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Vol. LXIV, No. 6
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
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Hillier Development on Greenview Avenue Gets Design Feedback From Planning Board

Dilshanie Perera

A new proposal by J. Robert Hillier for structures on the properties he owns on Greenview Avenue was brought to the Princeton Regional Planning Board last week. The designs include renovating the existing homes that front on the street, and adding another unit to the back of each structure.

The plans account for a total of seven, two-bedroom units that vary in size from 1,300 to 1,600 square feet. Four of the homes have private elevators inside, with each master bedroom containing a large attached bathroom that is handicap accessible, Mr. Hillier (who is a Town Topics shareholder) said.

The additions to each house will be modernist in style. All of the structures will have cedar shingle siding, zinc roofs, and zinc detailing elements. A semi-pervious, brick-paved, 16-foot-wide driveway will lead to a 14-space parking lot behind the houses to serve all of the buildings.

Mr. Hillier envisions the project to be Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED)-certified, with rainwater harvesting and sod roofs on some of the buildings. Additionally, “we see the whole thing as having an association,” he said, meaning that services the Borough would otherwise provide, like garbage pickup and snow removal, would be done by private entities.

Prices for the homes are expected to be between $600,000 and $800,000, with rentals valued at $1,800 to $2,500 per month.

The large tin shed structure at the back of the property line is slated to be demolished, though newly-appointed Planning Board Chair Wanda Gunning noted that historic preservation approvals would have to be issued, despite the fact that the shed is slowly crumbling.

Currently, through an agreement with a previous owner, employees from the Alchemist and Barrister park on site at 11 Greenview, Mr. Hillier noted. Planning Board member Marvin Reed said that the 5 to 7 cars that will no longer be able to park on the lot might “create an alternate problem for us” regarding traffic flow and parking downtown.

The presentation by Mr. Hillier was a site plan and concept review. Approvals for the project will have to be granted by the Site Plan Review Advisory Board, Zoning Board, and Planning Board once designs have been developed further.

A year and a half ago, Mr. Hillier proposed building 13 condominiums on the Greenview Avenue site, which was met by concerns from neighbors, and an ultimate rejection by the Borough’s Zoning Board, which was split in a 4-3 vote. Variances for the plans were cited as a large departure from a 2006 zoning ordinance.

The new proposal for the Greenview Avenue site, which is comprised of four lots, upon which three buildings currently stand, was met by general enthusiasm from Planning Board members, who lauded the creative design. Many also expressed worries about the integration of the development into the neighborhood. Likewise, neighbors called the plans better than those previously proposed, but wondered whether the character of the street would be changed.

Planning Board member Yina Moore said she was concerned that the development “separates itself from what is a long-established, eclectic neighborhood.”

“I applaud the keeping of the scale of the street structures,” said Ms. Gunning, who added that Greenview Avenue was an important African American neighborhood in the first part of the 19th century. “Number 15 was owned by Paul Robeson’s father.”

“I feel a certain sadness that this neighborhood is vanishing slowly but surely,” Ms. Gunning added, wondering whether it would be practical to keep some of the walls of buildings that were structurally compromised.

Neighbor Julie Fox thanked Mr. Hillier for listening to residents’ qualms, but noted that she was “very sad about the changing character of the street.” She also expressed concern that “the modern structures at the back don’t fit in as well.”

Humbert Street neighbor Ronald Nielsen, whose property abuts that of the proposed development, said that “Mr. Hillier has done a marvelous job with answering all of the neighbors’ complaints,” noting that “there is a target market out there for the homes, which is a different market from the condos that are being built in the center of town.”

Emphasizing the need for a unified street, Barbara White, a Greenview neighbor, said “I think there are other possibilities” vis a vis the design, while another neighbor remarked, “I’m concerned that this development is more inwardly-focused.”

Alex Magoun of Humbert Street called the design “creative,” saying that the increase in the number and variety of people living in the neighborhood would be an asset.

“I really like this a lot,” said Planning Board member Gail Ullman, who cited as highlights “building to the level of density that the Master Plan suggests for the center of town, and the creative use of space,” though she acknowledged that there is “something a little off-putting about the degree of being an enclave.”

Mr. Reed brought attention to the fact that no cars would be parked in the front lawns of any of the properties, which would be a “welcome improvement.” He requested that alternate designs for the front porch areas of the houses be brought to the next hearing.

Peter Madison, also of the planning board, was “pleased to see three existing structures being preserved,” and that he “likes the diversity of the modern structures,” and feels that the cedar shingles soften the effect.

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