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Announcing Walkable Princeton

Please join Walkable Princeton as we advocate for increased housing in the walkable core of town. Everyone would benefit if the demand for walkable housing is met by increased supply.

Since my recent letter calling for increased housing in the walkable core of Princeton, I've received an outpouring of support for a new approach to local land use.  In response, I, together with other Princeton residents, have formed Walkable Princeton, an advocacy group dedicated to calling for zoning reform that will allow more members of our community to enjoy a walkable lifestyle.  We believe this is a lifestyle desired by many, good for the environment, for traffic reduction, for the tax base, for water runoff, and for livability.  We intend to explain these views using the growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of allowing prudent development in the centers of towns such as our own.  If you agree with and want to support this cause, please find us at https://www.facebook.com/WalkablePrinceton.

The population of the former Princeton Borough is lower now than in 1950, a result of zoning barriers that prevent the development of new housing.  The cost premium for living within walking distance of campus is huge and growing, driven by the large number of non-driving internationals at the university and the even larger number of residents who actively prefer downtown apartment living.  I think of the example of a grad student couple who couldn’t afford housing in walking distance of their labs and classrooms and were forced to look for housing on Route One, settling in the Avalon Run apartments behind Quakerbridge Mall.  Instead of Princeton having them as walking residents, paying property taxes and spending in local retail, Princeton had them as two car commuters, struggling through the traffic bottlenecks on Route One and Alexander, parking a half-mile downhill from their labs and classrooms.  This is a lose-lose situation.  Bad for Princeton’s traffic, bad for Princeton’s tax base, bad for the couple’s pocketbooks and lifestyles.  

My wife and I, because the cost premium for living in walking distance is so high, live in Griggs Farm.  Where we once lived on Vandeventer and walked both to work and amenities, using our car only a couple times a week, I now drive through town, only to park in a garage at the south end of campus.  That garage is actually farther from where I work than the old hospital site now up for redevelopment.  My wife drives to Hamilton to find a parking spot for the train into the city.  If we lived at the old hospital site it would be closer and faster to walk to campus and the Dinky than to use cars.  

The best part of Princeton is Palmer Square and the best new addition the library plaza, both of which combine vibrant open space with population density provided by mid-rise apartment buildings.  We need more such developments along Nassau Street and Witherspoon.  Everyone would benefit if the demand for walkable housing is met by increased supply.  It’s time for a change.  

