To the Editor:
I am one of eight residents challenging the Planning Board’s approval of AvalonBay’s Plan B through a legal appeal. Both sides have submitted briefs and the final public hearing is scheduled for Thursday February 13 at 2 p.m. in Trenton’s Civil Court.
A diverse group of residents joined forces to create the Association for Planning at Hospital Site LLC (APHS), and legal expenses to date have been paid by over 70 individuals. While APHS recognizes the need, and supports the redevelopment of Princeton’s old hospital site, we feel this should only happen after all concerns have been addressed — concerns that impact the entire town, the surrounding schools, and not just one neighborhood.
The Planning Board approved AvalonBay’s scheme without resolution, and in some cases, consideration, of substantial issues. Despite residents’ participation in the “process,” our legal appeal remains the only opportunity for critical improvements.
Since the redevelopment’s issues are complex, we developed an informational video, which can be viewed at www.APHSLLC.com. We’re concerned about the shortcomings in Princeton’s planning process in general and seek improvement to AvalonBay’s scheme in three major areas:
1. Size: we seek a reduction in bulk, mass, and footprint of the buildings, so that the development complies with all of the design criteria in the MRRO Zone ordinances.
2. Sewer: the developer, not the town, should pay for upgrading the overburdened sanitary sewer, which backed up into Henry Avenue homes on multiple occasions while the hospital was in operation.
3. Environment: we seek a commitment to resolve the outstanding environmental issues, including demolition process issues.
As an example of not prioritizing the health and safety of residents, the Hospital and AvalonBay didn’t disclose during the Planning Board hearings that an incinerator operated on-site for decades. That took a Princeton resident filing OPRA requests with NJ DEP. Why should such research rely on voluntary efforts by residents?
At the January 27, 2014 Town Council meeting, AvalonBay described the incinerator’s use for paper only. However, a 1990 document from NJ DEP contradicts this by calling it a “Pathological Incinerator” and a floor plan dating back to 1948 shows an incinerator room. Only now is AvalonBay considering soils testing for unspecified heavy metals — and this only if the incinerator room’s drain line shows cracks when scoped. As for all of the other drain lines that could have carried hazardous substances over the years — still no promises. APHS demands that independent expertise be retained to supplement the town’s professional staff in all phases of review, testing, and inspection related to demolition.
In the bigger picture, it’s time for our government to change its current “planning process.” The rezoning of this site was controlled by the hospital, without qualified checks and balances by our government. No fiscal impact analysis was performed on what is one of the largest construction projects Princeton has ever seen, with the potential for cost and tax implications hurting us all.