December 19, 2012

To the Editor:

On November 17, more than 700 people filled Richardson Auditorium for The Capitol Steps sold-out performance benefitting the Princeton Senior Resource Center (PSRC).

Special thanks go to our honorary chairs, Bill and Judith Scheide and Ellen and Albert Stark. Thanks, too, to our event committee, Rebecca Esmi and Audrey Hallowell who chaired the event and Rich Bianchetti, Dave Saltzman, Hazel Stix, Bob Hillier, Paul Gerard, Henry Opatut, Linda Richter, Todd Lincoln, Bill Isele, Jay Kuris, and Claire Jacobus, committee members who worked tirelessly to make this year’s performance such a rousing success.

This event, the capstone of our fundraising year, provides significant financial support for the programs and services offered by PSRC and helps us achieve mission-critical goals to be the center of active aging in the greater Princeton area. We are grateful for the invaluable contribution of our corporate and individual sponsors who made this event possible led by Archer & Greiner, the Gordon and Llura Gund Foundation, Otsuka, Arlene and Henry Opatut, Stark and Stark, Princeton Global Asset Management, Hill Wallack, Robert Hillier Architect, Hilton Realty, Dave Saltzman Insurance, Irwin and Cecilia Rosenblum, and Lynn and David Wong. For a complete list of our sponsors, visit our website at www.princetonsenior.org.

As the more than 1200 people who attend PSRC programs each week and the 125 who receive our support and guidance services know, PSRC is serving the needs of the greater Princeton 55-plus community and their families all year long. We continue to provide dozens of programs and services and continue to empower older adults to make informed choices and live healthy lives.

We invite you to stop by and visit PSRC and see all the smiling faces in person. Learn more about our many programs such as Evergreen Forum, the Health Fair, newly expanded Next Step: Engaged Retirement and Encore Career program, GrandPals and Caregivers programs as well as our countless support groups and services.

With best regard and sincere thanks to the many organizations, corporations, and individuals who partner with and contribute to PSRC. In doing so they enhance the Princeton area active adult community.

Susan W. Hoskins, LCSW

Executive Director

December 12, 2012

To the Editor:

Alas! The wrong version of the 2005 Hillier concept plan for the hospital site renewal was introduced by AvalonBay at the Planning Board meeting (December 6). Jonathan Metz showed the first version of the plan, originally shown to Planning Board members on May 26, 2005. This version lacks the public walkway between Witherspoon Street and Harris Road that Mr. Hillier developed by July 14, 2005 for the Planning Board’s consideration, in response to Planning Board members’ input.

The later version [shown here] is more community-friendly. The public walkway makes directly accessible the public patio area surrounded by two-story townhouses located roughly where the private swimming pool (enclosed by the four- and 5-story box proposed by AvalonBay) would be, if the site plan were unfortunately approved.

Moreover, the later plan has additional public walkways “crossing the site” (Borough Code, 17A-193B.d.1), linking neighborhoods to the two on-site public playgrounds serving the neighborhoods, new and existing. It truly fulfills the urban renewal intent of the Master Plan and Borough Code.

It’s a shame the rejected plan was shown. It mis-educates the public. It’s also the plan that Barry Rabner, CEO UMCP, allowed to be published by BlueGate Partners, who marketed the property. Many of us wish Mr. Rabner had exercised more diligent oversight and not defaulted in his commitment to our neighborhood. As Marvin Reed, on the Planning Board, said in frustration, again (December 6), “the hospital proposed the design standards” — and then failed to hold its chosen developer to compliance.

Planning Board members (and the public) should know that Mr. Metz’s estimate of the size of Hillier’s public parks is incorrect by 10,000 square feet. Hillier offered 35,000 square feet, not 25,000 — a huge difference. Mr. Metz attempted to explain away the tiny sliver of park now offered to the Planning Board (14,990 square feet — less then HALF the 35,000 square feet proposed by Hillier and UMCP) by saying that the difference in size between the AvalonBay “park” and Hillier’s park is virtually the size of the building known as 277 Witherspoon, just sold by the hospital. This truth obscures two facts: 1) AvalonBay could have attempted to meet public and official intent (a generous public park on the Hillier scale) and chose not to; 2) AvalonBay’s sliver is surrounded on three sides by streets or driveways (Hillier’s vehicular entry was only on Henry Avenue, not also from Witherspoon).

We and the Planning Board must recall that the AvalonBay proposal embodies everything that Wendy Benchley feared most: “I was so afraid,” she said at a Borough Council meeting (May 8, 2006), “that the open space would be just a buffer around the block.” Ms. Benchley, for decades a distinguished civic leader in Princeton, was a serious student of urban design. The “buffer” of renters’ back yards that is now passed off as “publicly-accessible open space” (Jeremy Lang, for AvalonBay, December 6) along Witherspoon and Franklin is the realization of Wendy Benchley’s nightmare.

Joseph Bardzilowski

Henry Avenue

To the Editor:

Since AvalonBay’s (AB) testimony regarding its proposal for the now vacant hospital property on Thursday night did not leave room for citizen comment, I would like to offer the comments I would have made had time allowed.

