Letter: AvalonBay Must Prove Site is Clean

Princeton Planning Board crucial decision concerning public health at the old hospital site.


To the Editor:

As I write, the Planning Board has just voted to ask Borough Council’s agreement to retain Sovereign Consulting to review the AvalonBay Environmental Impact Statement and related documents. That EIS contains serious misrepresentations, as indicated by Aaron Kleinbaum, Legal Director of the Eastern Environmental law Center, on behalf of Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, in a series of letters to the Planning Board and the Princeton Environmental Commission.

To its credit, the Planning Board understands the public health issues at stake.

But if the review does no more than evaluate the documents thus far submitted, it will be inadequate. Mr. Kleinbaum has called for an independent investigation of the MRRO site,including soil samples that test for contaminant leakage and sewer overflows, before construction---not simply a review of documents to date. Mr. Kleinbaum has recommended sampling throughout the site, including testing underneath the garage. Steve Miller of the Princeton Environmental Commission has noted that the technology exists to test soils underneath concrete, and he supported such testing of the garage at its meeting on October 24 2012. The shortcoming of the Princeton Environmental Commission’s recommendation to the Planning Board is that it recommends “independent testimony . . . regarding whether the testing was adequate” (not new testing), and “To the extent that it is concluded that the testing was inadequate, we recommend that you request adequate testing from Developer.” The Developer?—AvalonBay? hardly an independent party.

Indeed, Avalon is so lax in its environmental practices, and so glib on its website about supposedly sustainable measures (13 pages of fluff)—that AvalonBay’s corporate leadership has been called to task. On April 11, 2012, the Office of the Comptroller for New York City, which manages pension funds for its employees, issued a Memorandum to AvalonBay shareholders setting forth substantive reasons why Avalon Bay has “lagged behind” its peers in the commercial rental market: inadequate reporting on greenhouse emissions, water conservation, waste minimization, energy efficiency, and other environmental and social impacts (full text available from Daniel A. Harris).

We don’t know the scope of work the Planning Board requests, nor what Sovereign Consulting will recommend. We must hope that its proposals insist on an absolutely clean building site and that any further consideration of AvalonBay’s application by the Planning Board be postponed until such a clearance is given. Indeed, Sovereign will not be able to complete its work prior to November 15, when AvalonBay will demand that the Planning Board approve their site plan for the garage. But the Planning Board has ample legal grounds to deny this minor site application on the basis of insufficient evidence (as well as New Jersey case law upholding the rights of municipalities to deny developer’s applications on the basis of concerns about public health). Next step: if Sovereign can not responsibly complete its report until after December 15, when the supposed “clock” for a Planning Board decision runs out, then the Planning Board will be absolutely within its legal rights to deny AvalonBay’s application on the grounds of inadequate and insufficient information.

Jane Buttars

Dodds Lane

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PrincetonIQ November 14, 2012 at 04:20 AM
Opponents of this development, which will provide a balance of needed housing in Princeton, hire a lawyer and then start a campaign to make it appear their hired hand is an indepedent consultant whose recommendations should be followed without exception. But of course lawyers and consultants working for the developer are fools whose opinions don't matter. This would be amusing if it weren't so serious in terms of the manipulation and misrepresentation this writer and others in our community are spinning and distributing. Of course this letter, and others I've read in recent days, has no alternative for the site and no positive comments other than NOT IN MY BACKYARD. What are your concrete proposals? Are you willing to fund the purchase of the site for a park or whatever you'd like there instead? Or will you and others just torment the developer because you have time on your hands?
PrincetonIQ December 11, 2012 at 05:56 AM
Now that an independent expert, hired by Princeton, has determined your fears are unfounded, I assume you'll move on to another way to create a stumbling block. I can't wait!
David Keddie December 11, 2012 at 01:13 PM
Dear Ms. Buttars, The best thing for greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, and environmental impact generally is to allow apartment living in dense walkable neighborhoods. This proposal fits that definition perfectly. The determined opposition to such developments in Princeton, led by yourself and your husband Mr. Harris, is not beneficial for the environment, the vibrancy of the town, let alone its affordability. Sincerely, David Keddie 74 David Brearly Ct.


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