Hillier’s Senior Project Gets Nod from Planning Board

PRINCETON TOWNSHIP – Architect and developer J. Robert Hillier received approvals for his senior housing project on the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge late Thursday night after a four-hour hearing on the project.

Hillier faced project delays the last few years, and in recent weeks two planning board meetings about the project were postponed. The first meeting was tabled because the public address system was not functioning properly. The second was canceled because the board did not have a quorum.

The Hillier project will be the first market-rate housing development for seniors in Princeton. Princeton has senior affordable housing, but no market-rate or upscale over-55 communities like neighboring municipalities offer.

“This project is something exciting and unusual,” Hillier said of his plan.

The new 153-unit development, to be called the Copperwood, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2012. Units will be for rent instead of for sale as originally planned, and rents for the market-rate apartments are expected to range from $1,900 to $3,600 a month, depending on size and location within the complex. A dozen units will be affordable housing.

Tenants can choose from one-, three- and five-year leases for the apartments, which range in size from 718 square feet to 1,296 square feet.

Township officials have wanted senior housing in the township for many years, but several plans fell through. Builder K. Hovnanian received approvals for senior housing back in 2005, but Hovnanian pulled out of the project at the 21-acre tract commonly known as the Lowe Tract.

“This has been a very long process and the history of attempts to bring age-restricted housing to this community is very long,” said Hillier’s lawyer, Mark Solomon.

Hillier developed a project for the site and received planning board approvals, but environmentalists sued the township over the zoning for the site. A three-year-old lawsuit between Princeton Township and environmentalists was settled earlier this year, paving the way for Hillier to move forward with plans, which he revised, reducing the footprint of the project.

Daniel Harris of People for the Princeton Ridge thanked Hillier Thursday night for working with his group.  “The plan is far superior to the Hovnanian plan,” Harris said.

Hillier noted that the Hovnanian plan would have meant 77 percent of the site was disturbed. Hillier’s revised plan calls for only 18 percent of the site to be disturbed.

The Cooperwood will include environmental features such as sod roofs and rainwater harvesting for irrigation and toilets, will be developed on three acres of the 21-acre site. A total of 396 trees will be removed, to be replaced with 241 new trees.

The complex will consist of five buildings. Three will be four-stories high and two will be three-stories high. The buildings will be separated by piazzas, small walkways and gardens. Some units look out onto woods; others face gardens. Ground-level units will include patios.

The Copperwood will offer will a full-service concierge, a café with a lounge, a health club and meeting rooms.

Underground parking for tenants, plus parking for visitors, will total 299 spaces. Parking will be offered for electric cars and there will be a storage area for bikes. The complex will also be reachable via public transportation.

Planning officials expressed concerns about whether there is enough guest parking on the site. They also stressed that the road in to the complex will need to be diligently maintained in winter because of the road’s incline midway.

One sticking point was that Hillier wanted previous approvals granted to Hovnanian to remain in place until he receives all of his approvals from other agencies like the state Department of Environmental Protection. Hillier said the measure would protect the owner financially of the land, as well as his company.

The board voted 6-2 (board member Yina Moore abstained) to allow the approval to revert back to Hovnanian if Hiller’s project falls through.

During public comment, a few residents expressed concerns about an emergency access road for the development coming close to one resident’s property. One resident asked that the township approach American Water to ask if the company’s access road could be used as an emergency access road.

Solomon said water companies are concerned with security breaches since Sept. 11. Township Engineer Bob Kiser said the company is planning to build a fence around its property, but that the township would ask whether access is possible though it is unlikely.