The hospital (the University Medical Center) has a very important moral responsibility to the Princeton community. Unfortunately, the hospital is not living up to it.
The hospital’s moral responsibility dates to 2004-2006, when the hospital, Princeton Borough, and the neighborhood surrounding the hospital’s Witherspoon Street site had lengthy negotiations about what could be built on the site when the hospital vacated it. The goal was to make the site attractive to potential buyers so that the hospital could get a good price for it, while still safeguarding the neighborhood. The neighborhood and the Borough made great concessions–among them, much higher density than any other site in Princeton, and the retention of two seven-story buildings. The hospital agreed, among other things, to include a public park, walkways crossing the site, and mixed retail and office use.
Unfortunately, the Borough did not codify these agreements in a way that is legally enforceable. Perhaps Borough officials didn’t think this was necessary, since they were dealing in good faith with the hospital–a fine, honorable institution.
But now the hospital has tentatively decided to sell the site to AvalonBay. AvalonBay has shown total disregard for the agreements. Indeed, AvalonBay’s previous developments demonstrate that it is probably incapable of building the kind of development envisioned in the agreements.
Why did the hospital choose AvalonBay? We can only guess. Perhaps it forgot about its agreements and simply chose the highest bidder. AvalonBay reportedly bid $36 million. A very reputable builder who would most likely adhere to the agreements bid $32 million. The $4 million difference may sound large, but in fact it is less than 1% of the $527 million that the new hospital will cost.
Barry Rabner (the hospital’s CEO) and the hospital’s Trustees need to demonstrate to the Princeton community that of course they recognize the hospital’s moral responsibility and will adhere to the agreements, whatever the legal situation. They should withdraw their tentative acceptance of AvalonBay’s bid. They should sell instead to a buyer who will support them in living up to their moral responsibility to Princeton. And they should work with the new buyer, as it goes through the approval process, to make certain that all of their agreements with the Borough and the neighborhood are kept.
Ms. Teitelbaum is a Princeton Borough resident.