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Bunn Drive Senior Housing Is Explored

Matthew Hersh

Conceptual plans for an age-restricted housing community on Bunn Drive were introduced to the Princeton Regional Planning Board last Thursday night, raising concerns from nearby residents.

The housing would be, in part, a move to halt the trend toward a shrinking senior community in Princeton. Many seniors are no longer able to live in town due to high property taxes.

Representatives of K. Hovnanian outlined plans for building on three parcels of land adjacent to the Princeton Community Village and Hilltop Park in Princeton Township. The plans show what could be the future site of 140 units in five garden-apartment style buildings, each three stories high. There would be 278 total parking spaces, 204 of which will be in underground parking facilities.

K. Hovnanian first appeared before the Planning Board six months ago with a proposal for a gated community with nine buildings. That proposal was scrapped for the newly revised plans.

Under the present plan, most of the 1,700 trees currently on the site would be lost. Because this was a concept plan, landscaping details were not provided, but the developer will likely be required to mitigate tree loss by replacing some of the removed trees.

Proposed recreation facilities include bocce and tennis courts, and a swimming pool.

The housing, which would be for residents 62 and older, faces some environmental obstacles that may cause Hovnanian to tweak some site detail. For instance, the landscape features rocky soil and shallow bedrock that may have to be blasted to get through. Similar methods were required to work through the bedrock beneath the nearby Campbell Woods development.

Further, the site would be built over a portion of the 85-foot-wide Transco pipeline corridor that currently creates a vast open corridor through the site. There is also a 25-foot-wide water line easement that runs northwest to southwest of the proposed building area.

If the development is built on this site, a road outlined in the Princeton Community Master Plan that would connect Bunn Drive with Mt. Lucas Road would have to be removed.

The 20.9-acre site has been the subject of litigation since it was rezoned to house a residential senior community in December 2001. At that time, Princeton Township approved zoning for high-density senior housing on sites off both Mt. Lucas Road and Bunn Drive, which led to lawsuits filed by the Friends of Princeton Ridge claiming that rezoning and enabling development on the land in question would be environmentally detrimental. The resident group also filed a lawsuit against the Township to protect its legal rights to influence the kind of housing to be developed on the site. The lawsuits have since been settled.

Shirley Roberts, attorney for Hovnanian, said notices had been sent out to property owners within 200 feet of the site, informing them that this particular location was being explored for development.

About 40 of those residents were in attendance at the meeting to voice opposition to the proposal. Charles Di- Santo, of Mt. Lucas Road, who has voiced past protests to development in the area, said that the size and logistical layout of the site would be too much to handle for the three Bunn Drive parcels.

Grace Sinden, a Township resident, worried that the environmental constraints on-site would be too much for the developer to overcome. She also said that when 1,700 trees are cut down, older residents would not be able to see the maturation of the new trees planted on-site.

However, Township Deputy Mayor and Planning Board member William Enslin said that senior housing is necessary and is a priority of the Township. But he agreed with some residents that it is a difficult site on which to build, saying that the underlying zoning is "office research," and "not residential." He also cited the gasline as problematic, but lauded Hovnanian for being able to "sensitively" include it as part of its proposal.

Board member Vicky Bergman said that adding density to the region would ultimately provide the impetus for more public transportation in the area.

She also suggested building a convenience store to accommodate area residents.

While not concrete, the estimate by Hovnanian's Ms. Roberts is that a typical two-bedroom unit would fall in the mid to upper $300,000 range.

Because this was a concept hearing, no definitive actions or votes were taken by the Planning Board.

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