Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 37
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
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Proposed Housing Projects Offer Differing Points of View

(2 Letters)

Proposed Housing Projects Offer Differing Points of View

To the Editor:

The project proposed by J. Robert Hillier on Greenview Avenue is a monstrosity that will destroy the residential character of this neighborhood. This project seems quite similar to one rejected elsewhere, so perhaps Mr. Hillier is searching for a more gullible municipality. We think his search should continue outside of the Borough.

The project will result in the demolition of three houses typical of the neighborhood, one of which has been completely rebuilt in the past decade and another having a classic Victorian facade in good condition. In their place he would build a huge single building containing at least 14 apartments. In order to make the project more palatable to the zoning officials, he has labelled them as intended for occupancy by those 55 years and older. Sounds like feel-good senior housing, doesn't it? Except that the rules on such housing require that only one resident per unit be that old. And Mr. Hillier has stated that limitation applies only to 80 percent of such units.

In order to achieve this increase in density, Mr. Hillier must gain Zoning Board approval for, among many other things, a doubling in floor-to-area ratio (FAR). This great increase over the existing permitted FAR would exceed that of even the larger old Victorian houses in this neighborhood, which were built before zoning restrictions. Since most of those are now rental units, their absentee owners can be expected to demand equal treatment and receive approvals for additional apartment units as well, reversing the changes in the residential character of this block, which had been slowly evolving over the past quarter-century into a lower density, more owner-occupied area.

The financial "gentrification" effect of the project, whose largest 1400-square-foot apartments are expected to sell for upwards of $850,000, is that the other property owners in the neighborhood can be expected to pay higher taxes as their properties are reassessed using the new apartments as the standard of value. No wonder the supporters of the Hillier project are Mr. Hillier's employees, the absentee owner of one of the three properties which has yet to be acquired, and a non-resident heir-to-be of an aging block resident.

If this project is approved, there will be unintended consequences beyond our immediate neighborhood. No older neighborhood in the Borough will be safe from other non-resident developers. All the tree streets with their unique and varied older residences will be especially vulnerable. How can the Zoning Board then deny a FAR increase to builders of McMansions? While the Zoning Board can claim that each application is different, if another similar expansion is later denied, that decision could well be overturned on appeal. Let us all hope the Zoning Board and zoning officials act responsibly and in accordance with their mandate to protect us from Mr. Hillier.

Humbert Street

To the Editor:

This is in reference to your article about the plan by Robert Hillier to build age restricted housing on Bunn Drive on the Princeton Ridge (Town Topics, August 29). Before Township Committee makes a decision on Mr. Hillier's request to change the minimum age from 62 to 55, certain points should be considered.

1) In enacting the 62-plus age restricted overlay zone ordinance, Township Committee conveyed a sense of urgency on the need for housing in the 62-plus category. Mr. Hillier apparently feels there are not enough people 62-plus to buy his proposed condo units. If so, he is contradicting the primary purpose for passage of the senior overlay zone in spite of unanimous, strong opposition from Princeton official advisory bodies, i.e. the Site Plan Review Advisory Board and the Princeton Environmental Commission.

2) Lawrence Township has identified a need for 62-plus housing and is planning such a housing development. Do we have evidence that Princeton is so different from Lawrence in its age demographics? The age restricted housing need should be studied before any change is made so that it is based on fact and not on the requests of any developer.

3) If Mr. Hillier is granted the 55-plus age designation for his 140 units, Princeton will have a hard time legally refusing other developers, including Morgan Estates and Princeton Senior Townhomes in their similar requests. Thus, we could wind up with all three of those developments on the Ridge in the 55-plus age category, a more general market type of housing.

4) True senior housing has had the added financial advantage of not creating more community school costs. This is not the case with the age 55 category, where we could easily have those with students.

5) On the positive side, the unofficial Hillier cluster style housing "conceptual plan" indicates much less land cover including less loss of woodland than the previous Hovnanian plan. If Mr. Hillier is granted the 55 age concession, it is important that the Township Committee and Planning Board seek legally binding assurances that his promised reduction in land use remains that way. Without such legal assurance, at some future point we could have a greatly increased land footprint in an environmentally sensitive area that includes a major gas transmission line.

6) A bottom line issue is whether an age lowering concession is more to the benefit of the developer or to Princeton. We should be sure that Princeton is getting the benefits in the type of senior housing it needs.

Ridgeview Circle

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