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Letter: Avalon Bay Raises More Environmental Questions than Answers

Princeton resident and environmental attorney says more investigation is needed.


To the Editor:

Environmental investigations of Princeton’s former hospital site have been the subject of Planning Board Hearings on AvalonBay’s application to redevelop the site, and they have been widely reported on in the press. 

 As an environmental attorney, who has worked for both the US EPA and industry, the facts reported by the applicant in their Limited Phase II and in the independent report by Sovereign Consulting, commissioned by the Planning Board, raises more questions than having provided answers.   Further investigation is clearly warranted.

For example, the applicant’s data in the Limited Phase II performed by AvalonBay’s consultant EcolSciences definitively shows that the groundwater results exceed NJ groundwater quality standards for four different carcinogens and by as much as four times the New Jersey standard. The applicant states that the exceedances may be due to turbidity in the samples. Yet the applicant did not analyze the soil for these same compounds.  Reportedly the monitoring well revealed no exceedances of these compounds.  But the applicant did not provide the data to confirm this point.  It is unknown when the samples were taken, method of analysis, the screening level of the monitoring well, nor proximity of values to exceedances level.  What we do know is that these carcinogens are present (in either the soil or groundwater), and therefore the nature and extent of the contamination must be investigated.

Furthermore, hospitals use hazardous materials such as mercury.  Why then did the applicant not sample groundwater for metals such as mercury?   Additional questions left unanswered include:  the location and potential contamination (soil and groundwater) from use of a former septic system; and the extent and quantity of hazardous materials used on site and disposed of via the septic system (solvents, lab wastes, radioactive source materials).

The applicant and Sovereign conclude that no further investigation is needed. I respectfully disagree. I would not accept these conclusions in my practice, and neither should the Board.

Chemicals noted in groundwater wells above NJ groundwater quality levels:

Chemical Well Level found NJ GWQ level Exceeds NJ GWQS Benzo(a)anthracene CAS # 56-55-3 GW2 Probable Human Carcinogen .308 ug/l .1 ug/l 3 times Benzo(a)pyrene CAS # 50-32-8 GW2 Probable Human Carcinogen .388 ug/l .1 ug/l @ 4 times Benzo(b)fluoranthene CAS # 205-99-2 GW2 Possible Human Carcinogen .380 ug/l .2 ug/l @ 2 times Indeno(1,2,3-cd) pyrene CAS # 193-39-5 GW2 Probable Human Carcinogen .320 ug/l .2 ug/l @1.5 times Benzo(a)anthracene CAS # 56-55-3 GW1 Probable Human Carcinogen .229 ug/l .1 ug/l @ 2 times Benzo(b)fluoranthene CAS # 205-99-2 GW1 Possible Human Carcinogen .190 ug/l .2 ug/l Just about

