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Letter: A Plea to Barry Rabner

To Mr. Barry Rabner CEO of Princeton Healthcare System formerly UMCP Greed is NOT good!

 

To the Editor:

It’s now abundantly clear that the University Medical Center of Princeton has officially thumbed its nose at our community.

With the recent transaction that turns over their last piece of Princeton land to another real estate company, Barry Rabner has sealed our fate. The same man who bragged about attending 75+ meetings between town officials and the community to determine the “right development” for our neighborhood has now finished slithering out of town.

Mr. Rabner hasn’t attended a public meeting about the former hospital site in ages. He’s been busy with tours of his new hospital and ribbon-cutting ceremonies for his new 32-acre park in his new favorite town---Plainsboro—at the same time he was inking a deal to rid himself of the last possible piece of land (the corner of Witherspoon St at Henry Ave.) that could have allowed him to honor the very last shred of his public commitment to Princeton---a 35,000 SF park (plus a playground for the families and children of the neighborhood).

Barry Rabner used to claim our neighborhood had been so important to the hospital for the last century. How sad!--- when a respected leader of a large health care system finds it acceptable to sell the entire hospital site to the highest bidder, AvalonBay--- without getting any commitment from the developer to comply with the Master Plan that he himself took credit for just a few short years ago!

Mr. Barry Rabner: You have left the two Princetons in the lurch to fight it out with a callous national developer. That’s not an acceptable way to leave a legacy, sir. It is offensive! You have cast disgrace on yourself and the hospital. The community you are now dumping this mess on was responsible for making your hospital what it is today. We donated over $100,000,000 toward your relocation. The money we’ve spent on services from your institution since 1919 is incalculable. In exchange for a ridiculously high density (280 units), you were supposed to ensure that we got a genuine public park— not some tiny “community courtyard” consisting of checker boards and benches, surrounded by driveways on three sides and a busy street on the other. We were also supposed to get two playgrounds, a total of 50,000 square feet of green space, and public walkways “crossing the site” that was to help renew the entire existing neighborhood. Did you forget your contribution to the Master Plan?

Dear Mr. Rabner, I want to ask you this question too: what happened? To my fellow Princetonians I give the most obvious answer: GREED! Greed happened! Greed for an unaffordable new home in Plainsboro. As one of the betrayed, I say to Mr. Rabner: Honor Your Commitments!

If you read this letter, I urge you to PLEASE come to the next Regional Planning Board meetings regarding plans for site--- November 15th, November 29th and beyond. We need your help more now then ever! Fix the mess you made.

