July 22, 2020

Two Opportunities for the Public To Comment on Maple/Franklin Site

By Anne Levin

An ordinance introduced by Princeton Council on July 13 could enable the development of 160 units – 80 affordable and 80 at market rate – on Franklin Avenue, across from the Avalon Princeton apartment complex. The Princeton Housing Authority’s Maple Terrace and Franklin Terrace apartments, which were the town’s first affordable housing project in the 1930s, are currently on the site, as is a former parking lot.

Council introduced two ordinances related to affordable housing. One was to create an “AH-6” zone, which would allow for the construction of 80 units, in a 100 percent affordable building. That ordinance is part of the town’s affordable housing obligation, which was approved by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson. The second ordinance, an “AHO-6” zoning overlay, would allow for up to 160 units.

The ordinances are listed on the agenda of the Planning Board, which will meet via Zoom on Thursday, July 23 at 7:30 p.m. Princeton Council is expected to hold a public hearing on the ordinances at its virtual meeting on Monday, July 27.  Both meetings are open to the public.

The first ordinance was originally targeted at 80 units, for low income and moderate income households, in a building that would be 3.5 stories tall. The second allows a maximum building height of five stories. The building would have at least one storefront on the ground floor, facing Witherspoon Street. There could be additional commercial spaces for a total of 10,000 square feet.

The development would be located on the site of the current units and the adjacent parking lot. The lot, which has been the site of the weekly Princeton Farmers Market this summer, was used by Princeton Medical Center before its relocation to Plainsboro eight years ago. It was donated to the town by Princeton University in 2014.

Some residents have expressed concerns that the increased density of the overlay would create parking problems and overtax the public school system. Others have spoken in favor of the development.

At a recent meeting of Council, Princeton Housing Authority Chair Leighton Newlin spoke in support of the AHO-6 rezoning. “The partnership will allow the Princeton Housing Authority to rehouse 20 families currently residing at Maple Franklin, which were built in the 1930s and 40s, and is quite possibly the most under-utilized parcel of land in central Princeton,” he said. Newlin expressed concern for very-low-income residents, and said the Housing Authority was committed to providing the best possible housing for its constituents, who are mostly Black and  have been longtime residents of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. He is aware of concerns raised by others about density, but “We firmly believe that working together in collaboration, we can incorporate a community within a community that is well designed and that will please the people that live there, the neighboring community that surrounds it, and the town of Princeton, which we all call home,” he said.