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Hospital Site: No Pool or Age-Restricted Housing, Task Force Says

The group will soon make zoning recommendations for the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street.

 

There should be no swimming pools, drive through banks or age-restricted housing allowed at the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street, the group tasked with recommending zoning changes has decided.

One of the community’s biggest concerns, not allowing a “gated community” on the site, will come back before the group after a smaller ad hoc team discusses the best way to outline how a development could be constructed.

Simply specifying “no gated community” will likely not be sufficient because a developer could design a closed off project but point to the fact that there is technically “no gate,” Princeton Planner Lee Solow said.

Mayor Liz Lempert has appointed a Hospital Site MRRO Ordinance Task Force to make zoning recommendations for the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street. The group will meet three times by the end of this week and make reccomendations to Council. Should Council endorse those recommendations, the revised ordinance proposal would be referred to the planning board for adherence to the master plan before the Council could vote to adopt the changes.

Task Force members include Lempert, Solow, Council Members Jennie Crumiller and Bernie Miller, Planning Board Members Gail Ullman and Marvin Reed, Environmental Commission Member Heidi Fichtenbaum, architect and SPRAB member Bill Wolfe and architects Areta Pawlynsky and Joe Weiss.

The first task force meeting was held Thursday, Jan. 17.

The group struggled with the ordinance’s bulk standards and how those standards translate to an actual project on the site. For example, what’s the ideal plan and how to set standards to make that happen?

For example, AvalonBay proposed 280 units, but could easily have fit 324 units onto the site within the existing zoning. And without razing the hospital building, there could have been about 450 units on the site.

“There’s an ordinance on the books that does not even come close to meeting the desires of the community on the site, Weiss said. "There’s a disconnect that needs to be addressed as quickly as possible so development is more in sync."

The challenge will be understanding and refining the zoning standards quickly. The task force is expected to make a recommendation after just three meetings, the last of which is Thursday, Jan. 24.

The caveat is that AvalonBay, whose plans to redevelop the site were rejected by the planning board in December, could appeal the rejection within 45 days of it being finalized. Should the developer prevail, the company could build under the guidelines of the existing ordinance.

Hospital officials do not object to amending the ordinance, but say their priority is not devaluing the sale price of the property.

Shelden Sturges of Princeton Future said at Thursday’s meeting that a hospital board member who told him the hospital needs to sell the property for $32 million.

The decision to eliminate a pool on the site was made due to several reasons- a new outdoor Community Park Pool three blocks away, environmental and sustainability concerns and the YMCA’s upcoming capital campaign to redo its indoor pool. 

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