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Bunn Housing Approved Amid Concern

Matthew Hersh

A proposal for a development comprising 140 age-restricted housing units on a Bunn Drive tract in Princeton Township was given an anticipated approval late last Thursday evening by the Regional Planning Board of Princeton, despite serious environmental misgivings from a number of municipal and community groups.

Market-rate, 62-and-over age-restricted housing—in this case, a K. Hovnanian-designed Four Seasons housing community — has long been a goal of Princeton Township since a 20.9-acre senior community district overlay zone was voted to be put into place by Township Committee in 2001.

The Planning Board voted 7-3 to approve the Hovnanian plan.

But on the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge, which contains bedrock, steep slopes, and rocky soil, several groups, including the Planning Board's own advisory panel, and the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC), balked at the idea of placing "cookie cutter" housing that the Commission felt was incompatible with the lay of the land.

"This is a mockery of what senior housing should be," said Rosemary Blair, a PEC member, who worried that because there were no assisted living facilities on site, seniors would have to move as their needs increased. Ms. Blair also said that the number of trees needed to be cleared for development, about 900, will increase flooding conditions on the sloped site. The developer has, however, agreed to participate in a plan that would replant many of the lost trees.

Grace Sinden, the Regional Health Commission liaison to the PEC, said that the development proposal was a "one size fits all" proposal: that Hovnanian's Four Season plans differed only slightly from other Four Seasons around the state located on less challenging landscapes.

Those opposed to the current plan expressed concern about the blasting needed to break through the underlying bedrock for the development's foundation. Additionally, the five three-story buildings that will occupy the Four Seasons site, are located near an adjacent Transco pipeline and and Elizabethtown Water Co. pipeline. The Planning Board was assured that the developer, along with representatives from Transco and Elizabethtown, would monitor the blasting.

Laura Lynch, of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, observed that placing this type of housing along the Ridge would create more "edge habitat," arguing that age-restricted housing should be closer to Princeton Borough's downtown. The Borough, of course, has little developable land, with the one site potentially open for development — the hospital campus — likely to be used for denser, mixed development.

Planning Board member and Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand, a long-time proponent of this type of market-rate housing (units will be in the $450,000 range), called for a more balanced approach to housing: "We're looking to be able to have people make choices in where they want to live within the community — because they want to stay here." She also pointed out that seniors who have left the community have gone to neighboring municipalities because of a lack of accommodating facilities.

"We have waited for years, and this developer stepped forward to comply with the zoning," she said.

Board member Peter Madison agreed, saying that the Ridge has already been developed and that the Planning Board has been "faced with compromises."

"Whether individual members of the Planning Board like it or not, we have a zoning ordinance that this Planning Board has to honor," he said.

"It's not forbidden to build on the Ridge," Planning Board member and Township Committeeman Bill Enslin said in support of the housing application. "This is a good location: it has sewers, it has roads, and it has bus routes," he added, referring to New Jersey Transit's 606 line. "It has everything we need; all the infrastructure is there to support senior housing."


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