that rejection, the developer filed suit against the town and the Planning Board. Meetings were then held between the town and AvalonBay in an effort to come to an agreement, and avoid litigation. Since then, the developer has been presenting its revised case to the Board. The major objections to the proposal, voiced by citizens in numerous meetings of Princeton Borough Council last year, had to do with environmental issues, the height of the buildings, issues of permeability, and public space, among other concerns.

Despite PCSN’s formal withdrawal of opposition to the plan, there were plenty of people on hand at the most recent meeting to express their doubts. Resident and retired plumber John Armonia said the current site plan does not adequately address the issue of basements on Henry Avenue that have been flooded with raw sewage — a problem that has disappeared since the hospital vacated the site last May but will return if the complex is built. “This problem is definitely going to come back if nothing is done,” he said. “The entire AvalonBay complex is going to tie into our Henry Avenue line, which is crazy.”

Harris Road resident and architect Dan Shea said AvalonBay’s plan would deliver a “destructive, pervasive impact” to the neighborhood. “I have never before witnessed such blatant disregard for design regulations,” he said. Others showed power point presentations focused on the size of the buildings. Evan Yassky of Hawthorne Avenue said the Planning Board should not be pressured into approving “an unsympathetic and overscaled proposal.”

Shirley Satterfield, who lives on Quarry Street and is a longtime resident of the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood adjacent to the hospital site, read a statement saying the complex would change the economics of the area and force residents to move out of town. “Developers come to Princeton with no interest or respect for residents and descendants of those families who have lived in Princeton for generations and who cannot afford to remain or return,” she said …. “The working class and laborers who, for generations, have serviced the well-to-do Princeton residents, have been forced out of Princeton because of the the lack of affordable housing.”

Speaking in favor of the complex, resident Christine Keddie said it would make Princeton a more walkable community. “Either we allow more apartment housing to be allowed in town or we might as well draw a big red line around Princeton and say, only upper and upper-middle-class residents are welcome,” she said.

Kim Pimley of Library Place, who is chair of the Princeton HealthCare System Foundation Board of Directors, urged the Board to approve the proposal, as did resident Maria Juega, who said it brings much-needed affordable housing units to the town (the proposed complex includes 56 affordable housing units).

PCSN’s statement thanked those who have supported their efforts over the past 17 months. “In addition to PCSN’s overall accomplishments, we should all be proud of PCSN’s work in securing AvalonBay’s commitment to provide 13 percent very low income units that will house families in seven units of the 56 affordable units if AvalonBay’s Plan B is approved by the Planning Board,” it reads. “The inclusion of very low income units in a private development is unprecedented in Princeton.”

The statement also says supporters “should be equally proud that PCSN has secured AvalonBay’s commitment to donate $70,000 to the Princeton Arts Council — funds that will be dedicated to the acquisition and placement of public art throughout the AvalonBay development if AvalonBay’s Plan B is approved by the Planning Board.”

The final meeting of the Planning Board on AvalonBay is this Thursday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m.