April 17, 2013

Discussions for Improved AvalonBay Plan Should Be Conducted in Public

Discussions for Improved AvalonBay

Plan Should Be Conducted in Public

To the Editor:

Press reports from Mayor Liz Lempert and Councilman Bernie Miller that AvalonBay will propose a better site plan are heartening. To find common ground, we encourage AvalonBay to meet with area neighbors and Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods to discuss AvalonBay’s new vision for the former hospital site. No plans yet exist; the time is still ripe for community engagement to gain a progressive design.

A prime location for any developer, Princeton would be a major addition to AvalonBay’s “portfolio.” Our elected and municipal officials must ask more of AvalonBay than has apparently been proposed. They should insist that concept discussions for a development of this magnitude be conducted in public. They should ask AvalonBay to present, soon, a concept plan for public review and comment.

“They’ve agreed to lower building heights along the perimeter and increase heights toward the center of the site,” Mayor Lempert has written. Fine, but to what extent? Experienced Princeton architects and real estate developers think the following parameters reasonable: not more than four stories at the site’s center, a floor-area ration (FAR) of 1.35 (reduced from 1.52), and a significant reduction  density from the original 280 units. We’ve read of “up to five” buildings in AvalonBay’s new thinking, with townhouses along Franklin Avenue — and a street connecting Henry Avenue with Franklin Avenue. Positive news, but the street must be genuine, with a sidewalk, and entirely open to the sky, not tunneled through the garage.

We’ve read of a larger park on the corner of Witherspoon and Franklin, a better positioning for public space than previously proposed, and an optimal location for 12,000 square feet for local retail stores (really vital for the neighborhood’s economic and social health). We want Princeton officials to push for local retail so that residents can live sustainably rather than wasting gas driving to the Shopping Center every time they need something. Shops located around this public park would thrive at this location. Will AvalonBay agree to contribute to Princeton’s active policy of sustainability?

AvalonBay has “committed to green building.” We ask not only for Energy Star or LEED accreditation for the entire complex but for an energy-efficiency that is 30 percent better than ASHRAE 90.1-2007 requirements, with solar panels on the roofs, installed during initial construction, not later.

Princeton officials can devise meaningful incentives to help AvalonBay’s negotiators rise to the highest standards for a premium development. AvalonBay Princeton will contribute to the company’s brand. What will Princeton get in return?

Evolving a satisfactory plan that includes the public process will take time — and a cessation of litigiousness. Expedited deadlines for reviews by municipal staff, SPRAB and the Princeton Environmental Commission, as well as the Planning Board, ought to be normalized.

AvalonBay’s requests for substantially abbreviated time-lines (based on Princeton’s supposedly slack affordable housing record) lack justification. Princeton’s excellent record of providing affordable housing (including low-low income units) dates back to 1937, well before the Mt. Laurel decisions of the 1980s.

Alexi J. Assmus,

Maple Street

Daniel A. Harris,

Dodds Lane

Kate J. Warren,

Jefferson Street

Trustees, Princeton Citizens

for Sustainable Neighborhoods