Letter: Hospital is Breaking Trust With Princeton Residents
Writer says after nearly 100 years of a close relationship between hospital and residents, everything is being unraveled.
To the Editor:
Princeton citizens are deeply concerned about the redevelopment of the 5.6-acre site, owned by University Medical Center of Princeton (UMCP), located on Witherspoon Street. This site is now under contract by UMCP (seller) and AvalonBay (buyer/developer).
A lot of us now feel betrayed.
In 2004, neighborhood folks, local government, landowning UMCP, and the greater Princeton community came together to negotiate a sensible development of the UMCP site, satisfactory to all stakeholders—resulting in the 2006 Master Plan, Borough Code (including Design Standards)---providing for a new MRRO zone: Mixed Residential-Retail-Office.
We’ve been most generous to UMCP: we’ve raised $100MM + to help UMCP relocate to Plainsboro. And we agreed to a much higher housing density (280 units) than suits so that UMCP could get a better price for the property. UMCP agreed to the new Zoning, new Plans, and new Standards. But now UMCP wants to violate their own agreement. Now UMCP doesn’t care about the neighborhood, the town and the people. What has happened? Has UMCP been operating in bad faith?
What was made municipal law requires:
- a benefit to the community from improvements to the “pedestrian environment” along Witherspoon Street—but now UMCP has got a developer whose plan—a closed fortress---will kill the pedestrian environment. Wow! And where’s the “compatibility with surrounding buildings” we all negotiated? Where’s the enhanced system of “public open spaces and pathways that provide linkages between and through the development as well as the surrounding neighborhood”? With the promise of cash in hand from AvalonBay, UMCP now disrespects the neighborhood, the town, and the people.
- environmental and energy-efficiency standards, with a first and only preference for LEED guidelines.
- retail use encouraged for the first floor—but UMCP/AvalonBay wants to remove the retail component. Most importantly, this scrapping of the retail element poisons the Master Plan.
We’re dumbfounded, sad, and angry. After nearly 100 years of a close relationship between hospital and residents, everything is being unraveled---all the promises that underlie the Master Plan are being broken. Why is UMCP breaking our trust?
We request a written public response from UMCP to public officials and neighborhood groups that re-affirms UMCP’s intent to make any developer hew to the good intentions behind the Master Plan and Borough Code. We request an open process by UMCP in vetting development plans submitted by any developer—along with UMCP attendance, along with any buyer/developer, at appropriate municipal meetings. And of course: UMCP should vet any developer more fully than seems to have happened with AvalonBay.
We request a developer who respects the laws that specifically concern redevelopment of this 5.6-acre site, who respects all the stakeholders, including the neighbors and the Princeton community and who understands our generosity to help UMCP relocate.
Dr. Marco Gottardis