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Letter: When is a "Park" Not a Park?

AvalonBay AVB NYSE is attempting to use tricks, smoke, mirrors and any lies they can think up to get their terrible excuse for architecture dumped in the middle of our town.

 

To the Editor:

Alas! the wrong version of the 2005 Hillier concept plan for hospital site renewal was introduced by AvalonBay at the Planning Board meeting (December 6). Jonathan Metz showed the first version of the plan, originally shown to Planning Board members on May 26, 2005. This version lacks the public walkway between Witherspoon Street and Harris Road that Mr. Hillier developed by July 14, 2005 for the Planning Board’s consideration, in response to Planning Board members’ input. 

The later version is more community-friendly. The public walkway makes directly accessible the public patio area surrounded by two-story townhouses located roughly where the private swimming pool (enclosed by the four- and 5-story box proposed by AvalonBay) would be, if the site plan were unfortunately approved.

Moreover, the later plan has additional public walkways “crossing the site” (Borough Code, 17A-193B.d.1), linking neighborhoods to the TWO on-site public playgrounds serving the neighborhoods, new and existing.  It truly fulfills the urban renewal intent of the Master Plan and Borough Code.

It’s a shame the REJECTED plan was shown. It mis-educates the public. It’s also the plan that Barry Rabner, CEO UMCP, allowed to be published by BlueGate Partners, who marketed the property. Many of us wish Mr. Rabner had exercised more diligent oversight and has defaulted in his commitment to our neighborhood. As Marvin Reed, on the Planning Board, said in frustration, again, (December 6), “the Hospital proposed the Design Standards”—and then failed to hold its chosen developer to compliance.

Planning Board members (and the public) should know that Mr. Metz’s estimate of the size of Hillier’s public parks is incorrect by 10,000 square feet. Hillier offered 35,000 sf., not 25,000—a huge difference. Mr Metz attempted to explain away the tiny sliver of park now offered to the Planning Board (14,990 sf.- less then HALF the 35,000sf proposed by Hillier and UMCP) by saying that the difference in size between the AvalonBay “park” and Hillier’s park  is virtually the size of the building known as 277 Witherspoon, just sold by the Hospital. This truth obscures two facts: 1) AvalonBay could have attempted to meet public and official intent (a generous public park on the Hillier scale) and chose not to; 2) AvalonBay’s sliver is surrounded on three sides by streets or driveways (Hillier’s vehicular entry was only on Henry Avenue, not also from Witherspoon). 

We and the Planning Board must recall that the AvalonBay proposal embodies everything that Wendy Benchley feared most: “I was so afraid,” she said at a Borough Council meeting (May 8, 2006), “that the open space would be just a buffer around the block.” Ms. Benchley, for decades a distinguished civic leader in Princeton, was a serious student of urban design. The “buffer” of renters’ back yards that is now passed off as “publicly-accessible open space” (Jeremy Lang, for AvalonBay, December 6) along Witherspoon and Franklin is the realization of Wendy Benchley’s nightmare. 

We deserve better!

Joseph Bardzilowski

Henry Avenue 

Princeton

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PrincetonIQ December 10, 2012 at 05:42 PM
Avalon has methodically and patiently addressed initial observations and issues. This focus on old plans is ridiculous and a waste of time and energy. This is 2012 and the economic, real estate, construction and financing environments are radically different. The opposition has been using environment concerns to slow this needed development, and now that has been judged not an issue. So now they will move on to park space, public access and other stumbling blocks. Yet they have no alternatives. Should we just let the hospital crumble into the ground and be vacant and an eyesore? Or should we approve this and move forward? I say MOVE FORWARD!
David Keddie December 11, 2012 at 01:23 PM
Dear Mr. Bardzilowski, I'm afraid I don't see how this proposal constitutes a 'nightmare.' Surely more restrained language is called for. This property is private and it's use is constrained only by the zoning code, not by any concept plan. If your neighbor demanded that you provide public open space, a park, and a walkway through the middle of your home would you agree? It seems we approach the planning board assuming it has the power of the property owner. These developments get approved because the rights of the owner are protected. If the town wants a park it has the power of eminent domain to force the owner to do give up it's land but only if properly compensated. In any case, there is a huge park and pool not far to the north, a small park not far to the west, and all the playing fields of the high school not far to the eat. All within close walking distance. The great value of seeing large numbers of apartments built on this site is the abundance of jobs, stores, parks and services available within easy walking distance. Sincerely, David Keddie 74 David Brearly Ct.
Joe Bardzilowski December 11, 2012 at 08:37 PM
That's easy to say when you live outside of town. This was a bait and switch, plain and simple. Would you feel the same way if this was going on in your neighborhood? What's an extra 600 people or so on David Brearly Ct. maybe AvalonBay can go there next?
David Keddie December 11, 2012 at 10:26 PM
Before we had kids my wife and I lived first at 44 Vandeventer and then at 11 Vandeventer, right in the very heart of town. Our only reason for living in Grigg's farm on the north end of Princeton is that we can't justify financially spending thousands more on a place in the core of Princeton. As a chaplain at the university I have friends, co-workers, and students who live throughout the walkable part of Princeton, be it Moore, Jefferson, John, Bank, Moran, or Linden. It's our own experience having to pay exorbitant rents for rundown and neglected apartments that motivates us to advocate for increased construction of apartments within walking distance of the jobs, stores and amenities of downtown Princeton. I had a conversation over the weekend with an international graduate student who doesn't drive or own a car but who nonetheless cannot afford housing in walking distance and lives in university provided housing with limited shuttle service. That story of international and non-driving grad students, post-docs and employees who suffer from the inadequate supply and resulting extreme expense of apartment living in Princeton is experienced by hundreds of individuals. The grad students, faculty, and young professionals in our circles overwhelmingly prefer apartment living in walkable neighborhoods to suburban lifestyles. To us a development like this one from Avalon Bay is very much welcomed and hoped for. Sincerely, David Keddie
Joe Bardzilowski December 12, 2012 at 12:19 AM
I hear you and agree to a dagree. However it could be done in a much more suitable way for the town. The impact of building a jail like compound just for the sake of having the quickest fix just isn't the right thing to do for a nice small town. Did you know that the rent will be between $1600 for a studio and $3600 for a three bedroom? I would imagine this is more then University housing costs. It's not that we want no development we just want something that will compliment the neighborhood not over power it. You should come to the meeting on Thirsday and see how the Avalon representatives act. A man of the cloth would be appalled at they're rudeness.

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