Vincent Giordano

Maple Street

PrincetonIQ December 18, 2012 at 06:24 AM
Before the independent consultant was hired, everyone said their analysis was needed to consider the application to remove a decaying, abandoned hospital and replace it with badly needed housing that will include 20% below-market apartments for people who can't afford the high market prices in Princeton. Now that the report is in, the candre of "do nothing to change Princeton even if it's an improvement" group takes a new turn, decrying the report. I'm sure if it had supported a delay or denial, they would have thought the scientist providing the analysis was brilliant. It is sad that people look for facts that support their position, and not the truth. Let's get on with this project, with proper precautions but not more foot-dragging that might kill the deal. The opponents protested the construction of the Arts Council, the Spring Street garage and many other projects -- just because they don't want improvement and change. We need more housing, we need it within a walkable distance to our lovely downtown and we need it now. If you have a better idea for the site to get this benefit, speak up. Otherwise, keep your squeaky, unfounded scare tactics to yourself.
Joe Bardzilowski December 18, 2012 at 12:45 PM
I believe that "PrincetonIQ" is a pen name for either Barbara Trelstad or Ron Ladell. They are the only two people who think that way. They feel it is just to sacrifice the health and wealth of the surrounding neighborhood and future apartment dwellers for the sole gain of the UMCP and AVB. AVB is the NYSE symbol for the AvalonBay REIT worth an estimated $18,000,000,000.00 Yes folks that Billion with a B! No misprint. This is the David vs Goliath story being played out once again in central New Jersey. Let's just hope that the brave and nobel David has one last fight in him to defeat the ugly one eyed monster.
David Keddie December 18, 2012 at 02:58 PM
The construction of new apartment housing in a walkable neighborhood redeveloping a disused site is the epitome of environmentally sensitive development. Two separate environmental reviews show there to be no issues with the site. Even if there were issues or if issues come up during construction, the best way to remediate them is to redevelop the site. These delays and added costs of building in the walkable core of Princeton only drive new development to greenfield, car-depended projects on the fringe of the region where NIMBY's are not present. If we want to preserve open space and encourage walkable lifestyles we should be welcoming and encouraging development of medium-density apartment buildings in the core of Princeton, not harassing such proposals with endless delays and added costs.
Alexi Assmus December 18, 2012 at 02:58 PM
See groundwater data (GW1 and GW2 testing locations) above in images/pdfs. Data pages from AvalonBay's consultant EcolSciences Limited Phase II (Nov 2011). See also the NJ groundwater quality standards. This is the data and standards that is summarized in Mr. Giordano's chart that shows carcinogens were found at Princeton's former hospital site in groundwater at 2-4 times above NJ quality standards. Note: The scope of work in the EcolSciences Limited Phase II states, "As directed by AvalonBay Communities, the scope of work proposed is limited to the investigation of operating underground storage tanks and two abandoned underground tanks." (p. 2)
Alexi Assmus December 18, 2012 at 03:14 PM
I was all for the Arts Council and the Downtown Development. Although I do think it is a shame that public officials did not listen to their residents who told them there would be a problem with flooding in the garage --- since it was being built over a spring.
Dr. Daniel A. Harris December 18, 2012 at 04:06 PM
If carcinogens are an issue, that is serious. It has nothing to do with foot-dragging and everything to do with public health. PrincetonIQ is not very bright. The person also lumps together, with no evidence, the opposition to AvalonBay to other groups opposed to other projects. IQ is very low.
Robin Reed December 18, 2012 at 04:26 PM
"A walkable neighborhood" ? Walkable to what? How much are people going to walk downtown regularly, since the downtown now consists mainly of high-end mall-type shops and not grocery stores, hardware stores, and the things people really need on a daily basis? This is a specious argument. Make no mistake: the residents will primarily go places in their cars. It will do nothing good for neighborhood and downtown traffic. Let's stop with the 'walkable' and 'environmentally sensitive' rhetoric; this plan is neither.
Joe Bardzilowski December 18, 2012 at 05:26 PM
I have to agree with Robin. I live across the street from the garage for the hospital and I just drove to McAffreys and Rite Aid because I needed a couple of things. It's a very short drive but a very long walk. I have lived in the same house for over 14 years, I am in decent shape and I have never walked to the Princeton shopping center to pick up milk and a greeting card. It is hardly a walkable neighborhood for day to day jaunts. A stroll into town on a Saturday sure. Walking to communiversity or out to dinner at the Witherspoon Grill absolutely. A power walk to the shopping center on a Tuesday afternoon for groceries NO WAY!
Caralien December 18, 2012 at 07:17 PM
We actually do walk 1.4 miles to/from Nassau every day, but that's not a real issue. The real issues remain the environmental issues, the decision by Avalon Bay to have fewer low income spaces than requested by Princeton, & the wholly unnecessary gated community that would NOT add anything to the rest of the community (gates keep people out, hence anyone with a sense of logic would know that that would add nothing to those of us who do walk past the hospital daily).
PrincetonIQ December 18, 2012 at 09:55 PM
This development would be a five-minute walk from wonderful, locally owned stores and, yes, a mix of other stores and shops. Downtown Princeton is a model that every city would seek to emulate: Would you rather have West Windsor or another town that is just a pimple on the butt of Route 1? I'm assuming you are all for the Dinky relocation, which is opposed just because it's going a little farther down the streeet. We can't have it both ways!
PrincetonIQ December 18, 2012 at 10:00 PM
So what? You walk sometimes, you drive sometimes. There's also an incredible neighborhood across from the hospital site with miserable commercial sites just waiting to be redeveloped. Maybe you should open a grocery and risk some capital instead of decrying every person trying to invest in our little town.
PrincetonIQ December 18, 2012 at 10:02 PM
This isn't a gated community. Just like most people, the individuals living in the community want some level of privacy and security. What homeowner in Princeton wants random people walking through their yard? 80% of the homes have some type of fence around the sides and the back -- and haven't you read the headlines from Connecticut. The hospital certainly didn't have any open spaces at all, and the building rightly was secure for safety and security and sensibility. Why do people in Princeton think any owner wants people meandering around their yards, acting like owners instead of interlopers?
PrincetonIQ December 18, 2012 at 10:04 PM
That's a personal attack, which I don't appreciate. But whatever. An independent consultant, endorsed by opponents before the report was presented, indicates there's nothing out of the ordinary to be concerned about. Is Tasha better educated than that person? Where's your environmental report and what are your credentials?
David Keddie December 18, 2012 at 10:45 PM
I do think there is a significant difference between living in a suburban-style development, such as Grigg's Farm where we now live, and the downtown, such as Vandeventer where we used to live. At Grigg's Farm we get in a car almost every time we do anything other than take the kids to the swings or once in a while walk to CVS. At Vandeventer we used a car once a week to get groceries. That's a huge difference. At the old hospital site one can walk to a variety of restaurants, to parks, to the library, to a convenience store, and to any job at the university or in the town. Given how far university parking is from most offices, someone living in Avalon Bay would be better off walking or taking a short trip on the bus. Even if every resident drives everywhere for everything it would still be far less traffic than created by the hospital, those trips would be far shorter than in more suburban contexts, and one could avoid the traffic choke points going in and out of town. If I read it correctly the recent traffic analysis for Princeton has over 20,000 people driving into Princeton each day. Many of those thousands are single and childless households who would greatly prefer to live in an apartment in Princeton and walk to work or restaurants but instead live in some suburban complex (including the two by Avalon Bay) and spend much of their life in Princeton traffic. The more housing that is built in the core of Princeton the fewer commuters on 206 and Alexander.


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