April 24, 2019

FAR Ordinance Tabled For the Second Time

By Anne Levin

Princeton Council voted unanimously Monday evening to delay deciding on an ordinance that would eliminate Floor Area Ratio (FAR) bonuses allowing for larger buildings on undersized lots. This is the second time the governing body has opted to put the ordinance aside in favor of obtaining more data and focusing on matters considered more important.

Originally proposed in 2015, the measure was meant to help maintain neighborhood character by discouraging teardowns. But it became controversial when it was pointed out by numerous members of the public that the ordinance could prohibit additions and require a zoning variance for any exterior modifications. FAR is the total area of a building divided by the area of the lot it occupies, expressed as a percentage.

The possibility of “unintended consequences” in the ordinance led the governing body to put it aside in order to focus on more pressing matters such as harmonizing the land use code of the former borough and township, which were consolidated six years ago. “When this was originally brought forward, we thought it was going to be an easy lift,” said Mayor Liz Lempert. “But it has gotten more complicated. We want more data before moving forward.”

Architect Joseph Weiss, who lives on Leigh Avenue in the Witherspoon-Jackson district, praised Council for delaying a final decision. “It would have a lot of unintended consequences for my neighborhood. Eliminating the FAR would place a great burden on people who live there,” he said. “I encourage you to look at this more holistically and make it a priority to combine the zoning.”

Weiss added that it is wrong to view all teardowns as negative. “I don’t think it’s fair to make ‘teardowns’ a dirty word,” he said. “Some homes need to be torn down and replaced. It’s not a good idea to universally condemn that kind of change.”

Marina Rubina, another architect who has spoken against the proposed ordinance, thanked Council for stepping back and taking more time with the issue. “Don’t feel it was a wasted effort,” she said. “We have all learned so much from this.”

Municipal Administrator Marc Dashield said he expects the zoning ordinances of the former borough and township to be harmonized by the first quarter of 2020, after which Council could return to the FAR question.

“Sometimes we get criticized for paralysis by analysis,” said Lempert. “But that is not happening here. We are learning from this experience.”