February 12, 2020

Judge Approves Affordable Housing Settlement

By Anne Levin

Princeton’s plan for affordable housing was approved by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson on Friday, February 7. The settlement agreement between the municipality and the Fair Share Housing Center ends litigation dating back to 2015.

The municipality now moves into the compliance phase of the process, with a hearing planned for June. Several steps must be taken before that time, involving zoning changes, agreements, updates, and a spending plan, among other actions.

“There will be several ordinances that Council will be considering, required as part of the plan,” Mayor Liz Lempert said on Monday.

The all-day hearing was held to make sure the plan is fair, and protects the interests of low and moderate income households. There were objections by several parties, including the Princeton Progressive Action Group and the owners of The Ivy Inn on Nassau Street.

According to Lempert, the town also got positive feedback. ”Judge Jacobson commended Princeton for exceeding its affordable obligation and praised the proposed redevelopment of the Thanet property in particular as both an innovative and realistic financing approach to constructing 100 percent senior affordable housing,” she said in an email. “Adam Gordon of Fair Share Housing Center also spoke in favor of Princeton’s plan and cited Princeton’s existing developments as model examples of how 100 percent affordable and mixed income communities could both be built and operated successfully.”

Along with West Windsor, Princeton entered into litigation nearly five years ago disputing the number of affordable units that were required by the now-defunct Council on Affordable Housing (COAH). COAH was created by the New Jersey Legislature in response to the Fair Housing Act of 1985 and a series of rulings known as the Mount Laurel doctrine.

As part of the third round, which is the years 1999-2025, Princeton’s obligation was set at 753 units. From past rounds, the town has already built approximately 1,000 units of affordable housing for families and individuals who qualify. Lempert said Monday that she wants to make sure people are aware that there are both

for-sale and rental units available for a range of income levels, some of which have a “Princeton preference” for those who either work or already live in town.

“While these units do not count towards meeting the town’s affordable housing obligation, they comprise an attractive component of Princeton’s affordable housing supply,” she said. “We encourage employers and low-to-moderate income workers who may be interested in living in Princeton to familiarize themselves with the qualifications for the various affordable housing programs and to apply.”

Components of the third round affordable housing plan include existing sites such as the affordable units at Copperwood, AvalonBay (at the former Princeton Hospital site), Merwick Stanworth, and other locations. There were 244 qualifying units built during this period, which, including bonus points, count toward a total of 397 credits, said Lempert.

Proposed new developments in several areas of Princeton include 44 affordable housing units at Princeton Shopping Center as part of a larger development. At the site of two existing office buildings on Thanet Circle, AvalonBay has plans to build an apartment complex with 221 units, six of which would be affordable and five for individuals with special needs. AvalonBay will also subdivide a parcel and donate it to the town for an age-restricted, affordable housing complex. Twelve affordable units are planned in a 60-unit, inclusionary development at Terhune and Harrison streets.

Also planned are 24 new affordable units at Princeton Community Village, 80 new affordable family rental units at Franklin Avenue and Maple Terrace, and a 65-unit affordable housing project at the former SAVE animal shelter site on Herrontown Road.

Rezoning is planned to address shortfalls left over from the second round of obligations. The former Borough has an unmet need of 95 affordable units, which the town has agreed to correct through approval of an ordinance requiring an affordable housing set-aside of 20 percent for all new multi-family residential developments of five or more units throughout the town. Princeton will also create zoning overlays to the Nassau Street corridor to allow for additional housing development that produces affordable units “and contributes to the local economy by adding housing within easy walking distance of transit, shopping, and jobs,” said Lempert.

Upcoming public meetings where the zoning ordinances and other measures will be heard include the Planning Board on Tuesday, February 18 at 7:30 p.m., which will be a review of the Thanet Redevelopment Plan and its consistency with the Princeton Master Plan; and a special meeting of Princeton Council on Wednesday, February 19 at 7 p.m. to vote on the Thanet plan, resolutions designating the developers, a redevelopment agreement, a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement, and a financial agreement with AvalonBay. Both meetings are at Witherspoon Hall.