The design standards grew out of a public process asking what kind of development should replace the hospital when it left Princeton. Mr. Lang, AvalonBay’s engineering witness, spoke exhaustively about how he believes that it does, indeed, respond to the design standards; but it is my impression that AvalonBay’s response is superficial and that they should not be allowed to proceed until it responds to the substance of those standards.

1) Mr. Lang said, for instance, that there would be changes in color and texture of the facade, affordable housing, an overall setback larger than originally proposed, and stoops and front entrances on Witherspoon. In spite of such concessions the basic design has not changed: the proposed building is out of proportion to the neighborhood. It is a looming city block, not designed to fit into a neighborhood of one and two-story frame buildings.

Mr. Lang referred to the 119’ height of the hospital tower, saying that AvalonBay’s proposal calls for a maximum height of “only” 48’. He did not mention that this facade, like that of the Palmer Square development facing Paul Robeson Place, would dwarf the existing neighborhood. In fact, it would extend all the way around the block, altogether changing the character of the neighborhood. The fact that the houses on Harris Road would remain does not negate the additional fact that AvalonBay’s facade would tower behind them.

2) In order to promote pedestrian shopping, reduce automobile traffic, and encourage the stores currently in the neighborhood, the design standards call for retail to be included in the plan. AvalonBay does have retail in at least one of its developments, but Mr. Ladell now says that AvalonBay “does not do retail.” In Thursday’s presentation Mr. Lang said that AvalonBay does “not want to compete with” the existing stores. But I would think that in the right structures, AvalonBay might complement the services of these stores, thereby bringing them business. Actively considering retail would respond to the design standards, which sought to improve and encourage the retail offering in the neighborhood, not bypass it.

AvalonBay should respond to the public cry for responsiveness.

Mary Clurman

Harris Road

To the Editor:

The AvalonBay design raises several concerns regarding public and open space:

Thirty-six mature trees and the very tall evergreen hedges along Franklin Avenue and the interior driveway will be cut down for AvalonBay’s building. Dan Dobromilsky, the Planning Board’s landscape architecture consultant, takes a strong stance, saying, “The analysis of the existing vegetation on this site has completely discounted the value of mature landscape plantings in a community or neighborhood.” The removal of such a large number of mature trees lowers our carbon sequestration and increases the heat island effect. Like the proposed building, there’s not much that’s sustainable about the proposed plantings, either, since only a third are native.

Dobromilsky’s report also alludes to another important issue that has been sublimated by the applicant’s landscape renderings: the backyards of many units will face the Franklin and Witherspoon streets. AvalonBay’s landscape design ignores the many things that are usually placed behind a house: air conditioners; storage units; garbage cans, etc. None of these common backyard items are shown on the rendered site plan. Furthermore, the spaces that the applicant has continued to call public can become instantly privatized by the installation of fences at the property lines along Franklin and Witherspoon — none of which would require permission. And, suddenly, all that “public space” is only private ….

We must not lose sight of the bigger picture. This is the largest development site that Princeton has ever offered to a private developer, and we should be ashamed. We have handed the developer our greatest allowable development in a central location, and the AvalonBay design response has been to effectively remove the public nature that the concept plan crafted.

Consider Hinds Plaza. It, too, is the front of a large apartment complex, widely enjoyed by the public in large part because the public feels welcome and has reasons to go and be there. The integration of public features (stores, shops, institutions) and the fact that roadways on three sides do not surround it leads to its success. At AvalonBay, only the residents have reason to be there now that street-level commercial activity has been removed. It’s their front yard and no more than a glorified, totted-up bus stop for the town.

Rather than using this development as an opportunity for Princeton to show how sustainable Princeton could be, we’re allowing AvalonBay to bypass meaningful sustainability other than the givens — the scale of development and its central location. That means only AvalonBay profits, and the public loses.

Holly Grace Nelson

Leigh Avenue

To the Editor:

Clearly the Planning Board (PB) must schedule an additional hearing date beyond December 13 for the AvalonBay application. Due process and the choreography for these legal proceedings can’t be short-circuited, lest their legitimacy be questioned. While I respect the Planning Board’s need to finish work before December 31, additional overtime is needed from a Planning Board that has already labored with exceptional diligence under heavy pressure to complete an unduly burdensome workload.

To the credit of the Planning Board and its chair, Wanda Gunning, and PB attorney Gerald Muller, Ms. Gunning’s memorandum to PB clearly states: “I am not intending to limit testimony or cross-examination other than when it appears that a particular point being pursued is redundant.” She continues, however, that “if it is necessary” to impose “a time limit,” “without limiting the applicant’s and objectors’ right to present a full case, we will explore that possibility” (December 6, 2012).

AvalonBay has now had nearly three full sessions to present its case. Clearly Ms. Gunning and Mr. Muller expected them to be more “efficient” in their use of time and had anticipated that “ample time” would be left to Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods (PCSN) on December 6, but Mr. Simon (for PCSN) was not enabled to begin presenting his case until 10:15 p.m. He commended Ms. Gunning and the Planning Board for trying to set a schedule for the hearings but was obliged to say that it was “enormously, blatantly unfair” to PCSN and the general public to expect them to present and conclude their case in approximately one session.

