Jefferson Road Neighbor Gives Thoughts on the Hospital Site Rezoning

A Jefferson Road neighbor who has lived on the street for fifty-one years asks: Could this be the time for our neighborhood to be returned to a human scale in harmony with the surroundings?

We have all contributed in many ways to help make Princeton what it is today. We all have a stake in its future.

It is a wonderful town.  I wish everyone could live here, but since that is not possible, we have to make choices and decisions, and the time is now.

Do we want to concentrate  all new growth in a monstrously large development ONLY because it would render 56 affordable units?  We should take the long view and realize that there are several sites that are ideal for apartments and will likely be built within a reasonable time, and that they would include affordable units as well.

The hospital was always considered an inherently beneficial use and was granted zoning variances time and again. Our neighborhood lost out every time as houses disappeared and the hospital kept growing, along with the traffic.  Must we continue to pay forever, for having our neighborhood degraded and for having lost part of it?  This condition is now being perpetuated because of the artful deal that the hospital struck with the town.  We are once again at risk.

Yes, that is how many of us in our quiet neighborhoods surrounding the hospital feel. We live quite away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Princeton.  280 units built on the site would bring more than 500 persons to the neighborhood
and would be severely out of balance for the surroundings. We have never
considered our houses tobe in the central district of town; only an outsider
would describeour area as such.

I really hope, that the Task Force will do what the Planning Board charged them with, revising the zoning at the site. The Task Force should not be hobbled at the outset with demands from Council, such as the requirement for 56 affordable units. The resounding rejection of the Avalon plan makes it clear that the spot zoning of the site is severely flawed.  It needs revising to be in harmony with
the surroundings, urgently.

Why was a task force appointed if they are to be told what their conclusions should be? Are all their meetings and efforts on behalf of a better Princeton in vain?

It is up to us to make sure that whatever is built at the site blends in with the surroundings and is a credit to our town.  This is the time and this is our chance to make it happen.  We will have to live with the results.

My wish list:

Number one priority is fewer units.

The buildings should be of reasonable size and separated, not running along a whole block.  Stepped back from the sidewalk would be nice.

A plaza which all residents and the  public can use.Walking and biking paths should cross the area from road to road.  No pool.

All building should be made with approved green methods.

A small convenience store would be nice so tenants could pick up a few items without getting into their car.

