April 28, 2021

Princeton Officials Should Work With Developers for Better Fire Protection

To the Editor:

Re: “Planning Board to Consider Redevelopment Study” (Town Topics, April 21, front page): this article notes that Princeton Shopping Center’s (PSC) owner has selected developer AvalonBay for redevelopment including housing bordering PSC at the Clearview Avenue neighborhood.

AvalonBay’s history of fires is disturbing. This month a large fire at their Princeton Junction apartments caused 22 people in 7 families to lose their homes. This is the company’s fourth known fire in New Jersey; its most serious fire, in January 2015 in Edgewater, which received large media coverage, caused 500 people to lose their homes. In addition, AvalonBay’s large under-construction housing in the year 2000 at the Edgewater site led to the destruction of nine nearby occupied homes, and its Maplewood housing under construction in 2017 also went up in flames.

The use of large, light frame (some call “stick”) highly combustible wood multi-unit construction allows fires to spread quickly. Even if there are no deaths, the loss of one’s home is tragic to residents and costly to municipalities.

Currently, proposed NJ Senate bill S2051 limits the size and scale of light frame wood construction in large multi-unit housing, thus encouraging use of more fire safe masonry / concrete. Over the years fire codes have been degraded at the national and state level. This is largely due to developer influence in the code writing process. The voices of firefighters are less heeded, even though their safety is on the line.

Municipalities bear the myriad costs of such fires in services required as well as lost revenue. Until more protective fire codes for large wooden multi-unit developments are in place, Princeton officials should work with developers for better fire protection using NJ bill S2051 as a guide.

Grace Sinden
Ridgeview Circle