The truth of this complaint was again evident as Mr. Lang, for AvalonBay, was rumbling through AvalonBay’s ostensible adherence to the Master Plan (in what some people called a filibuster), and was twice urged by Mr. Muller to finish speedily and then address design standards so that PCSN could begin its case. Toward the end of the evening, Mr. Muller agreed that a “colloquy” between Planning Board members might be necessary to set an additional hearing date beyond December 13, and after the lights had dimmed he and Ms. Gunning were seen conversing with Mr. Solow and Ms. Cutroneo. Let us hope they saw light.

The application has a huge reverberation for Princeton’s future; the honoring of due process is, in the long, democratic view, even more important.

Planning Board: Set an additional date. It’s unrealistic and unfair to everyone to expect PCSN to present its case, with witnesses, and deal with AvalonBay rebuttals, and answer questions from municipal staff, and participate in general questioning by the Planning Board — all in two sessions. In addition, Princeton citizens have a right to speak. The public has avidly contributed to the civic discussion about this application since November 2011. We don’t want our time cut short.

Mr. Muller must also demand again that AvalonBay send all official correspondence automatically to PCSN as well as to the Planning Board. AvalonBay’s tactics of withholding information are simply disreputable.

Daniel Brown

Humber Lane

To the Editor:

I have served on Borough Council for seven years during which time I have served on the Planning Board and have been part of the process involving the AvalonBay approvals. I write now, as a private citizen, in support of the approval of the AvalonBay development.

When Borough Council wrote the zoning that is currently in place, we had before us a potential model of what might be constructed on the hospital site. It was only a hypothetical guide. It was not a definitive model of what would be and we should not be beholden to that plan.

The first potential developer for the site dropped out because the model that had been suggested, with for-sale condominium units, leaving the seven-story hospital tower intact, proved not to be economically viable. In other words they would not make any money.

The hospital needs to sell the site now. They have chosen a developer who will pay the highest current price for the property, and who has the resources to build. This seems to be a rational and logical move on their part. The chosen developer is before the Planning Board with a compliant application. It may not be the most beautiful, but it is compliant with existing zoning.

The Environmental Commission on its first review of the project gave it a “thumbs up” for being smart growth. It is. This development puts density where density belongs, close to town, on bus lines, close to schools and other shopping. There is already an existing parking garage so parking is not an issue. Traffic in and out of the development will be greatly reduced from the 2,000-3,000 car trips per day that took place when the hospital was present.

Moreover, the development’s façade on Franklin Avenue will be broken up with front porches where residents might put a potted geranium in the summer time, or sit and chat with neighbors. Think of the façade now — it is monolithic and dead. The proposed development is far more neighborhood-friendly. And open space within the development is larger than required by the zoning.

If this application is turned down, what will happen to the property? The hospital has maintained it nicely in the short term, but what if, for example, there are problems with the site and the hospital finds it necessary to construct a cyclone fence around the property to protect it until a new developer can be found? This site could remain vacant for a very long time. This could have a very negative impact on the neighborhood and town.

Finally and most importantly, the developer is willing to devote 20 percent of this development to affordable housing. That is 56 units of very badly needed housing toward the Borough’s and soon Township’s unmet need of affordable housing units. The remainder of the rental units in this development will be market rate units that provide housing for working people in our town; administrative assistants, plumbers, electricians, teachers, policeman, social workers, etc. A recent letter to the editor bemoaned the fact that property taxes in Princeton are making it unaffordable for many to live in our town. This development would provide the housing needed to continue to keep Princeton an economically diverse and vibrant community.

I am troubled that the opponents of this development are elevating their otherwise laudable concern for the highest environmental standards to the detriment of another important value: providing affordable rental housing in our community. We need to work long term on improving our environmental building standards, but now is the time to provide a significant amount of rental housing here. I ask the Planning Board to approve the AvalonBay proposal and move on toward working on welcoming AvalonBay renters into our community.

Barbara Trelstad

Firestone Court

To the Editor:

My credentials are those of a longtime Princeton resident and of an emeritus professor of Art history. Since 1965 I have walked to the Dinky and, like the students of the Graduate College two blocks up from my house, I pull my suitcase(s) to the present station, when travelling to Newark Airport. In my old age I do not want to stumble half way down Alexander Road and climb stairs late at night or under icy conditions.

As a scholar of architecture, I have witnessed how not only wars and fires, but also indifference irretrievably destroys historic contexts. I am aghast that the Planning Board wants to dispose of one of Princeton’s few landmarks. The present Dinky station embodies a long tradition of Princeton life. Whether you return home from overseas or only from a day in New York City, you feel welcomed by the beautiful campus, scenes of loved ones being picked up at the adjacent “kiss and run” parking space, a few sleepy taxis, and across the street the entrances to our two theaters. What “Gateway to Princeton” would the sight of an ugly parking-garage be?

