On Thursday the planning board is expected to render a decision on Avalon Bay’s plan to raze the former hospital building and construct a 290-unit rental development on Witherspoon Street.
If the board does not make a decision it’s unclear what will happen because Princeton’s impending consolidation means that the Princeton Regional Planning Board will cease to exist as of Jan. 1.
There could be additional hearings on the matter before end of the year, but AvalonBay’s application expires on Friday, Dec. 15 and company attorney Ron Ladell has said he will deny any request for an extension.
The AvalonBay development is a hotly contested issue in Princeton, with those opposing the plan objecting during public hearings and lawyers for both sides sniping at each other throughout the process.
The objectors, Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, have raised concerns about environmental issues at the site and continued to do so during Monday night’s hearing, despite an independent consultant’s review and conclusion that records show no evidence of soil or groundwater contamination and no reason for concern over underground storage tanks at the former hospital site.
The objectors presented their own expert on Monday.
James Peterson, president Princeton Geoscience, Inc. testified that he believes there are three major issues with the AvalonBay application: inadequate documentation, unaddressed issues about a potential septic system and questions about how the project moves forward.
He suggests site-wide soil and groundwater testing as a precaution for future residents who might live in the rental community.
“In my mind, it’s best to be done before any approval and before any destruction is done,” Peterson said. “It could identify environmental conditions that require remediation to mitigate risks to human health and environment.”
Independent consultant David J. Volz said that general soil testing across the site would be cost prohibitive. He said soil tests would be done during excavation, demolition and construction only if on-site construction and engineering professionals see or smell something odd in the soil. All potential contaminants would be detectable by sight or smell, he said.
Residents were given time to offer their comments on Monday. All but one opposed the project.
Resident Marco Gottardis encouraged planning board members to consider more than more than zoning regulations.
“You have a right with the master plan, to ensure that this project is useful and is beneficial to the community, Gottardis said. “That is a subjective thing, but you have that right. So you need to consider that as well, it’s your responsibility to the community. Don’t worry about lawsuits, make sure you make the right decision.”
The only person to speak in favor of the project was Borough Council President Barbara Trelsdad.
“The applicant is before the planning board with a viable, compliant plan,” she said, noting that the a rental community will generate less traffic than the hospital and produce a smaller building that is there now. She said the proposed zoning for the property created years ago was only a hypothetical plan for one developer, and that developer ultimately found that plan was not economically viable.
“This site could remain vacant for a very long time and could have a very negative impact on the neighborhood and the town,” Trelsdad said.