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Planning Board Finalizes AvalonBay Denial, Starts Clock on Possible Appeal

The board says AvalonBay failed to meet Princeton's design standards. The developer's attorney says the reasons for the denial were not what was expressed during the Dec. 19 hearing.


The Princeton Regional Planning Board has finalized its denial of the AvalonBay development, beginning the clock on the 45 days the developer has to appeal the decision.  

In the written denial, approved by a vote of 5-0 on Thursday, Feb. 7, the Board claims that AvalonBay failed to meet Princeton's design standards. 

But an attorney for the developer fired back, claiming the Planning Board "cherry-picks" only a few design standards and then claimed AvalonBay didn't meet them. 

"Given the repeated acknowledgement....that the design standards are inherently self contradictory, and that they also contradict the zoning standards, we cannot tell, from studying the proposed resolution, let alone the transcript of the record, how it was that the board came to find certain design standards requisite to be met, and not others," wrote attorney Anne Studholme in a letter to the Planning Board dated Feb. 7. 

AvalonBay proposal included building 280 apartments at the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street, plus a fitness center, clubroom and leasing center. Apartments would be located in one 367,808 sq. ft. building, ranging between three to five stories tall. 

The Planning Board claims that AvalonBay did not adequately connected the project to the surrounding neighborhood, the planning board noted. 

"The design standards, providing for pedestrian circulation through the site, requires (an open development)," the decision read in part. "The applicant, however, rather than providing for a development that is open to community, chose to build a single building, described by members of the public, appropriately, as fortress-like, with one archway, providing public access through a 60 foot long passage to a dead end court. It excludes the public and turns its back to the broader neighborhood."

AvalonBay also failed to present colors, textures and materials to be used for the project, the Planning Board claims.

But Studholme says that the resolution drafted by Planning Board Attorney Gerald Muller failed to include the verbal decisions outlined by board members during the Dec. 19 vote. 

"Your task was to forge these reasons into some semblance of a coherent whole," Studholme wrioe in part. "That would not be hard: 'This application complies with the ordinance; in fact, it meets the letter of the law very precisely, it probably requires no variances, it is not technically a[n allegedly prohibited] gated community, and it is permissible under the MRRO ordinance; but we don't like the way it looks, so we are denying it.' But to create a legally sustainable whole, the express, unified, reason for the vote to deny would never do, so new reasons had to be contrived."

The AvalonBay project was initially denied on Dec. 19, 2012. Planning Board members Jenny Crummiller, Bernie Miller, Yina Moore, Marvin Reed, Janet Stern, Gail Ullman and Wanda Gunning voted in favor of the denial. Valerie Haynes, Peter Madison and Lance Liverman voted in favor of AvalonBay's proposal. 

On Thursday, the written denial was approved by Crumiller, Reed, Miller, Ullman and Gunning. 

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