May 24, 2023

Proposal for Seminary Redevelopment Addresses Affordable Housing, Mitigating Climate Change

To the Editor:

Across Princeton, there is a great deal of enthusiasm among forward-thinking residents for creating more affordable housing and for mitigating climate change. During the May 6, 2023 roundtable on redevelopment of the lots on which Princeton Theological Seminary’s (PTS) Tennent-Roberts-Whiteley Gymnasium (TRW) campus formerly sat, Council President Mia Sacks said these two issues are national crises that would be irresponsible to ignore. This proposal addresses both issues.

Based on press reports and other sources, the expected proposal from the private developer to redevelop the TRW lots is likely to be a luxury apartment complex with an underground parking garage for over 100 cars. Most of the large old-growth trees would be removed, resulting in a significant negative environmental impact. By law, there will be a 20 percent set-aside for affordable housing. We expect the developer would request and receive a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) from the town, with taxpayers subsidizing the development. The rents for these apartments, with the exception of the few affordable units, are unlikely to be affordable for many who would wish to live in Princeton. Projections for the Thanet Avalon project indicate that the expected rent for a 727-square-foot one-bedroom apartment will require someone to be earning over $120,000 a year if the HUD guidelines on rent affordability at 30 percent of income are to be considered. This is more than twice the current salary of an experienced teacher or police officer and would freeze many out of living in Princeton.

We can do much better by addressing head-on the issue of too little affordable housing in Princeton and ensuring that the many old-growth trees remain in place.

By way of background, for nearly 90 years under PTS ownership, the TRW site was used for subsidized residential housing. At the request of PTS, these five lots were designated an “area in need of redevelopment” (ANR) in 2018.

To address the dual concerns of affordable housing and mitigating climate change in a meaningful way that would make a real difference to the Princeton community, we propose that the TRW site be dedicated to 100 percent affordable housing and be zoned as such under the ANR. As recent proposals by the Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development (PCRD) have shown, 50 affordable homes could be for sale or rent while respecting the existing site, and be consistent with the neighborhood.

This action is well within the powers granted to Princeton Council under the existing ANR including the ability to raise funding.

By adopting this proposal, Princeton could bring together the various parties that are looking to provide significantly more affordable and eco-friendly housing in Princeton.

This would be an imaginative solution showing leadership, moving the town away from expensive luxury rental housing solutions that will involve extensive environmental damage, including the removal of all mature trees currently on the property, and potentially serious negative impacts on the water table and stormwater runoff.

Mike Head
Hibben Road