At the Township Hall meeting on November 29 I was impressed by the questioning from attorney Bruce Afran, who extracted only evasive or no answers from the officials. I was also mesmerized by the power-point presentation of Mr. Kornhauser. As he emphasized over and over again, that the Arts Center can be built without moving our Dinky station! You don’t even need to eliminate the tracks in order to turn the abandoned station building into a restaurant (great idea!). While the proposed use of Dinky land by the University is legally challenged, since when is the Dinky itself run by the University and not by N.J. Transit? By definition “public transportation” belongs to the public! We, the public, who ride the Dinky to or from New York and Philadelphia to get to our jobs, our doctor’s, lawyer’s, etc. appointments or museum/opera visits, do not want to be forced into inconveniences, unsafe access, and time-consuming detours for the sake of the University’s employees garage. Would you not think that our town officials would protect the welfare of their tax-paying citizens instead of letting themselves be pressured by the tax-exempt University? I do not know the terms of the million dollars gift by Peter B. Lewis, but I hesitate to believe that his vision of an Arts Center was intended to benefit an existing parking garage, and surely Mr. Lewis did not mean to hurt the NJ Transit riders, seniors, commuters, the Princeton population at large (not 50 percent of the passengers are connected with the University, as Mr. Durkee has maintained). If Penn Station functions with a multi-purpose indoor arena on top, a gifted architect should be able to find a solution for how to integrate our beloved little Dinky Station into an Arts Center. Come to your senses and correct the design!!

Gerda Panofsky

Battle Road

To the Editor:

As a Princeton taxpayer who headed the Borough’s Traffic and Transportation Committee for many years, I must offer a few observations about the University’s wrong-headed determination to move the Dinky station further from downtown. My bottom line is simple (I’m sure most residents — and most Planning Board members — will have had this thought): in a time when scientists agree that climate change threatens, why make public transportation less convenient? Make no mistake; to approve this plan means more people will drive to the station and fewer people will use the rail connection, period.

Princeton is full of people expert in their fields who have testified against this proposal: among the adverse effects they have noted is hopelessly snarled traffic in the Alexander Road corridor. So not only is this decision wrong in its essence, it’s wrong in its details.

Here’s how to serve the arts: build the proposed arts complex, but maintain the current station. Princeton will not regret this outcome, just as New York City did not regret saving Grand Central station in the 1970s. As the Supreme Court wrote in that decision, “[H]istoric conservation is but one aspect of the much larger problem, basically an environmental one, of enhancing … the quality of life for people.”

Has the University’s largesse silenced those who might otherwise say that this plan offends sensibility as well as good sense? Bottom line: we know what’s right. Can we now look the other way as Princeton University trades our in-town, historic train station for better access to its parking garage?

Sandy Solomon

Bayard Lane

To the Editor:

Let it be known that on November 28, a new approach to journalism was born, on page 7 of the Town Topics. Though I had been waiting nearly two decades for this breakthrough, it took several readings for the importance of the headline to sink in. “Not Everybody Knows That Hospital Has Moved From Princeton to Plainsboro.” I know, it doesn’t sound like much, and my first inclination was to pass it by. Only when I re-encountered the headline, in the process of recycling, did the headline’s import sink in.

The article was about people still making the drive to the old hospital site in search of medical care. But on a broader scale, consider how many people labor under the burden of misinformation, and spend their lives driving their fevered thoughts to the wrong conclusions time and time again. Though this is considered the Information Age, it is equally the Misinformation Age, when lies go viral, replicating exponentially in nutrient-rich environments of resentment and fear. People are lost not only because they aren’t paying attention, but because they are being actively misled.

Fortunately, as the hospital article described, there is someone waiting at the old hospital site to redirect those who are lost. Additional signs directing people to the new hospital are now in place.

These steps make obvious sense, but ask yourself if the same steps have been taken to help people arrive at reality-based destinations in their thinking. Where, for instance, will people encounter, in an adequately redundant way, the basic facts about the human-caused transformations now underway that will change life on earth forever? Princeton probably contributes to the global problem of rising oceans and radicalized climate as much per capita as any other town, and yet there is precious little “signage” in news media — local or otherwise — directing us towards an understanding of the gravity of the situation.

An article in the pioneering style of “Not Everybody Knows” would give the basics about how human activity is warming the earth and acidifying the oceans, and that the many consequences — more destructive storms and droughts, coastal flooding, undermining of marine ecosystems, melting of ice caps, temperature rise — are playing out faster than scientists’ models had projected. It would say that sea rise is accelerating, with three feet likely this century, and 220 additional feet of rise still locked up in the ice fields of Greenland and Antarctica. It would say that the impacts of pouring climate-changing gases into the atmosphere, unlike with other forms of pollution, are essentially permanent, and continued dependency on fossil fuels will only destabilize climate and marine systems further.

That’s the sort of “signage” we need, posted like hospital signs in well-traveled places where people are sure to see them again and again, until the message gets through. The lack of it, the fact that one almost never encounters this information in daily living, reading, and listening without considerable search, is sending a very clear message: that it doesn’t really matter where we’re headed.

Stephen Hiltner

North Harrison Street

To the Editor:

Princeton — home of world-renowned institutions: Princeton University, The Institute for Advanced Study, Forrestal Research Center, Princeton Theological Seminary, et. al.; site of pivotal battles of our Revolutionary War; one-time capitol of our fledgling nation when the Continental Congress sat in Nassau Hall; home and workplace of Einstein, a name known the world over as synonymous with “genius”; a college campus widely known as the exemplar of Collegiate Gothic architecture in the U.S. — all this to be symbolized by a cubistic rendition of the Mercer Oak (which, by the way, no longer exists), an image that looks like nothing so much as … BROCCOLI?

