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Elm Court Housing Gets Green Light For Expansion Plan

Matthew Hersh

Given the go-ahead to expand Elm Court, Princeton Community Housing, the largest affordable housing developer in Princeton, will build 68 additional housing units and 46 parking spaces at the affordable housing facility on Elm Road, a 44 percent expansion.

Currently, the facility contains 89 units and 54 parking spaces. PCH has long maintained that it needs additional space to accommodate more residents. The facility is designed to serve low and moderate income residents and disabled residents of all ages.

The planned expansion will bring the total number of units at the site to 155. The new L-shaped building will include a community kitchen, a dining room, and an apartment for the Elm Court superintendent. The apartment is counted as one of the proposed 68 units. The units will range in size between 600 square feet and 800 square feet.

Elm Court allows an annual individual income of up to $40,250 per year to qualify for residency. The expansion plan, which has been in gestation since 1996, has faced a number of obstacles since being introduced, including a residents-led lawsuit attempting to scale back the affordable housing complex's plans. The 66,775 square-foot newly-approved project, or Elm Court II, is down 13,000 square feet from the original proposal. That reduction reflects a settlement reached in December 2000 between PCH and the Mountain Brook Association, which is comprised of several residents from that part of the Borough's western section.

Further, PCH's pre-settlement plans called for 74 new units, six more than what has been approved.

However, PCH executive director Sandra Rothe has said that all litigation issues are behind the neighborhood group and the non-profit housing facility.

Elm Road-area residents also seemed content with the concessions made by PCH, but some still expressed concern with the project.

"I'm the classic NIMBY," said William Bridgers of Rosedale Road, using the acronym for "not in my backyard."

"This is literally in my backyard," he said.

Mr. Bridgers contended that some of the variances PCH requested, including increased signage, enhanced interior and exterior lighting, and landscaping changes, were not "in the spirit of the agreement" between PCH and the Mountain Brook Association. He added that he was concerned with issues of adequate screening between the new facility and neighboring residences, especially in the winter, when deciduous trees lose their foliage.

Final details regarding the placement of evergreen trees for screening are still in negotiations. Residents also expressed concern regarding the old trolley line that lies to the south of the site. PCH officials said no disturbances to the site were planned, in keeping with the recommendations of state and local historic offices.

In January, PCH announced that it had received $7 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the Elm Court II project. PCH's Ms. Rothe said the grant will cover approximately 75 percent of the project's cost. The rest of the cost, she said, will be subsidized from various fundraising projects.

PCH is made up of 19 sponsoring organizations, including all community churches, the Jewish Center of Princeton, the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University, the YWCA, the Teacher's Association, and the League of Women Voters.

Other PCH housing developments are the Princeton Community Village, the low- and moderate-income housing development that opened in 1975, and Griggs Farm, the mixed-use development that opened in 1989.

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