To the Editor:
A chief concern of Princeton residents is how quickly massive, expensive houses are replacing viable smaller ones. Princeton has issued permits for 218 tear-downs since 2005, 37 already this year. These new structures both make neighboring houses look small and, with their double garage doors, seem to shut out the community.
This May, the town hired a consultant. Under contract for one year. Mark Keener plans to meet three times with individual neighborhoods. The research links Keener offers at princetonneighborhoods.org make clear the universality of the problem: new houses are simply replacing existing ones that are 1/3 the cost. I urge readers to follow the links for a broad picture of the issues involved.
What can be done? And how long should it take? The links offer examples.
According to the Minneapolis MINNPOST, Minneapolis was able to pass a one-year moratorium directive, or “demolition delay,” giving everyone time to develop “a solution that spares older homes from complete destruction and replacement.” It took effect early in 2014. Before final approvals, staff took the initiative to enact rules of operation to reduce the effect of construction noise, dust, etc., on the neighborhood.
Later the same year, 16 zoning code changes took effect, limiting roof and foundation heights, increasing setbacks, requiring features such as basements and detached garages, and including garage space in the ratio of floor area to lot size.
The city also produced a Toolkit for Neighbors of New Construction “to help neighbors navigate the bureaucracy, explain the construction management agreement, and give advice as to how to exercise their rights,” i.e., an educational outreach both to builders and the residents to help each understand the others.
Minneapolis continues to evolve, but there is now a balance between old and new. The Council member who proposed the moratorium ”got a lot of heat,” but the moratorium itself “got the builders’ attention.”
Could Princeton similarly take action? The 2017 update to Wellesley’s response to gentrification suggests that its government has spent seven years to come up with a plan. Let’s not let that happen here.