Thomas S. Fulmer

Hunt Drive

To the Editor:

I agree with Jerome Silbergeld’s letter (“Deer Victim of Hit and Run Event”) in the Nov. 28 Mailbox. There is no reason why this poor deer had to be hit the way he was. Like Mr. Silbergeld, I also am “ tired of hearing that these beautiful creatures are pests.”

Could it be that this driver and other drivers who have hit deer maybe are driving too fast? It would be a safer world for all of us — humans and animals — if we were all calmer and more attentive on the roads.

Gina Berger

Cherry Valley Road

December 5, 2012

To the Editor:

I have lived in this community for 36 years. I frequently drive on Alexander Road to get to Route One, and I either walk to the Dinky or drive to the Dinky for travel to trains on the Northeast Corridor. I believe that public transportation is a public right, that our train link to Princeton Junction is a public good, and that our public streets should be managed for the benefit of everyone, not for a small (and privileged) subset of our population.

For these reasons, I urge this Planning Board to reject the transit portions of the University’s site plan. The proposal to move the Princeton Branch station stop south and away from town is indefensible. It will make our train link to the Junction less convenient for all of us who use it, whether we walk or bike there, whether we drive and park, or whether someone drops us off. Worse, the plan will essentially privatize our train station. For over a century we have had easy access to the Dinky from public streets. We have not had to rely on special permissions or easements from a private corporation for our ability to get to the train. The University’s plan proposes to change all of that.

To reach the train, we will have to go through University land to the service sector of the campus. It will be harder to get there, and the challenges will be much harder for those who are elderly or disabled. It will be less safe to walk from there at night. The University proposes to respond to the inconvenience by providing more gas-fueled shuttle service. This is an insult to anyone who cares about environmental responsibility. Instead of moving a mass transit stop to facilitate commuter car access to a parking garage, the University should encourage car pooling and other methods to cut down on auto use.

This proposal cannot be justified by any sound public policy reasons. It is not in the best interests of our community. A University that purports to teach international diplomacy should begin at home by ending its campaign to diminish our rights to public transportation.

Mary Ellen Marino

Hornor Lane

To the Editor:

We rely on the members of the Regional Planning Board of Princeton to recognize the dangers to the public inherent in the plan for the new Dinky Station complex, part of the University’s Arts and Transit project. The area in front of the new station will have to accommodate buses and cars waiting, turning and parking; pedestrians crossing the road to the station; “kiss and run” traffic; cyclists; and drivers and pedestrians stopping at Wawa. In addition, cars coming from and going to Parking Lot 7 will share an exit road with the station complex. All of this, confined in the small area set out in the University’s proposal, will cause intense congestion and endanger public safety.

Four new crosswalks on Alexander Street between University Place and Faculty Road will further impede traffic flow and put the public at even greater risk.

For these reasons we urge the Planning Board to require the University to come up with a safer plan.

Peter Kleban, Barbara Anderman

Springdale Road

To the Editor:

As we give thanks and count our blessings this time of year, the JM Group Family would like to acknowledge our generous customers and friends for their donations to our “First Annual Turkey Drive.”

We are so pleased to share the news that with your help, we donated 500 turkeys along with $1,200 to the Mercer Street Food Bank, enabling struggling families to enjoy the holiday. In addition, our “Fourth Annual Harvest Festival” raised $3,800, which we donated to the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.

The volunteers at the food bank and soup kitchen were thrilled and grateful for this generosity.

We are extremely proud to be a part of such a close-knit, benevolent community, and thank you all for your incredible support of this cause.

Happy Holidays!

Jack Morrison

To the Editor:

The redevelopment of the hospital site will have a permanent impact on our community. Unfortunately, years of thoughtful planning by the community, government, and hospital have not been incorporated into AvalonBay’s proposal.

The 2006 Princeton Borough Code added requirements for a Mixed Residential-Retail-Office, or MRRO, zone as “the Witherspoon Street Campus.” This MRRO zone was created for an urban campus, not a single building. It was intended to reintegrate the hospital site into the existing neighborhood through smart, rejuvenating urban design, with affordable housing and sustainable design. AvalonBay has presented drawings of 1 large building, a figure eight in plan, with 280 residential units. Not only does AvalonBay’s proposal not satisfy the 2006 Master Plan’s intent, it simply ignores the existing neighborhood.

Section 17A-193B of 2006 Princeton Borough Code includes guidelines that are not being met in AvalonBay’s proposal. To name just a few:

The Code’s paragraph A.6: “Buildings should be designed to avoid a monolithic appearance.” The proposal: Drawings show a continuous 3-story high wall running along Franklin Ave, almost two blocks long. From Witherspoon St, the wall runs 250 ft, jogs 15 feet back, then continues for another 240 feet.

The Code’s paragraph C.3: “Careful consideration should be given to the mass and bulk of any buildings to ensure they are harmonious with their surroundings and improve the present conditions.” The proposal: Drawings show one building and have not demonstrated any consideration of the surroundings.

The Code’s paragraph D.1: “Any applicant must document that the open space provides linkages between and through the development as well as the surrounding neighborhood.” The proposal: Drawings do not indicate any public walkways crossing the whole site. An archway from Witherspoon St permits access only to the smaller of two internal courtyards, which is a dead-end without any link beyond.

The Code’s paragraph E.1: “A new neighborhood street is envisioned. Access points should be open and accessible by the public.” The proposal: No new street is proposed crossing the site.

