February 11, 2015

State Agency to Review Construction Code

Because of icy weather conditions Monday, the meeting of the Mayor and Council that was scheduled that night was postponed until Tuesday night, after Town Topics’ press deadline.

In response to calls by Mayor Lempert and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, among others, for a review of the state’s construction code following last month’s AvalonBay Edgewater fire, Ms. Lempert said Monday that she had been assured by State Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Richard E. Constable that his agency would be undertaking a review of the construction code.

His commitment came at a meeting of mayors in Trenton last week. Ms. Lempert said that Princeton would form a working group to make recommendations to the DCA. It has been suggested that a fully suppressed sprinkler system and masonry firewalls would have improved safety at the Edgewater complex.

The January 22 blaze destroyed a 408-unit rental community. No one was seriously hurt but 1,000 people lost their homes and possessions. It has been widely reported that the lightweight wood construction was up to code.

According to Ms. Lempert, Mr. Constable said that the review would determine “for certain” whether the AvalonBay Edgewater development was up to code. The complex was comprised of two buildings, one burned to the ground while the other was saved by firefighters. Why?

Ms. Lempert has said that she would like the DCA to hold off on approving AvalonBay’s Princeton plans until the review provides some answers. It would also make sense to wait if changes to the construction code are in the works.

“What I’m hoping is that the DCA, when they evaluate AvalonBay’s plans for Princeton, will do that based on new building codes.”

Ms. Lempert expressed her concerns to AvalonBay in a 15-minute phone conversation with John Locale, following through on her intention expressed last week that she was planning to approach the developer to ask for voluntary changes to AvalonBay’s construction plan for 280 apartments on the former site of Princeton Hospital.

Neighborhood Planning Program

In addition to a presentation from Ray Wadsworth on this year’s Spirit of Princeton Events, members of Council were due to hear a report Tuesday night from Jenny Crumiller and Patrick Simon of the Advisory Planning District Task Force.

It was expected that the report would recommend a “Neighborhood Planning Program” to provide neighborhood residents a “voice” in the planning process through improved communications between the municipality, prospective developers, and neighborhood residents and groups. Better communication would see such items as land use applications posted on the municipal website, which could in turn “encourage neighborhood meetings,” said the mayor.

Ms. Lempert described the recommendations as being “as much a service to developers as to neighborhood groups.”

“This has been in the works for a while so its good to see it come to fruition; it will improve the planning process,” said Ms. Lempert.

A review of the municipality’s “Goals and Priorities” was also on the agenda, although since a full contingent of Council members was not expected to be present, it would not be voted on until a subsequent meeting. Town Administrator Marc Dashield said Monday that the three main goals were: financial stability, a safe and inclusive community, and a well-run community. All other priorities fall within these main goals,” said Ms. Lempert.

Expansion of Mary Moss Park

Council was expected to vote on two new ordinances at Tuesday’s meeting. The first was to regulate parking on Cleveland Lane where there is currently conflicting signage. The second was an appropriation of $600,000 from the Princeton Open Space Trust Fund for improvements to Mary Moss Park on John Street. The municipality plans to expand the park through the purchase of a two-family dwelling at 31/33 Lytle Street. The purchase price of the property has not yet been determined as appraisals are underway, said the mayor. A 50 percent matching grant is expected from the Mercer County Open Space Trust Fund.

The plan is to demolish the building and use the land to extend the park, which will also be improved later this year, with the help of funding from Mercer County, that will be used for a “water spray” feature to replace the old wading pool. The renovated park is expected to open in 2016.

Visit to White House

As a participant in the “My Brothers Keeper Program,” Princeton is to be represented by Ms. Lempert at the White House this Thursday, February 12. “This program provides opportunities for kids to reach their full potential and the municipality is partnering with the school district, local clergy, and local non-profit organizations on this,” said the mayor. Human Services Department Director Elisa Neir will also be going to Washington, D.C.

Transco Public Hearing

The next Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, February 24 instead of Monday, February 23. A Transcontinental Pipeline hearing has been called for the evening of February 23. The public hearing will be held by the Department of the Environment’s Division of Land Use Regulation at 7 p.m. in the Senior Room at the Nassau Inn.