July 25, 2018

Enforcement of Ordinances Questioned By Residents at Council Meeting

By Anne Levin

Princeton’s enforcement of ordinances related to the treatment of trees during teardown and construction projects was challenged by some area residents at the Monday, July 23 meeting of Princeton Council. Hawthorne Avenue resident Galina Chernaya, who has been involved in a dispute over trees with RB Homes since the developer began dismantling the property it owns next door to her, told Council that the town is remiss in its handling of protective ordinances.

Chernaya cited “serious and very clear gaps that exist in the engineering department process for approval of the demolition and construction permits as well as monitoring construction sites,” she said. She claimed that Council is ignoring the issue, “which is damaging to neighborhoods. Princeton neighborhoods are under assault by developers.”

Mayor Liz Lempert responded that the town’s Neighborhood Character Study is working to address the situation. “We did pass a series of ordinance changes and are planning on another series of ordinance changes to help,” she said, adding that it has to be done indirectly since state law does not allow the prevention of teardowns themselves. “So our approach has been to change the ordinances in terms of what you can build as new construction in its place, hopefully encouraging renovation. Often we are governed by what the state allows us to do. We can’t do something effective if we don’t know what the rules are and how we can act in those parameters.”

Another area resident asked if there is any tracking of violations. Lempert said the process is like any other violation, where a citation is given and the person in violation needs to appear in court. RB Homes has been given one violation, Municipal Administrator Marc Dashield said.

Lempert said public meetings related to the Neighborhood Character Study have taken place and are continuing. Ordinances that have been drafted are currently being reviewed by the town’s attorneys, she added. “It is fairly comprehensive and we are doing our best to get community involvement.”

Another speaker told Council that because of teardowns like the one on Hawthorne Avenue, “we’re not only going astray, but we’re going contrary to a lot of the important values we’ve espoused, because we’re not living them.” She said the problem is not limited to one property, one builder, or one issue. Flooding is another situation that has arisen from builders putting large houses on small lots, she said.

Princeton’s Shade Tree Commission was scheduled to discuss the tree issue at its meeting on Tuesday. Lempert encouraged those concerned to attend upcoming public hearings and meetings that will be held on that topic.