The Code’s paragraph E.4: “A private gated community is not allowed for the site.” The proposal: The larger of two internal courtyards is not accessible to the public, rendering the majority of the site as a private gated community.

For an urban plan such as this, a developer must either follow the existing zoning in place or the developer can modify the existing zoning on the basis of a new master plan. In the second scenario, the master plan becomes the de facto code for the urban design, similar to how the building code is the basis for building design.

The Planning Board is responsible for making sure that this design complies with the 2006 Master Plan’s intentions and guidelines. According to the Planning Board’s on-line mission statement, its first of 6 listed responsibilities is:

to assure that all permitted development is designed so as to be as harmonious as possible with the surrounding neighborhood.”

Yaron Inbar

Harris Road

To the Editor:

Tomorrow, December 6, critical Planning Board hearings continue on AvalonBay’s proposal to stick a gated “private community” into Princeton’s emerging downtown. Hearing dates are December 6 (Thursday), 10 (Monday), and 13 (Thursday), all at 7:30 p.m. (Township Complex). Come, speak out; help our Planning Board deny AvalonBay’s effort to violate Borough Code and the Master Plan, which both aim at a rejuvenated, diversified neighborhood.

From the outset, AvalonBay has ignored design standards, which Code pointedly characterizes as “a framework within which” any developer must work. The term “framework” does not allow dismissal. While AvalonBay has slurred design standards as “vague” (“subjective”), legal practice insists that each individual design standard be evaluated on its own merits. Furthermore, the developer (not the Planning Board) must prove that a specific standard is “vague”; only a judge may give a final ruling. Planning Board members may rightfully maintain that AvalonBay must heed a specific design standard — or they can deny the application. This situation also obtains if a developer claims that following a design standard is “cost-generative” (thereby governed by laws for developments with affordable housing components): the developer must present a baseline cost before claiming that adhering to a specific standard is cost-generative, and a judge must rule on that claim in court.

An important design standard reads: “Any applicant must document that the open space provides linkages between and through the development …” (17A-193B.d.1; see also 17A-193B.e.3). Requiring documentation from a developer is not a “vague” stipulation, nor is the phrase “through the development.” AvalonBay might fight the standard — and lose. The corollary to both standards, added late in the drafting of Borough Code, belongs to “legislative history”: “The development shall have [note that the verb mandates] an enhanced system of public open spaces and pathways” (17A-193B.d.4). “Enhanced”: a comparative adjective. “Enhanced” over what? — the hospital’s present footprint. AvalonBay disregards plain English — and has, indeed, subtracted the present walkway from Witherspoon to Harris.

Sometimes Mr. Ladell has shimmied, affirming that his development does indeed comply with a specific design standard. Can he really switch back and forth between honoring and trashing design standards en masse, claiming they are “vague”? On November 15, he claimed compliance with this standard: “New construction should be concentrated in the central portion of the site and building setback should increase as building height increases” (17A-193B.a.8). To manage this claim, he included the entire garage as part of the site — though he has otherwise argued that the “site” is only what’s in his major site plan application (the new residences). His argument that the northerly wall of apartments (abutting the garage) would be the highest point was deceptive. The real center is the swimming pool — and there are no changes in building height (setbacks) throughout a perimeter structure that is always 52 feet high (not counting additional lofts).

Planning Board members will doubtless not be duped by Mr. Ladell’s disingenuous rhetoric. They should deny his application and vote to weave a renewed site back into a welcoming neighborhood.

Daniel Harris

Dodds Lane

To the Editor:

Recently I learned that a graffiti outlaw wrote an expletive on signage at the entrance of Princeton Township. Even though this sign will most likely be removed and replaced with a new one when the consolidation becomes official, I firmly believe that the graffiti should be removed as quickly as possible. I have written letters to two members of Princeton Township Committee that I sincerely hope will result in the quick removal of the graffiti. Studies have shown that when graffiti goes uncorrected it creates more graffiti.

Ethan C. Finley

Princeton Community Village

November 28, 2012

To the Editor:

It has been months since the Planning Board approved the Institute for Advanced Study building application to construct 15 units on a piece of the Princeton Battlefield the IAS owns. As a Trustee of the Battlefield Society, I was horrified and pictured bulldozers cutting into the battle ground. With the vote, I was re-energized and sought ways to make people aware of this significant historical loss. I saw the battlefield differently.

It could not be business as usual for me and fortunately thousands of others who felt the same way. At this time of Thanksgiving, I am grateful that so many have come out to support the Princeton Battlefield Society. From Veterans groups, Boy and Girl Scouts, descendants of the men who fought the Revolution, history societies, students, enthusiasts, and all the other Americans who see what is to be lost and what is to be gained, I have met with many of them and am so grateful for the chance.

I do not know today what the future will hold for the Princeton Battlefield, one of the “11 Most Endangered Historical Sites” in the country. It still amazes me that the IAS, a good organization, wants a black mark like this on their record. Regardless, the Battlefield Society will continue to work to preserve our American Heritage. We will schedule period-appropriate educational, theatrical, and musical events. Maybe the IAS will see the battlefield differently too.

J. Carney

Glenwood N.J.

