Letter A Fresh Chance for the Old Hospital Site

The Princeton Council can now create a new ordinance for the hospital site that reflects smart, sustainable development, social justice & economic vigor, while reintegrating it into the neighborhood.

To the Editor:

Princeton has gained a second chance for a smart, sustainable development on the old hospital site, now that AvalonBay’s plan was rejected by the Planning Board. Our new Princeton Council can now work on a fresh ordinance to ensure that community goals are met by any developer, even if AvalonBay re-applies with a “substantially” different site plan.

What should a new ordinance include? The primary aim has always been to reintegrate the entire hospital block back into the physical scale of the neighborhood, making it suitable for ordinary human living, as opposed to the extraordinary functions of a hospital.

First, let’s exclude a swimming pool. Our new Community Park Pool is three blocks away.

Next, sustainable building is imperative. Energy conservation measures must be specified. “Obsolete” new construction—as Heidi Fichtenbaum told the Planning Board—must not be allowed, whether at the hospital site or throughout the entire municipality. As a simple matter of social justice Princeton Council should seek lower utility costs for low-income tenants. Princeton must move forward into the 21st century and continue to set an example.

Many speakers at the hearings, and others, have stressed a required minimum percentage (3%-4%) for local retail shops (dry cleaners, laundromat, drugstore, etc.), and stores that invigorate the neighborhood economically, encourage people-flow, and keep tenants from wasting time and gas driving elsewhere for shopping.

The current megablock must be broken into livable building areas. New public streets or pedestrian/bicycle pathways should truly “cross the site” to connect with already existing streets such as Carnahan Place, Franklin and Leigh Avenues.

The hospital promised Princeton and the neighborhood a sizeable park (35,000 sf.). The new ordinance should mandate a park as part of minimum required public open space. Let’s hope for public open space for a neighborhood playground (architect Robert Hillier proposed two).

Density: “up to 280," not 280 flat. Princeton Council should find incentives to lower a density that many people consider outrageously high, especially since Mr. Rabner on behalf of the hospital and its Trustees contracted with a developer known by historical practice to do everything except build according to the Master Plan and Borough Code.

Our municipal leaders must incentivize more “very low income” units than the13% of affordable units required by law. Princeton needs to mandate social justice for the sake of a thriving community.

Let’s remember that the ordinances resulting from the 2005 concept plan won two awards: 1) Sustainable Bronze accreditation from Sustainable Jersey, for permitting recycling of the hospital “towers” (not their destruction, which Pam Hersh, hospital spokesperson, called “a travesty” [Borough Council, July 11, 2006]); 2) The Delaware River Valley Smart Growth Award, 2006, for the ordinance provision, “A new neighborhood street is envisioned”—smaller  blocks, human scale, more bikes and feet.

Princeton must continue to prove worthy of these awards.


Janice Hall


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.

Alexi Assmus January 14, 2013 at 04:15 AM
The article Mr Keddie cites was written in the midst of the housing boom (2005): “ In Flatland, which occupies the middle of the country, it's easy to build houses. When the demand for houses rises, Flatland metropolitan areas, which don't really have traditional downtowns, just sprawl some more. .. But in the Zoned Zone, which lies along the coasts, a combination of high population density and land-use restrictions - hence "zoned" - makes it hard to build new houses.” I don’t want no zoning, no downtowns, and sprawl. Nor would I welcome the close-to-campus State College neighborhoods Mr. Keddie describes:“the small area in walking distance of campus are entirely multi-story apartment buildings.”
David Keddie January 14, 2013 at 03:54 PM
Dear Ms. Assmus, The zoning in Princeton does not prevent sprawl, it mandates it. Apartment buildings in town in walking distance of jobs and amenities are the antithesis of sprawl yet this is what is opposed. Our wonderful downtown was built before the existence of zoning codes and would be prohibited under our current rules. Zoning in Princeton has ensured that the former township developed as single-family homes on large lots; attractive for those who prefer that lifestyle but the essence of sprawl. How are we harmed if a multi-story apartment building goes up on Witherspoon? Are we better off if those people who would otherwise live in the rejected Avalon Bay development instead are forced to live on route one and drive into Princeton each day? Is the environment helped? Is the tax base improved? Why is it necessary to impose an aesthetic preference for single family homes and duplexes everywhere in Princeton? According to the census the population of the former borough is lower now than it was in 1950, despite massive increases in employment and enrollment at the university. Surely Princeton would rather accomodate apartment buildings in town rather than parking lots and congested roads. Sincerely, David Keddie
David Keddie January 14, 2013 at 04:05 PM
You advocate replacing the hospital with structures in line with its immediate surroundings, which I assume means single-family homes and perhaps duplexes. How would the sale of such a comparatively small number of dwellings recoup the costs of demolishing such a large structure? Ed Glaeser of Harvard has done extensive research on the question of how zoning restrictions on density dramatically increase the cost of housing. One example can be found here: http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/the_impact_of_zoning_on_housing_affordability_0.pdf If we freeze the number of housing units, as zoning has done, while demand for living in walking of the university skyrockets what we are left with is the least affordable college town in America, even more expensive in one recent study than Berkeley. We're left with a town whose zip code, according to the Washington Post, is in the top twenty nationwide for concentration of the wealthiest households. Is our town only for the wealthy or will we accommodate some density in the core to allow for diversity in income? We love living and working in Princeton but the lack of affordable housing in walking distance to campus is a huge blow to quality of life. Sincerely, David Keddie
SFB January 22, 2013 at 05:19 PM
David Keddie is right. Affordability and sustainability are best served by allowing the existing scale of the hospital site to be maintained.
Alexi Assmus January 22, 2013 at 07:18 PM
Real estate consultant and developer Peter Marks estimated that the cost of land for a subdivided 50 x 90 acre lot on the former hospital site would be under $200,000, including the demolition cost of the hospital. I will post his presentation to Borough Council above. I read carefully the smart growth whitepaper that David Keddie provided in a link in his comments on another letter (thank you). Of all the photos in that white paper, only one development seemed appropriate in scale for a neighborhood like that surrounding the hospital site: the Mission Meridian Village in South Pasadena with two- and three-story mixed-used brick buildings in a historic single-family neighborhood (I posted above). The other developments featured in the white paper looked like they would loom over a neighborhood’s 2-story buildings, as does Princeton Residences on Palmer Square. One photo in the white paper shows enormous development in Arlington, VA next to preserved single-family neighborhood (I posted above) --- I wouldn’t want to see this in Princeton --- Here is the link to the smart growth white paper again: http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/pdf/phoenix-sgia-case-studies.pdf


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »