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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


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PrincetonIQ January 08, 2013 at 04:19 AM
Some people think we should run a Communist country in Princeton. I don't. I wish people who are so desiring of controlling lots in Princeton would raise money and just buy them. Perhaps if people understood business -- how difficult it is to general a business plan, find financing, execute the plan and then recoup a fair return on the investment of time, money and reward on risk -- they'd realize some of these demands are ridiculous. For instance, FORBIDDING a pool. How ridiculous. Just like the rest of these controlling, unreasonable ideas.
attitudijudi January 08, 2013 at 05:20 PM
Run like hell. This is Agenda 21.
Janice Hall January 08, 2013 at 07:49 PM
Most people are quite ill informed about Agenda 21. I was in Rio De Janeiro in 1992 for the UN Summit on Environment and Development. The truth about what happened there was never reported in the US.I was present to hear all the world leaders live. I helped to produce a 5 day "Citizen Summit" bringing leaders, NGO's and lay people together to share ideas. Forget the governments for a minute. It was the largest networking event of NGO's, scientists, religious leaders and indigenous people.whose voices were registered in Agenda 21. This is a good and accurate account of the facts about Agenda 21: http://www.betterworldcampaign.org/news-room/web-articles/agenda-21.html?gclid=CJKO1pyo2bQCFQqe4Aod_V0AFg Many people do not realize that for many years they have not been given a choice about how their communities were built and how they looked. Cheap building materials that outgas and poison the air - and hurt children are particular have been the norm. Between the short life of these buildings and the ancient gas, sewer and power lines, we are due for some changes before things fall apart. I think it is incumbent upon us as a society to build more responsibly, taking more than our personal needs into account - but also the health and well being of the community..Look at the old Princeton buildings that have stood the test of time & the new ones that are already falling apart, To build for a future that works for many is a noble goal that I believe is attainable.
David Keddie January 09, 2013 at 10:23 PM
Dear Ms. Hall, You advocate sustainability and affordability while opposing density. I believe this is a mistake. As a college town Princeton has an amazing opportunity to allow many people to live, work, and play without the need for a car. There is such a shortage of apartments within walking distance of campus that hundreds and perhaps thousands who would otherwise live without the need for a car instead commute daily into town. Sustainability requires building more apartments within walking distance of campus. It requires multi-story buildings of the sort proposed by Avalon Bay and of the sort that already exist on Nassau Street, Palmer Square, Chambers Street, and Spring Street. You oppose the physical scale of the existing hospital yet that physical scale is already present in the most desirable, most vibrant parts of our downtown. Affordability likewise requires much more housing to be built in Princeton. The high cost of housing in Princeton is a result of tremendous demand that has not been matched by increased supply. Only greatly increased supply with bring down costs and allow lower and middle income workers to live closer to their place of employment. I am eager to see Princeton loosen it's current zoning and allow those who prefer and need car-free apartment living in such a beautiful college town to have access to it. Sincerely, David Keddie
Alexi Assmus January 10, 2013 at 03:21 PM
280 units on 5+ acres is an inappropriately high density for a town. Former mayor and Planning Board member Marvin Reed called it a "real stretch.” It was given to the hospital so that their land would fetch a higher price. In return the hospital presented an open concept plan for the site which included a 35,000 sf park and linked public open space with walkways crossing the site. The hospital didn't live up to its side of the bargain in partnering with AvalonBay which builds closed private communities. A Boston Globe architectural critic described the towns outside Boston, connected to the city by rail lines and subways, as “pearls on a string.” No need to destroy the pearls. Let’s have a diversity of living environments for people to enjoy. Town living is sustainable. All communities don't have to be built up as cities.The Philadelphia Science Museum has an exhibit on climate change which details the pluses and minuses of town, city and suburbs. A plus for towns is that they have more green space than cities (cities have other other pluses). Both town living and city living are rated highly by the exhibit. Re: argument that density brings lower housing costs: Manhattan is very dense but not affordable. Rents at Avalon Princeton were estimated at 1600/month for studio - $3200/mth for 3-bed.
David Keddie January 10, 2013 at 11:30 PM
Dear Ms. Assmus, I do recognize that there is a deep antipathy to density and many view apartment buildings as inappropriate. However, how can we say that it is an inappropriate density when the building already on the site is more dense? One need only look to the corner of Nassau and Witherspoon to see that the old town of Princeton freely built five story buildings that completely covered the lot. We do not look to Nassau or Chambers streets and say that they are at an inappropriate density for a town. I grew up in a college town, State College, PA, that does not suffer because the small area in walking distance of campus are entirely multi-story apartment buildings. The downtown in nonetheless delightful, indeed full of pedestrian life, and the traffic is far easier than Princeton, if only because so many are able to choose a walkable and transit-oriented lifestyle. Manhattan's high cost is a result of restrictive zoning matched with rent control and rent stabalization. I appeal to Paul Krugman who pointed out in a famous article in 2005 that the the dramatic rise in housing costs took place in the 'zoned zone' in which is included Princeton and New York. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/08/opinion/08krugman.html My wife and I once considered a two-bedroom on Spring street and the asking price was $2450 despite its decrepitude. A similar price for a new apartment, with an actual kitchen and laundry, would be a steal. Sincerely, David Keddie
Alexi Assmus January 14, 2013 at 04:13 AM
AvalonBay compared their proposed building to the hospital which they would have demolished. The appropriate comparison is to the surrounding neighborhood. Models of Avalon Princeton side-by-side with neighborhood homes presented by local architects at Planning Board Hearings showed how incredibly out-of-scale the building is, not just to the neighborhood, but to Princeton as a whole. People would have been looking at Avalon Princeton next to those homes for many, many years--- not at AvalonBay next to the hospital. The hospital was a non-profit institution for the public good and was exempted from zoning requirements for this reason. As Councilman Goldfarb wrote to his colleagues during the rezoning of the site (1/10/06): “The seven-story buildings are there only because the hospital was not subject to zoning restrictions. With the hospital gone, the site should be restored to reflect the zoning restrictions that prevail throughout Princeton.”
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


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