May 23, 2012

Hospital Sold Out Greater Princeton After Being Given $100M to Relocate

To the Editor:

A matter of civic dismay: Princeton Hospital has left, but hospital leadership has not explained to the community why it has selected AvalonBay to develop the old hospital site with plans that violate Borough Code and the 2006 Master Plan. Why has the hospital sold out greater Princeton, which gave it $100M to relocate?

On May 7, 2012, Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods / Witherspoon raised these issues in a letter sent to Barry Rabner, President and CEO of the University Medical Center at Princeton (UMCP) and to all trustees. To date, no response has been received.

Why will hospital leadership not explain why it has reneged on commitments it made? Mr. Rabner was himself a primary participant in Health Care Task Force discussions, and his team negotiated a very high housing density (280 units) in exchange for specific commitments to large public plazas, bike/pathways crossing the site, compliance with LEED-certification, and building-heights in scale with the neighborhood.

Not one of these commitments is being honored by AvalonBay, the contract-buyer.

Hospital leadership has an obligation to fulfill its commitments. The burden of desperately poor urban planning with which Princeton is otherwise left is too heavy to be borne; AvalonBay plans a “gated community” (prohibited by the Master Plan), and that will drag down all of Witherspoon Street, together with the idea of what Princeton stands for.

It’s time for the hospital to exercise pressure. Contract negotiations are not yet settled. Indeed, the “word on the street” is that there are disputes between the hospital and AvalonBay, and that Barry Rabner will no longer engage in discussions with AvalonBay’s representative, Ron Ladell—“One of last year’s most polarizing top 10 picks — you either think he’s a joke or a rock star” (NJBIZ, Real Estate, 2011).

And it’s time for the hospital to honor its commitments. How can the hospital’s CEO step away from formal agreements in which he participated? Barry Rabner gained the hospital a decent selling price; he’s been leading tours of the new hospital for weeks.

It’s high time he and the hospital trustees rededicated themselves to the Princeton they’ve left in the lurch. We want a written response. And we want action: a better developer who will honor Borough Code at the insistence of hospital leadership. Anything less is betrayal.

Miki Mendelsohn

Hickory Court