Blog: AvalonBay & Princeton Design Standards

This presentation talks about the legal constraints of the Design Standards (sec.17A-193B) in the MRRO zone onto which Avalon Bay is choosing to ignore and their many mis-readings of the code.


Comments to the Princeton Regional Planning Board 12/10/12Lett

Framework for Design Standards 

I want us to look at the “framework” of Design Standards, sec. 17A-193B of Borough Code. This Planning Board overwhelmingly supported the framework within which the (Design) Standards are specified (in Borough Code) at its meeting in April (April, 19, 2012). You voted 9-1 to recommend that Borough Council rewrite the section (17A-193B) to make its language more “quantifiable”.  This part of borough code began as an ordinance, and as such can’t be thrown away as a whole. To change anything the (Planning) Board has to look at and act on each individual provision in the section separately.  It’s Preamble states,  “In addition to the criteria and standards found in section 17A-193, the following criteria and standard[s] shall be used by all municipal agencies in reviewing application for site plan or subdivision approval in the MRRO district.”  Thus the criteria in (17A-) 193B provides the FRAMEWORK for reviewing site plans and subdivision applications. The preamble specifically recognizes the MRRO zone by stipulating this additional set of regulations, over and above the criteria in (17A-)193. As stated the explicit “intent” is “to provide a framework within which the designer of the site development is free to exercise creativity,” etc. The crucial term “framework” connotes boundaries: the “framework” limits the freedoms. The preamble lays out a framework of principles to be observed. “Framework” is an inclusionary term; the category cannot be scrapped as a whole. Lawyers can debate principles, argue case law, appeal, and if called for, amend specifics.  But the framework, the foundation, remains. So also with Design Standards and its Preamble.


 Here are some ways AvalonBay’s representatives have sidestepped these Design Standards:

1.  Selective misreading of the code.  The preamble states that the criteria and standards “provide a framework within which the designer is free to exercise creativity”. AvalonBay’s states that they only provide a “framework for design” (Metz to PB, December 6, 2012).  The first connotes boundaries and structure; the second does not. You can’t substitute one prepositional phrase for another in a legal document. 

2. The (design) standards are vague and thus unenforceable.  Ms. Studholme’s claims just that (Chou to Planning Board, 12/6/12, p. 5; Studholme to PB, 12/6/12). As previously indicated, each individual design standard must be evaluated on its own terms. The burden of showing that a specific (design) standard can’t be followed is the applicant’s, not the Planning Board’s.

3.  The Design Standards are illegal.  One very measurable design standard is public accessibility and documentation of such accessibility (17A-193B.d.1 and 17A-193B.c.3). Mr. Metz totally disregards the Borough Code by stating that “public access cannot legally be mandated” (Metz, p. 12).

4.  The design standards are moot.  Mr. Metz willfully misinterprets the code by suggesting that the code is moot since the existing hospital violates specific design standards (Metz on “building height,” p. 5, or “visual impact,” p. 6). One must keep in mind that the MRRO Code was written for the future, not the past. 

5.  The design standards are illegal because they cost money.  Mr. Lang states that absolutely anything beyond zoning regulations are “cost-generative” and thus can’t be required (testimony, 12/6/12). This is yet another way to say the Borough Code is not applicable to them.  If you take that statement to the extreme it means that that fire and health code regulations can’t be required.

6.  The design standards don’t apply.  Just in case the other arguments don’t work, Mr. Lang, as well as Mr. Metz has maintained that Mt. Laurel inclusionary projects are an inherently beneficial use and thus the Design Standards don’t apply.  We all support 20% affordable housing. However the facts are that an inherently beneficial use must satisfy negative as well as positive criteria. If a proposed development entails the destruction of the Master Plan for the MRRO zone, the magnitude of the positive benefit must be measured against the negative.  The final decision on this is the courts, if not this Planning Board.

Each of you is the guardian of the essential framework that governs the town’s master plan and the plan for the MRRO zone.   Please deny this application. Thank you.

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