To the Editor:
Last week, Mr. Hillier [a Town Topics shareholder] was before Council once again seeking to be relieved of his obligation to offer for sale the units in the Waxwood development. For its part, the former Borough has already granted a density bonus for the redevelopment; allowed a change to the original agreement from for-sale to rental in order for the Waxwood to qualify for the National Register of Historic Places; relaxed the residency requirement for the Foundation units intended for residents with ties to the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood; and extended for five years the deadline by which Mr. Hillier was to offer the units for sale. The agreement also called for Mr. Hillier to offer eight of the units at a 20 percent discount — three as affordable units and five as Foundation units. The former Borough Council did not want to force Mr. Hillier to sell into a weak real estate market. Mr. Hillier benefited enormously as the market recovered, and the folks who missed the opportunity to purchase a residence in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood in 2010 missed the opportunity to own property in a neighborhood whose desirability has increased dramatically. One such resident encouraged Council to hold Mr. Hillier to the long-standing agreement. Mr. Newlin spoke in favor of protecting Mr. Hillier rather than allowing others the opportunity to invest in this vibrant, diverse, and historic neighborhood.
Both Princetons had strong commitments to providing affordable housing, and I am proud to be a part of the continuing commitment in the consolidated community. The former Borough focused primarily on rental units, and the former Township had a robust Affordable Housing Purchase program. One important feature of the purchase program is that when properties appreciate in value, the municipality shares in that increase when the property is sold, which allows us to continue funding the program. The settlement with Princeton University will offer support to those qualifying for the Homestead exemption for four years, at the end of which, the benefit ends. Unlike the municipal purchase program, the appreciation in the value of the housing will accrue solely to the property owners and is without any long-term benefit to affordable housing efforts in Princeton.
As a plaintiff in the lawsuit that challenged the tax status of Princeton University, Mr. Newlin has taken umbrage where none was intended. I don’t begrudge the plaintiffs their settlement. We all are concerned about the neediest among us, so tax relief, no matter how brief, is welcome. The Town was excluded from the settlement discussions, so I am disappointed that we didn’t have the opportunity to discuss the long-term financial challenges facing the municipality and the schools. It is an age-old challenge that New Jersey funds its public schools through property taxes; in Princeton, our challenge is even greater due to the number of tax-exempt institutions within our borders. The “fair share” debate has been a part of the local discourse since the day I arrived, and there is no end in sight. Personal attacks certainly don’t advance the discussion. The silly season of local politics is off to an inauspicious start!