To the Editor:

I wish to express concerns about the proposed redevelopment of the Princeton Hospital site on Witherspoon Street. I believe realization of the proposal from AvalonBay would represent a disaster for the broader Princeton community, and for the Witherspoon Street neighborhood in particular. In brief, here are my concerns.

The Reed Plans: The plan from Avalon Bay fails to meet the letter and spirit of the plans developed through the leadership of former Borough Mayor Marvin Reed in the mid-2000s. The Reed Plans were developed with extensive community involvement and represent an exciting and once-in-a-generation opportunity for Princeton to bring forth a green/sustainable/open community development that would inspire and lead in the region and world. The AvalonBay plan, in contrast, gives nearly zero consideration to the Reed Plans. AvalonBay instead offers Princeton a throwback to the cookie-cutter strip mall attitude of the 1970s that leaves so much of America with orphaned developments of designed obsolescence. Princeton should collaborate with a developer capable of meeting the letter and spirit of the Reed Plans using sustainable methods that will leave a wonderful legacy for decades if not centuries.

Potential Contamination: The hospital site has the potential of having significant hazardous wastes that must be remediated. Many older hospital sites have mercury contamination, as well as radiation leaks, broken sewer/septic lines, and leaking fuel tanks. I heard rather unsatisfying statements at the recent Planning Board meetings to address these concerns. The present citizens of Princeton, and those who will live in the new apartments, must be assured that development will occur only after a full and open process of environmental testing, with the follow-on remediation as required.

What struck me during the recent Planning Board meetings was the clear voice of the many citizens in attendance who oppose the AvalonBay plan. In essence, what brings the people together in their opposition is that the AvalonBay plan in no way meets Princeton standards. Instead, AvalonBay proposes to introduce a soulless structure into a unique town whose history in people and buildings is world class, and the envy of nearly every community in America. Princeton deserves far better. Should you, the Planning Board, insist that the developer of the hospital site maintain the letter and spirit of the Reed Plans, I conjecture that nearly all Princeton citizens will be wholeheartedly in favor. Please stand firm in your commitment to the Reed Plans.

For those interested in the ongoing discussions, please attend the Planning Board hearings December 6, 10, and 13. It is important that all voices be heard.

Stephen Griffies

Maple Street

To the Editor:

The University had a recent meeting with members of the community seeking advice in the selection of a new president to replace Shirley Tilghman. Their comments confirm that Princeton is not much different from other college towns that don’t know how to deal with the “elephant in the room.” Relationship failures between town and gown should not be laid at the feet of President Tilghman nor should we ask the Trustees to pick a president whose prime responsibility is to smooth over those relationships.

The problem as I see it has to do with the missions of the two entities. The mission of the University is to be the best University in the world. By contrast, towns don’t seem to have a mission other than to satisfy the wishes of the electorate with plans that are limited to preserving the status quo. The contrast in planning efforts between the town and the University reveals the tremendous disparity. The University should not consider moves that are harmful to the town even though certain conflicts are to be expected. It appears that the town considers that its mission is to constrain and prohibit growth and expansion.

I am not optimistic that town and gown will reach accord on all issues. It would be helpful if the town rearranged its priorities so the missions were compatible and that the dialogue move beyond the issues of “payments in lieu of taxes” are whether The University has the right to relocate the Dinky.

As a proud Princeton Alumni, I want our next president to be a great educator, in the mold of Woodrow Wilson. I think Shirley Tilghman has been a great president and I am glad she didn’t come from the world of politics or business.

Jeremiah Ford III, AlA

Ford 3 Architects, Nassau Street

To the Editor:

I write in anger. Driving home today along Faculty Road, I approached two deer standing right in the middle of the road. Fortunately, there was plenty of time to slow to a halt, but the car coming in the opposite direction didn’t slow down for a second, struck and hurled one of the deer to the side of the road, and sped on undeterred. On its back, the deer’s legs spasmed as if it were dying. I turned around and parked and was surprised to find the animal, a big handsome two-pronged buck, back on his feet, but badly injured and severely hobbled. There was nothing to do but watch it suffer and wonder whether it can survive and recover. I am tired of hearing that these beautiful creatures are pests. It is we who are the pests, especially ones who would cause such needless, cruel, and sickening suffering. I can only hope that others who saw or who will read of this will pay closer attention to our much-ignored speed laws, which are there for good reason, and will show deeper respect to the other creatures that live in our small community.

Jerome Silbergeld

Philip Drive

To the Editor:

As time has passed since the impact of Hurricane Sandy, we have been able to contemplate how very fortunate the residents of Elm Court and Harriet Bryan House are to live in Princeton. Elm Court (EC) and Harriet Bryan House (HBH) are affordable apartment buildings managed by Princeton Community Housing.

We would like to express our gratitude for the kind and patient response of the Princeton Borough and Township Police to our senior citizens in the midst of a very trying time for our community during our weeklong power outage.

This past Sunday, we celebrated Thanksgiving with our annual “Thanksgiving Sunday Dinner.” In keeping with tradition, police from both municipalities, along with members of their families, were here to serve the meal to our residents. This unique celebration is the highlight of the year and also serves as a warm hearted kick-off to the holiday season.

On behalf of all EC and HBH staff, we sincerely thank the members of the soon to be united Princeton Police for their outstanding service. Their dedication and commitment to ensuring the safety of our residents is truly commendable.