Berit Marshall
Jefferson Road

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SFB February 04, 2013 at 07:40 PM
Berit, I for one appreciate your honesty. You have nothing to gain from 280 units, so, as you say, your number 1 priority is to keep as many people out of Princeton as possible. If middle class families, nurses, firefighters and teachers can't afford to live in Princeton, that's too bad. They can live somewhere else, maybe in a new development on the fields around Plainsboro or Montgomery, and as long as they don't drive down Jefferson Road on their way to work, that's fine. And if the hospital has to write off millions of dollars on the value of the site, well, that's too bad as well; as long as someone else is paying for medical insurance premiums and Medicare, they can pick up the tab. I can see where you're coming from and I respect your opinion, although I hope that the Council sees the big picture, which is that Princeton needs more affordable housing and less traffic, and sticks to 280 units. 280 units would comfortably fit on the site and complement the neighborhood; certainly much nicer than the hospital that was there for decades.
Dr. Daniel A. Harris February 04, 2013 at 09:48 PM
Dear SFB: 280 will NOT fit comfortably on the site, as architects familiar with the hospital towers will tell you; there are structural constraints against putting more than 260 in the towers. If we want local retail, as everyone does (as part of smart growth), that reduces 260 to something less --- take away 24,000 sf otherwise devoted to rental units. I make this comment without reference to density appropriate to the neighborhood. 280 in the towers is NOT DOABLE. 280 throughout the site yields monstrosities, as Berit Marshall says, and as AvalonBay has demonstrated to a fault You and others forget the whole of consolidated Princeton. Consider the Shopping Center, which owns the five acres on Terhune-VanDyke: ripe for mid-rise development including 20% affordable housing, and immediate proximity to retail, no cars, no mikes, just feet. Your slam against Berit Marshall is insensitive and unjustified. "Keeping as many people out of Princeton" is an outrageous and deliberate misreading of her comment. Satire and snide tonalities will get us nowhere, not at this critical juncture. The "big picture" is 19 square miles of the new Princeton, NOT the 5.6 acres of the hospital site so thoroughly trashed by hospital leadership and AvalonBay. Keep thinking. You may join us yet.
SFB February 04, 2013 at 10:27 PM
Tasha, why so angry? All I'm doing is holding up a mirror. "Number one priority is fewer units" is the direct quote. It's easy to be for more units 'somewhere else' in Princeton but by continually agitating against development you make it less and less likely that anything other than the absolute minimum will get built at any point anywhere in consolidated Princeton. Why do you think the residents in Terhune-VanDyke are going to agree to having housing there, if they see that by kicking up a huge fuss they can lean on the Planning Board to prevent development? Here are 5 things that I think are higher priorities than 'fewer units': - Affordable units for key workers - Protection of green space in the Princeton region - Increased affordability through increased housing supply - More tenant advocates for walking and bike paths - Increased proportion of walkable units versus car-dependent projects. As for the idea that 280 units can only be accommodated in a 'monstrosity', this is just wild exaggeration. 280 units would fit in a 4-5 level structure, similar to Princeton Township Hall. It is unlikely to be any higher than Princeton Library, just the other side of the cemetery, which is one of the best buildings in the entire town. The towers should come down and be replaced by purpose-built housing.
David Keddie February 05, 2013 at 05:12 AM
I commute into town on Jefferson from Griggs Farm. Surely you would rather have me as a neighbor on Witherspoon in an apartment building than a commuter driving in front of your house every day? The people are already here, they just have to bring their cars with them. I think increased housing in walking distance of campus is to everyone's benefit.
Alexi Assmus February 06, 2013 at 03:51 AM
SFB---I am getting a bit frustrated with you as a conversationalist. You have brought up several times the concept that high-density in the center of town will protect green space in the region. I've responded that what counts is the size of units and the number of levels, not the density itself. For example in the case you discuss if you split up the 280 units of housing --- 140 units at the former hospital and 140 on Terhune-VanDyke --- and built them at the unit size and same number of stories in these two spot as you would have at just the former hospital site, the amount of green space "preserved" would be the same --it's just that some of it would be left in the center of town. Your argument leads to simply taking the green space out of the center of town and preserving it on the edges. Can you respond? You also have raised the issue of affordability often, yet the AvalonBay apartments were to be priced at $1600 for a studio up to $3200 for a one-bedroom --- and they are called luxury apartments. Apartment prices advertised in Town Topics are generally lower. Here's a couple of examples of current apts advertised for rent: LOVELY FURNISHED APT: ... Rent includes WiFi, cable, parking, utilities, Qn. size bed. 1 mile from University. Intersection of Mt. Lucas & Jefferson. $1,390/mo. PRINCETON: $1,800/mo. on Palmer Square-1 BR condo, living room, large kitchen, hardwood floors and fireplace. Heat, hot water included.
SFB February 06, 2013 at 04:45 AM
Hi Alexi, Sorry if I don't always respond but I honestly feel like we're going round in circles. 50 units per acre always means 50 units per acre. The size of the units and the number of levels are irrelevant, you can have 50 big units per acre or 50 small units per acre; either way it is 50 units per acre. It's just math. 50 units per acre always means you save more green space, because you need fewer acres. That's why the EPA and Sierra Club favor more density, because it always saves green space and can also reduce traffic. As for affordability, a larger development will offer more affordable units that moderate income people need. Teachers, firefighters, hairdressers etc. Best of all, these people will have the option of walking, which reduces traffic. 280 units will bring increased foot traffic, reduced traffic, and more of a sense of vibrancy and community as people walk and cycle around the Witherspoon St area, shopping at the local stores and eating in the restaurants and coffee shops. It's an ideal site for extra homes, owing to the 5min walk to town, and the bus line that runs directly down Witherspoon St. There are few sites in Princeton that lend themselves to a development like this so well. A park would be nice, but with Community Park South just 2 blocks away, it should not be a deal-breaker.
Alexi Assmus February 06, 2013 at 05:41 AM
Two 25 unit/acre developments on double the amount of land would have the same green space as one 50 unit/acre development plus the open land preserved, if the size of units and levels are the same. The green space would simply be distributed differently --- instead of having one dense 50 unit/acre plot and another plot of completely open green space, there would be units on the entire amount of land with green space in between them. What's wrong with having smaller areas of green space but the same amount in total? Take an example: Two identical 25-unit apartment buildings on a 1 acre plot plus 1 acre of green space only VS an identical 25-unit apartment building on a 1 acre plot plus an identical 25-unit apartment building on another acre plot. Same green space in both cases. But Avalon's prices in the planned 360,000sf-plus apt building were to be MORE expensive than the apartment rents in small individual buildings in town.
SFB February 06, 2013 at 12:39 PM
Alexi, I'm glad that you see why building denser favors sustainability by saving green space. We should build at the highest density that fits with the neighborhood, and in this case a reasonable and appropriate number is 280 units. Avalon rents seem high, but the ordinary rents are pushed up by covering the cost of the affordable units, plus the extensive capital cost of redeveloping the site. If you go to an Avalon site in Plainsboro, you'll find that rents are also high, and then you also have no choice but to drive. Fundamentally, high prices are caused by restricted supply. Because Princeton tends to place extensive restrictions on new development, demand exceeds supply, pushing up prices. Perpetuating a policy of restricting home building makes this even worse! We should build 280 units so more moderate-income people ultimately will have the chance to live in Princeton, instead of only having the choice to drive into town from places like Lawrence and Franklin Park.
Alexi Assmus February 06, 2013 at 05:24 PM
Aye ya ya! OK maybe I do get too much into the math ... let me say it in English. All green space does not have to be large areas of contiguous open space. Community Park and Grover Park are playing fields. Great. But the town has few street parks to bring residents together as they stroll along the streets. If you build fewer units per acre on the former hospital site, there will be more room for a street park--green space along a walkable street where people might sit and have coffee. If you put the rest of the units out by the shopping center, you will decrease green space there. In this case why is one preferable over the other? In fact, I'd argue that parks along central streets are preferable here because they encourage walking. If there was a huge green belt around town for the animals to roam, I'd feel differently about plopping an apartment building in it. But let's face it, the center of town is surrounded by suburban- low density housing. Why should the center-of-town neighborhoods already at smart-growth densities lose their green space to preserve surburban density in the ring? What about building up commercial centers with apartment buildings around town in areas of suburban density, so people in these areas could walk or bike for shopping? That's what cities do --- they have lots of main streets --- all within walking distance of different neighborhoods. Why will new apts at higher than current market rate in town help to lower rents?


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