May 8, 2013

AvalonBay Should Produce 3-D Concept Plans, Make Possible Real Dialogue With Residents

To the Editor:

So far Princeton residents have been able to glean little of AvalonBay’s new plans for the former hospital site — we have heard a few words: multiple buildings, smaller interior courtyards, and townhouses along Franklin — but no concept plans have been shown. Meeting with a few elected officials and staff, AvalonBay has followed its standard strategy of ignoring neighbors and citizens groups while working up site plans and using litigation as a negotiating tool to scare municipal officials.

Municipal officials, staff, and residents must resist this approach to creating homes in a community. To begin with, AvalonBay needs to present a concept plan for public review. Such a presentation must include 3-D modeling of masses for not only the MRRO site but for the surrounding neighborhood. Internet communication can be used to gain further, thoughtful public comment (e.g. an email address to field comments and a public meeting to explain how AvalonBay will incorporate community responses into plans). Presenting fully engineered plans as the first glimpse residents have of the proposed redevelopment is a way to preclude dialogue rather than work toward a resolution of differences.

To date, AvalonBay has been severely faulted for failing to provide adequate site plans. In 2012, Attorney Gerald Muller, writing the Resolution that memorialized the Planning Board 7-3 vote against AvalonBay, argued that AvalonBay’s presentation of massing, facade materials, and heights of various segments was inadequate and insufficient. The Planning Board’s legal brief now submitted to Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson (5/1/13) repeats that argument: “The fact is that the quality of the visual materials presented by AvalonBay was so poor, as well as self-contradictory and misleading, that the Board was not given a reasonable opportunity to even see what AvalonBay was proposing and to determine if AvalonBay had met the pertinent standards” (brief, page 22). “AvalonBay basically chose … to present so few visuals of such poor quality that the Board was not given a fair opportunity to review the details of the proposal on the critical matter of how it related to the surrounding neighborhood” (brief, page 28).

Attorneys for Mayor and Council, the Planning Board, and Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods submitted three strong briefs to the court last week on behalf of the town in the case of AvalonBay against Princeton. Negotiations with the developer should proceed from a position of strength; the town should be confident that they will prevail in the case if necessary.

Princeton officials now negotiating with AvalonBay must insist that AvalonBay produce 3-D concept plans and allow a real dialogue between residents and AvalonBay to occur. Residents are concerned that the staff review of AvalonBay Plan B and the hearings scheduled for July (!), with shortened timelines, reduced submission requirements, and the cutting down of testimony required of the applicant, will simply become a rubber stamp for a plan that was negotiated by a very few.

Robin Reed

Leigh Avenue