April 2, 2014

AvalonBay Agreement To Be The Focus Of Council Meeting

As developer AvalonBay has begun cleaning out the inside of the former Princeton Hospital building in preparation for tearing it down, neighborhood residents concerned about the environmental effects of that demolition, and the ensuing construction of a 280-unit rental community at the site, are stepping up efforts to ensure that it is done safely.

Princeton Council plans to discuss the project’s Developer’s Agreement as well as aspects of the demolition plan at its next meeting on Monday, April 7.

Members of the citizens’ group Planning at Hospital Site LLC have been present at recent meetings of the Board of Health and the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood to talk about their concerns. At the Board of Health meeting on March 18, it was suggested that children who live near the site be tested for lead both before and during the demolition. Elisa Neira, Princeton’s Human Services Director, said last week that her department was researching funding for that at the county, state, or federal level.

Longtime resident Henry Pannell was among those on hand for the March 22 meeting of the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood, which was also attended by Mayor Liz Lempert, Council members Bernie Miller, Jo Butler, and Lance Liverman, and municipal staff members Bob Kiser and Jack West. The meeting was dominated by concerns about AvalonBay.

“I have grandchildren that walk by the hospital every day,” Mr. Pannell said. “And the learning center [Henry Pannell Learning Center] is on the corner, so I’m wondering whether this summer we’ll be able to open the windows. But one thing that came out of the community meeting that made me feel a lot better is that Bob Kiser got up and said his department is hiring someone to be there full time during the process, which I never heard until that meeting. I feel a heck of a lot better knowing the lead and other airborne things will be looked at. I know if there is someone there working for the engineering department that the contractors will be a lot more responsible.”

Mr. Kiser, who is the town’s municipal engineer, confirmed on Monday that someone would be hired “on an as-needed basis. I’m not sure if it will be full time,” he said. “But one way or another, someone will be monitoring the full demolition process.”

In response to concerns aired by the citizens’ group, the municipality last month hired licensed remediation professional Ira Whitman to evaluate certain issues related to the demolition. When Mr. Whitman detailed his findings at the March 10 meeting of Council, he was questioned about whether he had negotiated with AvalonBay about how much soil sampling should be done. He said he had removed some of his original recommendations at AvalonBay’s request, provoking a strong reaction from some residents attending the meeting.

That has become a major concern to members of the citizens’ group, as have questions about sewer lines and waste incinerators. Noise is another worry. In an email, Harris Road resident Anita Garoniak said, “The residents of my block will have a hard time with noise and instead of being reassured, our concerns are growing. The Planning Board’s resolution cites 8 a.m.-6 p.m. as the recommended time limit for construction work. This is already a long time, but we heard AvalonBay telling Council that the hours will be from 7 a.m.-6 p.m., adding an additional early morning hour to the disruption of the peace of our neighborhood. Neighbors are asking who is making the call on what will be allowed.”

Early last month, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson ruled against a lawsuit brought by the citizens’ group seeking to block the development. Areta Pawlynsky, a member of the group, said they have not made a decision as to whether to appeal that ruling.

“We see the progress being made only due to the fact that the lawsuit is ongoing,” she said. “We’re concerned that if we don’t continue, the minimal steps and progress will cease. It’s unfortunate that residents have to spend so much time on this.”