Officials Seek Answers to Contamination Concerns at Former Hospital Site

Princeton Citizens Group for Sustainable Neighborhoods has expressed concern over conflicting environmental reports. AvalonBay must now submit further documentation to the PEC, Planning Board and the Health Commission.


Are there potential environmental issues at the former University Medical Center of Princeton?

That’s what the Princeton Environmental Commission wants to know. It has requested that AvalonBay, the developer under contract to buy the Witherspoon Street property, reveal if it commissioned soil and groundwater testing, geophysical surveys and site inspections recommended by its consultant.

AvalonBay plans to build 280 apartments at the site of the former hospital, which moved to Plainsboro in the spring. 

The issue of potential contamination comes as the grassroots organization Princeton Citizens Group for Sustainable Neighborhoods began to raise questions about conflicting reports. The group hired Aaron Kleinbaum, an attorney with the Eastern Environmental Law Center in Newark.

On Monday, Kleinbaum appeared before the Princeton Environmental Commission, citing that a Sept. 15, 2011 Ecosciences Phase 1 environmental report commissioned by AvalonBay for its due diligence of the property.

“(The report) identifies current and former underground storage tanks and raises serious concerns about potential releases of solvents and other chemicals into soil and groundwater at the site,” Kleinbaum said. “However, AvalonBay’s application and its environmental impact statement…. misrepresented the Ecosciences report when it said that no underground storage tanks or contamination were found at the property.”

The discrepancies and what he called a “lack of transparency by the Medical Center, AvalonBay and their agents,” prompted his request for an updated and independent soil and groundwater investigation.

The PEC has requested that AvalonBay clarify the conflicting reports, including whether or not it followed up on the consultant’s recommendations, by Oct. 15. The information should be directed to the PEC, Planning Board and the Princeton Regional Health Commission, PEC Chairman Matthew Wasserman said.

Hospital attorney Mark Solomon said there were occasional leaks or spills at the former hospital, but each was reported to the state, cleaned up in accordance with regulations and no further action was recommended. He said a letter from the hospital’s environmental consultant concludes, “that there are not any known environmental conditions on the property.” Reports of all incidents are publicly available on the DEP website, he said.

“What we object to and find highly irresponsible is suggestion that the hospital has been breaking the law, that the hospital has not followed the law, that it has been discharging into the soil in violation of the law, with absolutely no substantiation,” Solomon said. “It’s not fair, it’s not right.”

Ann Studholme, the land use attorney for AvalonBay, told the PEC she did not know if the company had followed up on its consultant’s recommendations for further testing.

 “There is a high probability that you followed up on this, it would be weird if you didn’t,” saidVictoria Hamilton, a mergers and acquisitions attorney who sits on the PEC. “If you didn’t do any of this, then this is obviously something the Planning Board needs to follow up on because it could cause problems.”

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PrincetonIQ October 24, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Tasha, I didn't indicate that legal costs were being paid otherwise - except, of course, costs borne by taxpayers by a few people who don't like the fact that we (a) might see an ugly abandoned hospital turned into a residential complex with hundreds of people being able to walk into Princeton, (b) have affordable housing added to the city in a percentage higher than some might offer, (c) have building starting to populate that area of town that are attractive, well-kept and modern. Especially appalling is the neighborhood complaints that the complex be open and porous for the non-residents to be able to walk through whenever they want (how would people like having strangers walk through their front and back yards) and complaints that the investors want to add a pool. Last time I checked, people could put pools in as long as they followed the rules and why should some homeowner blocks away have an opinion worthy of a second of consideration regarding the need for a pool, or not, in a complex they aren't investing in and don't plan to live in. I think an active debate is healthy, and part of what makes a Democracy vital and responsive, but we have many petitioners in Princeton who have opinions about things they don't understand and things that, if the shoe were on the other foot, they'd reject out of hand.
PrincetonIQ October 25, 2012 at 02:12 AM
No I'm not. Please name the other bidders you indicate made offers on the property with better alternatives. Name them. I dare you.
princetonborn October 27, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Do you live in town PrincetonIQ? Do you live near this site and will what is built there have ANY affect on YOUR home? When it does you will have a voice. I am grateful for the people of Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods who will stand up and bring to light this gated community was not in the original plan. As with any plan if done right at first will last a lifetime as the same I would like to stay in my home not having to deal with constant noise from 280 apartments, cars and a swimming pool with fire pits as well as a possibility of smelling all of their trash on a hot day.
PrincetonIQ October 27, 2012 at 06:12 PM
I do live in town and I do live near this site. Your post and comments point out much of what's wrong with people who are opposing this development. For instance, you think an apartment complex will be less attractive that an 80-year-old decaying hospital that is perhaps one of the ugliest structures in New Jersey? You think 280 apartments will bring significantly more traffic than a 200+ bed hospital, plus outpatient activity plus emergency room visits? You think the "constant noise" from the apartments will be more than the multitude of sirens and emergency vehicles speeding down Witherspoon all night? You think the trash on a hot day will not be dealt with professionally? When will the self-righteous Princeton residents realize the world doesn't revolve around them, but around all of us?
Alexi Assmus October 28, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Sometimes people's names cannot be made public. Why do you choose not to make your name public PrincetonIQ?


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