March 3, 2021

Former Council Member Offers Theory for Loophole in Affordable Housing Settlement

To the Editor:

 As a former member of the Princeton Council, I voted for the 2019 affordable housing settlement agreement in which the former Borough’s 20 percent set-aside requirement for as-of-right multifamily development was eliminated in favor of set asides only for projects that require some kind of zoning relief, such as a variance. I want to apologize for my mistake.

I only skimmed the document and did not realize the loophole was added to weaken the requirement. There is no excuse for my carelessness. My theory for how the language ended up in the document is that the settlement agreement used boilerplate language and the change was an oversight. Given the length and complexity of the agreement and the many pressing issues that were hashed out near the end, this makes the most sense to me.  

Nearly every official action taken by the Council is accompanied by a memo by staff or legal counsel summarizing or explaining it. It was totally uncharacteristic for the change to have been inserted without explanation. There was no discussion. This does not relieve my responsibility to read the agreement carefully. I was given the document for review in draft form and still didn’t notice. But it may help explain how the loophole remained in the ordinance the Council adopted in April 2020. It was only during a recent site plan review for the proposed “as-of-right” development on the Griggs corner site that Council members became aware of the loophole that took the developer off the hook for affordable housing.

It is particularly distressing that the Griggs Corner developer is now proposing to eliminate affordable units in their project given Palmer Square’s history of forcible displacement of a Black neighborhood that is still an open wound for many in the community. Apparently, the developer had originally proposed to include one affordable unit but then withdrew that plan when they realized the ordinance had changed. But there is nothing to prevent the developer from including one or two affordable units. 

It is one thing to be compelled to do the right thing by law. Another possibility is to do it voluntarily as a good citizen. Affordable units still generate income, just not quite as much. The new building would be profitable even with one or two affordable units — witness that the calculation to buy the property was made before it was known that the 20 percent requirement was no longer operative.

Others may have differing recollections or a different understanding. I offer my own perspective because I feel terrible I carelessly overlooked the important passage and I want to come clean to the public and say again how sorry I am. I know the current Council will work to rectify the oversight for future developments. I hope the Griggs Corner developer will reverse their decision to capitalize on the mistake. 

Jenny Crumiller
Library Place