Decision Looms for AvalonBay Development

The final hearing is scheduled for Thurs. Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m.


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. 

owen December 13, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Excellent point, Ms. Trelstad. The opponents seem to think something better (in their eyes) will come along, but what if it doesn't...ever. Derelict buildings are not nice neighbors. Bankrupt medical centers aren't either. When opponents start begging the planning board to "do the right thing," you can tell they have no substantive case left. Let's get on with it.
Simon December 13, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Will there boating allowed on Avalon Bay? Which body of water will they be moving to Witherspoon Street? Carnegie Lake or Mountain Lakes?
Expat Princetonian December 13, 2012 at 07:32 PM
Re doing testing only during excavation, after demolition, because doing it before would be "cost-prohibitive": If they find contaminants *after* starting excavations, why wouldn't the costs already incurred tend to make them want to keep going regardless, and try to sweep the matter under the rug? The history of such projects demonstrates that developers tend to want to evade such costs. The question remains as to how definitive are any tests that have already been done, pre-demolition. The situation doesn't have to be as extreme as a Love Canal for there still to be potential problems.
Joe Bardzilowski December 13, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Our concern should not be for the hospital who has already moved. We do not owe them anything at this point. In fact they owe us for all the support before durring and since their move. Why are we comparing a new all residential development to the traffic that used to be there? Is the hospital planning to move back in? NO! We have a clean slate with what is now a nice quite neighborhood. Anything that goes on to the property now is additive therefore it should be compared to the current condition which is a peaceful quiet neighborhood of one and two family homes.
PrincetonIQ December 14, 2012 at 04:52 AM
This has gone from silly to ridiculous. There were thousands of people coming and going, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, including ambulances with sirens blaring. That departs and we're now supposed to 'preserve" the new people-free situation on the site? This is a new argument and totally ignores the fact this property is zoned for development. If my neighbor moves, should Princeton forbid that house to be used in the future? If the neighors want a park, they should get the $40 million together to buy the land and the $15 million to clear the giant hospital (which is a collection of huge, decaying buildings that the neighors seems to have no issue with architecturally) and the $10 million to develop it. Then there is standing. Right now the neighbors have lost the argument. By the way, these are the same people who (a) opposed the Arts Council construction, and never have acknowledged how wonderful that space has become (b) opposed the Spring Street garage because it wouldn't be used, and now one needs to drive to the top almost any weekend day (c) opposed the residential development across from the Arts Council because of its size and shape and color, ignoring homes in the adjacent area range from fine to trash heaps. The future is created by those who look forward, not those who look backward.
Dr. Daniel A. Harris December 14, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Ms. Trelstad is wrong. 125 bidders applied to buy the hospital site. More will appear. Rabner for hospital erred in choosing buyer known to build ONLY "private gated communities---prohibited by Princeton Master Plan and Borough Code. His betrayal of the community was a conscious choice. Fear of undesirables coming from somewhere is just scare-tactics and should be condemned. PCSN supports rental housing and 20% affordable housing. We challenge Ms. Trelstad to show otherwise.
Avenendra Mathur December 15, 2012 at 01:34 AM
I recently start following the discussion, I think it will be great if Avalon will built a resident community it will attract some new tenant with good educated and professionals people and these people will contribute not only towards revenue but will create a better atmosphere in all sector like education, art and culture. I have no doubt that any company who is going to invest in that area will also take care of surrounding environment to attract there clientele. Ave Mathur


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