Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 20
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
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New Zoning Includes Senior Housing, Offers Merwick Developer “Density Bonus”

Linda Arntzenius

Princeton Borough Council met last night (after Town Topics press time) to consider revisions to the proposed ordinance for a “mixed use,” overlay zone covering the combined 30 acres of land occupied by Princeton HealthCare System’s Merwick, Princeton University’s Stanworth Apartments, and the YM/YWCA.

The site is some of the last undeveloped land in downtown Princeton.

According to Planning Director Lee Solow, major changes to his draft ordinance would permit up to 30 units of housing specifically for those aged 62 or older and create a 50 percent “Princeton Preference” in favor of Borough and Township residents for them.

The revisions state that one-half of the age-restricted units shall be marketed with an equal preference to current residents of the Borough and Township; their parents and children; those resident within the last five years of the date of the adoption of this ordinance; current, active emergency service volunteers of the Fire Department and the First Aid and Rescue Squads; and current employees of the Borough, Township, Princeton Public Library, Princeton Regional Board of Education or employees of any of the Joint Borough and Township of Princeton Municipal Agencies.

Twenty percent of the age-restricted housing would be set aside for affordable housing units.

To sweeten these requirements from a developer’s point of view, the revisions also provide a “density bonus” of one market unit for each age-restricted unit, up to a maximum of 30 additional market units.

Last month, the Council squashed an earlier version of the MX zoning ordinance because of concerns over the need for increased senior housing, and worries about the immediate future use of Princeton HealthCare System’s Merwick Care Center site.

The nine-acre Merwick site, which currently lies in the Borough’s R-1 residential zone, has a contract purchaser in Princeton University, which owns the Stanworth housing tract. The University has said that the site would be used for graduate and faculty housing.

While the draft zoning ordinance had been expected to pass last month, the proposal failed by a 3-2 vote, with Council President Margaret Karcher and Councilman Andrew Koontz voting in favor, and Council members Roger Martindell, Barbara Trelstad and Kevin Wilkes voting against.

Calls for senior housing dominated the discussion at that time. Ms. Trelstad commented that the Merwick site would be “perfect” for senior housing, as did Mr. Martindell. Both supported the call, expressed by many local residents, for more senior housing in the proposed zone.

Ms. Trelstad also voiced puzzlement that even though Princeton University is slated to purchase the site, Merwick was not included in the recently released Princeton University campus plan.

In subsequent affordable housing committee meetings, Ms. Trelstad has expressed concerns over the lack of information from Princeton University regarding its intentions for the Merwick site. Fears have been raised about the property sitting vacant and undeveloped for years.

Also at last month’s meeting, Marvin Reed, a former Princeton Borough mayor who chairs the Regional Planning Board of Princeton’s Master Plan Subcommittee, suggested that if Council were to push for senior housing, it could be done through overlay zones, and density bonuses for developers.

The revisions leave the proposal for a 25 percent open space mandate untouched.

Princeton HealthCare System, the corporate parent of Merwick and University Medical Center at Princeton, plans to sell both sites for the purpose of developing a new campus on roughly 50 acres in Plainsboro.

A report of last night’s meeting will be included in next week’s Town Topics.

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