May 29, 2019

Hibben, Mercer Residents Ask Mayor, Council, Others to Deny PTS Request

To the Editor:

Addressing the Princeton mayor and Council, Princeton Planning Board, and the Ad Hoc Committee, the undersigned residents of Hibben Road and Mercer Street request denial of the request by PTS to redevelop the Tennent-Roberts campus into 105 two-bedroom apartments for student housing.

The redevelopment process is usually driven by a municipality in order to achieve a public purpose that cannot be met by zoning. The study did not start with the exercise of what the town would want to promote on the site in terms of use and scale, but rather the process was initiated in response to a strategic decision by PTS to relocate their students. In essence, this process has tried to legitimize “spot zoning.” The proposed development is simply too large for the site. Currently this would represent a plus-30 percent overage versus current approved zoning. This project is outside any previous redevelopment applications based on the area being declared a redevelopment zone, which is a first for Princeton. While this theoretically allows for greater flexibility for the community, as submitted it clearly contradicts the guidelines in the Princeton Master Plan, which stress institutional compliance with existing zoning.

The proposed development is out of character with the residential neighborhood and at odds with the Princeton Master Plan. The development, if built, lacks the context of the existing period buildings that are set back from the road and have a scale that fits the site. The proposed development would overwhelm the current residential neighborhood in terms of size, scale, and density. The “form based code” recently approved by unanimous vote of Council seeks to preserve neighborhood character, maintain large trees, and put restrictions on the height of buildings. While this regulates development of individual homes, it would be completely contradictory to the spirit of these regulations for the proposed redevelopment by PTS to be approved, given that it breaks all of these conditions.

While there has been the opportunity for the residents to provide input as part of this process, it has only been in response to a proposed PTS plan that was well outside zoning guidelines from the beginning. We are told that PTS needs are such that it cannot accept a smaller development on this site. This is not an existential issue for PTS. They are a substantial land and homeowner in Princeton and West Windsor and they if they choose, they have many other options available to them.

This is the first time a redevelopment zone has been considered in Princeton. It sets an unfortunate precedent if the only outcome is that the applicant gets a zoning variance with no discernable public benefit. PTS has also offered to make an unconditional payment of $250,000 towards the affordable housing settlement. While we are sure this will have no bearing on the Council’s and Planning Board’s decisions, from an optics perspective, it creates the wrong impression amongst many residents.

Michael and Susan Head; Jim and Jo Butler
Hibben Road

Doug Palmer and Christiania Foglio
Mercer Street