Kerri Philhower

Fay Reiter

Ed Truscelli

To the Editor:

A letter writer (“Future Taxes Will Go Up,” Mailbox, Nov. 7) is concerned that due to high property taxes the “middle class in Princeton will be forced to either reduce their standard of living or sell their houses and move to another town.” Perhaps he doesn’t realize that many towns in New Jersey have similar property taxes. One reason is the high cost of our public schools. The New York Times reported on 5/26/11 that New Jersey ranked third in the nation in spending per student, behind New York State and Washington, D.C. In 2011 Princeton’s school taxes increased 5.46 percent. Our town may well rank in the upper reaches of state spending per pupil.

Each Sunday the New York Times lists properties in New Jersey that are for sale and their property taxes. Here are three nearby: a house in Hillsborough (9/23/12) for $367,000 with taxes of $8,085; a house in Hopewell Township (9/30/12) for $560,000 with taxes of $11,415; a house in East Brunswick (9/23/12) for $590,000 with taxes of $17,460. By the way, these towns don’t have a university to make contributions.

Princeton University is not the cause of and shouldn’t have to be the solution to our increasing tax rate. But it is right that the University makes a payment for tax-exempt rental properties where there are children who attend public school. Princeton’s newly elected officials need to better inform the public of the reason for our high taxes, namely, the high cost of our public schools.

Anne Witt

Lake Lane

To the Editor:

At the November 15 Planning Board meeting that focused on AvalonBay, I was deeply shocked by the behavior of Mr. Ron Ladell, a vice president and attorney for AvalonBay. He comported himself with a serious lack of respect for the Board and repeatedly spoke to it in a hostile manner. He tried to take control of the meeting and instructed the Board on how they should proceed. He, a corporate official of the applicant, interrupted the Board in what I can only describe as a bullying manner, attempting to intimidate it. After a premature adjournment, he stormed out of the meeting with his retinue while the Board was debating whether to re-open the meeting. Members of the Board showed remarkable calmness in the face of this unacceptable behavior.

The planning process requires a careful consideration of proposed developments. An applicant should at a minimum accede to the discipline of the Planning Board. If unwilling or unable to show proper respect, an applicant should be notified that their proposal will be dismissed with prejudice. A municipality must not allow itself to be bullied or intimidated. The Planning Board must not be afraid to require civility and cooperation of applicants merely for fear of providing reasons for an applicant to file a lawsuit.

The municipality, its boards, and this community must consider the consequences of having a hostile and litigious developer construct and operate one of the most important building projects in our town.

Anthony Lunn

Hawthorne Avenue

November 21, 2012

To the Editor:

Is lack of respect for appropriate procedure part of Avalon’s method? People I know who attended the November 15 AvalonBay hearing at the Planning Board (PB) were distressed by Mr. [Ron] Ladell’s bullying, disrespectful manner. When Gail Ullman requested him to cede a possible hearing date to the long-postponed Arts and Transit application, he bluntly refused. Ms. Ullman had to remind him to show more respect for the Planning Board process. Mr. Ladell is pushy: he hoards the microphone, as main presenter for AvalonBay and one of its attorneys, and gets double exposure.

At the Princeton Environmental Commission meeting on October 24, Anne Studholme, attorney for AvalonBay, almost shouted at Aaron Kleinbaum, legal director for the Eastern Environmental Law Center, “You’re lying!” — an intemperate, unprofessional charge. Later, she physically pushed Mr. Kleinbaum; he was forced to respond, “Take your hand off me.” One PEC member felt compelled to ask Ms. Studholme, “Have you no respect?” Another member asked that the record show that “the Attorney for Avalon Bay exhibited extremely rude behavior during this meeting” (PEC minutes).

The PB meeting heated up again when site contamination issues arose. Mr. Ladell seemed strident when he told the Board to reverse its decision on November 12 asking Borough Council and Township Committee to pass resolutions requesting a review of existing documents concerning possible contamination by an independent party (as the PEC had recommended). Mr. Ladell offered to bring his own environmental consultant — but Maser Consulting has already been exposed for concealing information, and AvalonBay is not unbiased. To its credit, the Board denied Mr. Ladell’s demand; Ms. Trotman and Mr. Liverman vocally supported Ms. Ullman’s determination to retain an independent party.

AvalonBay has consistently dismissed the public health concerns of Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods (PCSN) as “allegations.” The people I know in PCSN are interested in public health, not the so-called “scare tactics” Mr. Ladell accused them of at the Board hearing. Someone must ask: why do the hospital and AvalonBay oppose an independent investigation? Mr. Ladell later berated PB attorney Gerald Muller when, at the end the hearing, he inadvertently closed before announcing legal notice for the December 6 hearing. He actually stamped out (“We’re leaving!”) — and then snuck back to grab two private talks with Mr. Muller — at the dais and in the hallway

We should be concerned that rules of impartial adjudication are observed and that Robert Simon, representing PCSN, gets equal time. “These hearings are meant to be non-adversarial,” Mr. Simon said. Given Mr. Ladell’s contentious habit of filing lawsuits (as in Highland Park), we should remember one of PCSN’s axioms: a municipal body that fears lawsuits will never get the buildings and the zoning that it wants and deserves. Let’s hope Mr. Ladell can civilize his manner.

Robert Dodge

Maple Street