AvalonBay Files Plans for Hospital Site as Opposition Continues

Ron Ladell of AvalonBay (l) reviews revised plans for the hospital site with resident Joe Bardzilowski.

Amidst continuing opposition to AvalonBay’s apartment project at the downtown Princeton hospital site, the developer has submitted plans to the Regional Planning Board of Princeton.

The plans were submitted on June 8, Lee Solow told the Borough Council Tuesday night. Under a state law called the time of application, any zoning changes made after plans are filed with the municipality do not cover to that application.

In recent weeks, opposition to the 280-unit apartment complex has continued at public meetings. A group opposing the development called Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods has formed, and a new petition online at Change.org is calling on Princeton HealthCare to consider the concerns of the local community.

Residents originally opposed a request by AvalonBay to increase the number of apartment units allowed at the site. AvalonBay withdrew the request, but residents still object to the design of the apartment complex. They say it will be a “behemoth” that will be like a gated community.

AvalonBay changed some design elements for the project in response to discussions with officials and residents, varying the design of the facade in an attempt to break it up so it does not look like one large mass. The amount of open space has been increased, and a public courtyard is accessible from Witherspoon Street.

But residents still expressed opposition to the plan at a recent Borough Council meeting, and characterized the changes made by the developer as only minor. Residents now say one of the main sticking points is the private pool proposed for the complex. Some questioned why AvalonBay needs to have a private pool when a community pool is just across the street. They also objected to one side of the complex not being accessible to the public.

“Some members of the community have concerns about closing off an entire side of what is a very pedestrian friendly residential community,” resident Cecil Marshall said.  “A pool would make a lot of sense for people who always drive and use it year round. But is it really necessary here? Do people really expect a pool in their community? This is a very old community with formerly deep divisions that have been healed. I think it is a very poor decision to close off the Witherspoon Street side from the other side of the development.”

AvalonBay representative Ron Ladell said tenants in AvalonBay communities expect a pool as part of the lifestyle at their apartment complexes. “It’s what we are known for,” he said. The pool area will be a private courtyard, partly because of liability issues, he said.

Daniel Harris of Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods accused AvalonBay of “deliberate interference with neighborhood interconnectivity” and demanded that AvalonBay provide a list of sustainable measures it intends to implement for the project.

AvalonBay said it will incorporate Energy Star design features into the project, but will not follow LEED standards.

“Why not,” shouted one resident. “Are you trying to make a buck?”

When asked how the existing neighborhood will benefit from the project, Councilwoman Barbara Trelstad said it would provide more affordable housing in the community. Some residents laughed at the statement.

But affordable housing advocates spoke in favor of the project. The complex will offer 25 studio apartments, 119 one-bedroom apartments, 107 two-bedroom apartments and 29 three-bedroom apartments. A total of 56 units will meet affordable housing guidelines, or 20 percent, the largest percentage ever built in a Princeton development.

“My concern is that we get these affordable units built quickly,” said Sandra Persichetti, executive director of Princeton Community Housing. “We cannot have another Palmer Square, where we wait 10 years for 10 affordable units. Everyone here has a home to go to tonight, a bigger home than people should be living in from a sustainability standpoint. Developer is not a four letter word. Developers also do good things. We need to move this along.”

Persichetti said there are 500 people on the Princeton Community Housing waiting list seeking affordable housing.

Resident Sheila Berkelhammer said the hospital will deteriorate if the site remains vacant. “If we do not have something to replace the hospital, it will be an eyesore that will fester and bring down property values,” she said.

But resident Peter Marks said people already on waiting lists in Princeton would not be given priority.

“Affordable doesn’t mean indigent,” he said. “It can be for young professionals starting out whose salaries haven’t escalated. The developer said the company woulds be advertising on the internet. Do we really want to burden downtown Princeton with housing for greater New Jersey or Pennsylvania?”

Ladell said no matter what the company does, not everyone will be satisfied, and that his company is trying to work with the community in good faith.

Resident Joe Weiss said while revisions have moved the project  in a better direction, AvalonBay should keep an open mind about listening to community concerns.

“This is essentially the same development submitted as a preliminary plan months ago,” Weiss said.

Resident Bernadine Hines called the hospital sale to AvalonBay a bad marriage.

“This matter needs to be annulled if it could be at this point in the game,” she said. “I’m tired of developers coming in here do whatever the hell they want without considering the community. Let’s cut our losses and move on with someone else who will be more flexible and listen to what people saying.”