Developer Wants More Apt. Units at Hospital Site
The developer under contract to buy the hospital site in downtown Princeton wants to increase the number of apartment units allowed on the site by about 15 percent, while keeping the number of affordable units the same.
Apartment developer Avalon Bay Communities, which entered into a contract with Princeton HealthCare System to buy the hospital site this summer, wants to increase the density at the site from 280 units to 324 units.
The 9.8-acre hospital property in the heart of Princeton has zoning approvals for up to 280 residential units, including 56 affordable housing units, and 79,000 square feet of retail and commercial space. The property includes the main hospital, other medical buildings and a three-story, 741-space parking garage.
Avalon Bay plans to demolish the hospital building and replace it with two five-story buildings up to 50-feet high each. The existing hospital is 80-feet high in some places.
The company wants keep the number of affordable units at 56, even if the density increase is approved. A representative from Avalon Bay told the Borough Council Wednesday night that affordable units would represent 17.3 percent of the total units available, and that the industry standard is 15 percent. The borough’s requirement for affordable units is normally 20 percent.
Monthly rent rates for the apartments at the proposed Avalon Princeton would run from $1,600 to $3,200 a month for units ranging from 550 feet to 1,000 square feet.
Unlike the previous developer for the site, Avalon does not plan to offer any retail at the site.
Princeton Future will host a community forum with representatives from Avalon Bay and the hospital on Saturday, Nov. 19, from 9 a.m. to noon in the community room at the Princeton Public Library so residents can ask questions about the project.
Philadelphia developer Lubert-Adler was originally slated to pay $55 million for the property to convert it into 280 apartments and light retail, but the company pulled out of the deal last year after the market collapsed.
The new developer, Avalon Bay, is a New York Stock Exchange-listed real estate investment trust that develops, redevelops, acquires and manages apartment complexes throughout the United States. The company is based in Alexandria, Va. and owns or has interest in more than 195 apartment buildings containing more than 60,000 individual units in ten states and the District of Columbia.
In New Jersey the company owns thirteen communities consisting of over 4,800 apartment units, including Avalon Run and Avalon East apartments in Lawrence, and Avalon Princeton Junction. Avalon recently acquired the 776-unit Fox Run apartments in Plainsboro for $86.5 million.
The Borough Council voted unanimously to refer the project to the regional planning board for discussion while the company prepares to demolish the hospital building. The council would have to amend the zoning ordinance to allow for the higher density.
The hospital, located in the heart of Princeton, will move to its new 171-acre campus in Plainsboro in May and will be called the University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro.
As someone who currently occupies an affordable unit in downtown Princeton, I firmly believe that the developer should be held to the 20% affordable housing standard that Princeton has established. The cost of rental units in Princeton is comparable to, and at times higher than, large cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Chicago. If anything, the addition of so many units within walking distance to the University and downtown should help to bring down the cost of housing and make the market a little more competitive.
On a side note, I hope this development will be reason to improve the lighting and sidewalks along Witherspoon Street and hopefully extend the notion of “downtown” to businesses along Witherspoon in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.
The hospital site transition is probably one of the most signficant real estate use changes Princeton will undergo and residents and town officials should hold the project to the highest standards of affordable housing and environmental regulations to ensure that impact to our town, and especially the special, historical neighborhood near the hospital site, is not negatively impacted. More units = more impact on our town, the developer should be required to provide their fair share of affordable housing, by Princeton standards and not “industry” standards, Princeton is a special place and in keeping with our special character (which is the value that the real estate folks pay more for) we should hold a higher than “industry” standard.
Also, with this moving forward, I would be interested to know if in permitting for the massive demo of the existing building, have we as a town required the developer to uphold standards of “green” demo practices, for example, are reusable materials going to be salvaged? I would hate to think that all the building materials (bricks, doorknobs, plumbing fixtures, windows, etc), furniture, telephones, hall artwork, etc, etc, that comprise the existing building and that could be reused by either town residents or sold on the open market are just going to be sent to a landfill. Who is involved in overseeing the permitting of the actual demo and how can we be assured that the demo is conducted in a manner consistent with our environmental values?
The number of “affordable” units is a distraction, one intended to divert zoning discussions onto a side track that can only benefit Avalon Bay.
280 units are already far too many. If we are really concerned with preserving the largely single family composition of our downtown neighborhoods, it would be much better to restore the single family grid that predated the establishment and expansion of the hospital.
Avalon Bay’s request was predictable. More units means a reduced land cost per unit, which, conversely, increases the value of the land and drives up adjacent land values (notably in the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood). When land values rise in any given neighborhood relative to those in other neighborhoods, the burden of local property taxes shifts — as is already occurring, notoriously and with ruinous consequences for many residents, in the Witherspoon corridor.
If Avalon Bay’s request for additional density is granted, the approval will be the leading edge of the rapid redevelopment that I fear will be the principal result — perhaps the only result — of Tuesday’s unfortunate and ill-considered vote to consolidate our two municipalities. One might reasonably ask whether the request was timed so as not to prejudice the Borough vote.
Mandated affordable housing units raise the cost of housing for everybody else by increased regulations, taxes and subsidies (from the other 80%). “We are the other 80%!”
The Witherspoon St. area has lots of affordable housing units provided by the market.
Government-mandated so-called “affordable” housing with its rigid income levels and family-sizes are typically reserved for the very-well connected and privileged and not for the regular folks. Moreover affordable housing provides little incentive for owners or occupiers to maintain or improve their units.
Please lets not have a repeat of the Griggs Farm debacle when our municipality got into the housing business and lost $millions.
I would rather let Avalon Bay risk their capital (and even make a profit!) trying to find the best fit for this land to prospective buyers and renters. And yes, a little more retail and even mixed-used industrial (i.e., a health care office and some additional jobs) would be a great way to extend the vitality of our downtown down the Witherspoon Corridor!
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