Sincerely,

David Keddie

David Brearly Ct.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

SFB February 11, 2013 at 01:17 AM
Agree with Mr Keddie. Compact walkable development near the downtown is the best way to minimize traffic as the population of central Jersey continues to grow. It will save fields from the bulldozer, broaden the Princeton tax base, and support jobs in the Princeton area. In 2013, we can't continue to build the same way we did in 1963. The region has changed incredibly since then and we need to plan accordingly.
Robin Reed February 11, 2013 at 01:28 PM
Increased supply: hardly anyone will argue with that. But 280 units on this site is way too much. Your desire for increased walkability is admirable. Where our difference lies is in the scale. Although some like yourself would certainly walk, the evidence is that most would drive to work. Not all are grad students and university employees. Consider what is already the case: in my block on Leigh Ave., I count 5 who walk or bike to town for work, 26 who drive to their jobs. The vast majority of jobs in this area are not in downtown Princeton. If they were, your argument might carry more weight. In addition, renters do not contribute to the community by paying property taxes; the owner of the complex does. And to use AvalonBay as an example, they "aggressively pursue real estate tax appeals" (their own words, from their annual report) and they work with a corporation, Property Tax Assistance Company, who state in their brochure that "Since 1992, we have reduced their [Avalon's] tax liability by nearly 30%." The additional tax burden then falls on us 'regular' homeowners. Sure, let's build something on the site, create additional housing opportunities in town for those who need it--but not by cramming as many people (and their cars) as possible into an area that cannot sustain this density.
Dr. Daniel A. Harris February 12, 2013 at 12:56 AM
The hospital site must be mesheed with the neighborhood. Thinking that all of Witherspoon should look like Nassau Street does not make sense. Good urban planning involves a gradualist approach in instances like this. Just across 206 lies Mountain Lakes, the Witherspoon Woods, and Tusculum---not urban, not even suburban, but woodsy/forest. Consider building height. Eyesores do nothing to help; people who feel dwarfed by buildings they wak by feel disempowered. 280 units on the hospital site makes only crude sense at best. Rezoning will allow a mix of buildings at different heights---all, consistent with the neighborhood. You are not in a walking marathon. It's uphill to Nassau Street. Please don't imagine the destruction of 2.5 story buildings to make room for what feels like highrise.
Robin Reed February 12, 2013 at 05:18 PM
One of the main concerns of the Walkable Princeton group seems to be housing for graduate students. Let's not forget that right now, grad student housing is artificially limited due to the teardown of the Hibben-Magie apartments. Once they are replaced, they will provide a 28% increase in on-campus housing for graduate students. So although housing at the hospital site might still be an attractive option for some, this will not be the pressing concern that apparently it is right now. To use as an argument for greater density of the hospital site the housing needs of graduate students might be short sighted.
Dover February 12, 2013 at 07:25 PM
Just wondering, Mr. Keddie, did you lobby the university to put 50 units an acre on the Merwick/Stanhope site? Seems that you and the graduate students should be lobbying the University for more housing - it's not the town's responsibility to house students.
David Keddie February 13, 2013 at 02:07 AM
If the Merwick/Stanhope sites were upzoned to higher densities such that all graduate students could find housing there I do think it would be a great improvement. Historically the university has dispersed grad student housing to the edges of the town and put a community least interested in suburban-style developments in just such isolated auto-oriented places. However, the university doesn't control the zoning and has no ability to build more housing at Merwick/Stanworth. That is why our focus is the town council, only they have the power to change the zoning. I do believe it is in the town's interests however to provide private market housing for grad students. Under state law, all university-owned grad student housing is tax exempt; private housing in town would provide a huge tax benefit to the community. Furthermore I believe the town has a moral obligation to consider the housing needs of all its residents. Why should the aesthetic preferences of those wealthy enough to afford downtown Princeton housing rank higher than the need and desire for affordable, walkable apartment living for all of Princeton's residents, both student and otherwise?
David Keddie February 13, 2013 at 02:16 AM
It's true Robin that really we should be building at greater densities closer in before we go as far out as Leigh Avenue. However, the hospital site is the one place where new housing can be added in significant numbers under the current zoning, and it does provide significant walkability. It's actually closer on foot to where I work on campus than the garage where I park, and significantly less uphill. What would be best would be upzoning the blocks immediately adjacent to Nassau Street, allowing one-story buildings to be rebuilt at five stories and surface parking lots replaced with mixed-use developments. I look especially to the eastern stretch of Nassau Street, the so-called "Gasoline Alley," which backs up directly onto the laboratory and classroom district of the university, already has a good mix of walkable stores, and is home to many former gas stations and garages which make poor use of such an ideal location for walkable development. Perhaps also the stretch of Witherspoon adjacent to the cemetery, where there are a number of two-story office buildings, is ripe for redevelopment along the lines of the Library/Spring Street style of five stories without setbacks. Just some thoughts.
Robert February 13, 2013 at 11:44 PM
"...Why should the aesthetic preferences of those wealthy enough to afford downtown Princeton housing rank higher than the need and desire for affordable, walkable apartment living for all of Princeton's residents, both student and otherwise?" I now wonder if you're motivated by sustainability or something else. A little resentment leaked out into your last paragraph, David. Is anyone who wishes to preserve the character of Princeton by resisting your density just greedy and selfish?
David Keddie February 14, 2013 at 03:24 PM
I mean no class resentment Robert, and that would be foolish given that my own family is affluent. We ourselves could choose to live in the downtown but find the price differential more than we wish to pay. We do choose to pay the premium to live in Princeton so we're no doubt spending more on housing than most who work in the town. I do take exception however to statements that say the housing needs of graduate students are not the concern of the town of Princeton. Beyond the students there are many whose jobs require them to work in this town but who do not earn enough to live remotely close by. The evidence from economists, from Ed Glaeser to Ryan Avent to Paul Krugman, is overwhelming that restrictive zoning leads to unaffordable housing. I think that is something those of us wealthy enough to live in Princeton should consider when we think about land-use. I also find the town's focus on being environmentally friendly in conflict with its opposition to mid-rise housing in the heart of a walkable mixed-use town, the epitome of sustainable land-use. I certainly don't think those who oppose new development are motivated by greed. I understand the desire to preserve the character of Princeton. I don't think many make the connection between zoning restrictions and unaffordable housing, or between sustainability and population density. In my view it is the zoning has changed the character of Princeton, by drowning it in traffic and making it unaffordable.
PrincetonIQ March 27, 2013 at 02:14 AM
In case you aren't following the latest activity, it became clear earlier today that Tasha, aka Daniel A. Harris, is representing Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods as a nonprofit but hasn't filed appropriate paperwork with the IRS and other government agencies. I have requested the IRS identification number and, as a 501(c) 4, they are are required to disclose it upon request and to do so immediately. Beware of any of the information and data they share, which is likely as incomplete and inaccurate as their representation of nonprofit status.
Alexi Assmus March 27, 2013 at 11:43 PM
Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods is a 501 (c) 4 non-profit and all appropriate paperwok has been filed by our attorney's office, Herold Law of Warren New Jersey. Ronald Ladell of AvalonBay Communities Inc challenged the status of our organization at the first Planning Board hearing on AvalonBay and our attorney attested to PCSN's status as a 501(c)4 under oath. PCSN was an official Objector at the Planning Board Hearings and has been recognized by Judge Jacobson as an intervenor in the AvalonBay lawsuit against the Planning Board and Princeton Mayor and Council. If you have specific questions regarding PCSN's 501(c)4 status please write the treasurer Kate Warren at 17 Jefferson Road, Princeton NJ 08550.

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