Joe Bardzilowski

Henry Ave, Princeton

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PrincetonIQ November 06, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Neither the University Medical Center at Princeton nor Barry Rabner made any such promises or commitments. They have a duty to sell the property to the highest bidder, and I don't see anyone coming forward in the community to try to buy this property for a park or any other purpose. The Medical Center, and its leadership, has a responsibility to find a buyer that will agree to a large financial responsibility: demolish an old, largely undocumented structure, and replace it with something that economically is viable. There are so many people in Princeton who want to spend none of their own money -- and don't want to pay taxes, either, equivalent to the value of services received -- and just complain, complain, complain. We need more housing, and we need some level of affordable housing, and we should welcome an influx of housing within easy walking distance to our downtown. Mr. Rabner, congratulations on constructing a world-class hospital, in finding a buyer during a recession, and for enabling all of us soon to have replaced a dark, aging institutional building with a new, lively, well-financed home for hundreds of people we will welcome to our town.
BFS November 06, 2012 at 03:43 AM
Princeton IQ, It's a shame that you must hide behind a pen name. I would love the chance to speak to a real person not some made up character. You are misinformed about the situation. Most likely you had no interest in listening to the many public discussions that took place probably before you moved to town, if you even live in town. There is a right way to redevelop the property and Mr. Rabner was active in establishing a plan that was a compromise for all involved. For you to say that he did not make a commitment to the town is simply wrong. The master plan is clear and Mr. Rabner went on the record saying that they would not sell just to the highest bidder but that they would sell to a developer who would build what was agreed to in OUR master plan. Obviously you feel that it is good business to go back on your word to get the maximum dollar from a deal. You also must believe that money is more important then anything else. I would suggest you come to the planning board meetings and say your piece. That's why they have the meetings so that everyone can provide their input.
Alexi Assmus November 06, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Here is hopsital CEO Rabner in sworn testimony before the Princeton Planning Board, May 26k, 2005. Three Planning Board meetings were held on the rezoning of the hospital site for sale. Rabner in sworn testimony: "(It is our intent to do everything we can to work with the community, and work with this board, in developing a plan that has broad public support (342). Because it is clear certainly to us, I think to anyone who has done any work in Princeton, that unless there is a plan that has that support, it simply won’t be approved, and that delay will significantly impact our ability to replace the hospital, and could in fact keep us from replacing it at all, depending on how long that delay is. 347) When we select a developer we are not going to simply pick the developer that proposes to pay the most. We need a developer that understands and embraces the plan that is finally approved. We need a developer that understands our neighbors, understands Princeton, understands what it takes to get this project accomplished. Otherwise they will be in the same position that we would otherwise be in, which is, an endless discussion about how the site would be reused, and we are back in the same place again; where the delays makes the replacement of the hospital possibly impossible (357). Email assmus@post.harvard.edu if you want to listen to tapes.
Alexi Assmus November 06, 2012 at 05:47 PM
Here is the hospital's consultant architect, Robert Hillier, in sworn testimony at the same meeting (May 26, 2005). : "The reason that we’re doing the program the way we’re doing it is that for a developer to come in and just take the site and not know Princeton and not have the right kind of input from the community, would result in a long, arduous argument, litigation, etc. And when Barry says we are not going to take the highest bidders, there are some bidders out there, and they’re just so cocksure, that they’re going to throw a lot of money at this, propose anything, and go to court about it. And we don’t want that to happen (429). So the medical center picked up the gauntlet and said, we’re going to help figure out what this ought to be as the best thing for Princeton. And we’ve asked the PB to basically give us a concept approval on that idea, and then we’re going to put that out in front of the developers and say, ok, developers, what’s your bid? Then we are going to take those bids and we’re going to review them and review the responsibility of the various developers and we will end up negotiating and selecting a developer in the end (438).
Alexi Assmus November 06, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Continued ... Hillier in sworn testimony (May 26, 2005): "That developer we are expecting to follow the concepts that we will be developing with you in the PB. Yes, he will come in for a site plan approval, but we will in fact be looking for him to follow what we are proposing. We will be asking for reaction and input. We’ve already had, as Barry said, several meetings with the neighbors and we have adjusted our plan significantly based on those meetings. (448) At the end of the day, we intend to enhance the neighborhood. We will retain what people have described as the small-town feel ..."
PrincetonIQ November 06, 2012 at 09:16 PM
I'm not hiding behind anything. I simply prefer to express my views without worry of the personal torment from a small number of people who don't seem to appreciate that people might disagree with them. I've seen it over and over again in the 20 years I've lived in Princeton: If you don't agree with the 100 people who are against everything, they trounce you and boo you in meetings. We have a cadre of individuals who protest anything and never offer any workable, economically viable solutions: If you want this property made into a park, then raise the money and buy it! If you want a different developer, then find them and convince them of the viability of your design approach! Meanwhile, you're quoting SEVEN-YEAR-OLD minutes from a meeting that clearly indicates they plan to take into account what the community (a small part of the community, usually) says during the meetings regarding zoning and the master plan, and that's been happening for nearly a year as of this writing. Great that he says they won't simply sell to the highest bidder -- but to the bidder who will listen and incorporate ideas patiently and, in my opinion, Avalon has done that. You don't agree, and I understand that. There are people who want an apartment complex that's open and people can walk through (I doubt you'd want that where you live) and many other things. Fine - find a developer will do what you want, don't just stand in the way of something because you have time on your hands!
BFS November 06, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Princeton IQ, I respect your opinion and if I could buy the property and make it a golf course believe you me I would do that. But let's be realistic. The hospital had a reported 125 bids for the property so they don't need me to help them sell it. They may have trusted AVB to follow the designs of the master plan that Mr. Rabner Mr. Hillier and the town all agreed to. Maybe it is just AVB who has chosen to make the hospital look bad. It could be that AVB told the hospital one thing and is now doing something else. I wouldn't put that past them after hearing how their representatives act and speak at public meetings. I'm sure if AVB had the highest bid AND told the powers that be at the hospital that they would comply with the master plan then of course the deal would be done. In any case AVB is refusing to create the neighborhood that was planned for the site. It's that simple. All I do know is that AVB will push and threaten legal action to get THEIR way in which case we all loose so that they can make maximum profits from the marketability of our town. Do you really believe that they have the right to do that?
Alexi Assmus November 07, 2012 at 06:12 PM
The Planning Board meetings which were quoted above were held to rezone the hospital site for the benefit of the hospital in their desire to sell the property. A 50 unit/acre density was granted the hospital (much higher than anywhere else in Princeton) and this density was a major factor in determining the price at which the hospital could sell the land. No resident in town benefits from this type of zoning – no Princeton resident can sell their land for a price based on the buyer building at ultra-high densities. In exchange the municipality was promised an open development with parks and playgrounds. The requirement for an open development was written into Borough Code, section 17A-193B. From Code: “A private, gated community is forbidden.” See more below.
Alexi Assmus November 07, 2012 at 06:13 PM
(I will post enitre section of Design Standards in Borough Code on Princeton Patch blog for those interested.) Requirements of Borough Code, 17A Land-Use, Art. X, Div. 6, Sec. 17A-193/B • Scale and pattern of width and height of new buildings relate to neighborhoods • Range of styles • “Avoid a monolithic appearance” • New construction and height in central portion of site (not a swimming pool) • “New construction shall comply with .. LEED” (in Code, but cannot be mandated since LEED not in State Code, but Avalon has designed LEED for other buildings, incl those with 20% affordable) • “Open spaces and plazas inviting to the public .. Should be adequately connected to the public walkway system surrounding and CROSSING the site. An applicant must document that the open space provides linkages between and through the development as well as the surrounding neighborhood. … The development shall have an enhanced system of public open spaces and pathways that provide linkages between and through the development as well as the surrounding neighborhood.” • “A private gated community is not allowed for the site.”
Mark Alexandridis November 07, 2012 at 09:22 PM
This is really a case study in: (1) too little, too late and (2) channeling our anger at the wrong parties. Anyone who attended the original hearings, had any commercial instincts, and paid attention to the process could have easily surmised that this was a likely outcome. Subprime developer and all the attendant issues... First, the zoning for the property that the Hospital lobbied for was completely at odds with the surrounding community. People were willing to tolerate the patch of bad and obtrusive architecture that the hospital had become for the obvious public benefit the facility brought to the community. What is inexplicable is why the community would agreed to have it zoned -- post hoc -- for some squalid , overly dense, vertically oppressive development. The planning board and most of the compliant residents were sold the premise that it was the communities duty to maximize the property value FOR the hospital! The zoning board should have told the hospital that the responsible thing to do was to zone the property in a manner consistent with the rest of the community. The hospital could use its impressive fund raising capability to bridge the differential valuation between what was zoned and what should have happened. The hospital and its agents are commercially astute. Too bad our representatives on the Planning Board are not. This is where are anger should be channeled. If you observe much of the new development in the community, this pattern is not ending.

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