Letters: Support Open Space Tax for the Consolidated Princeton, Hospital Development Plan Should Be Thorouhly Vetted

Governing Bodies Should Approve “Blended” Open Space Tax Rate

To the Editor:

On behalf of Friends of Princeton Open Space, I urge that the governing bodies of the Borough and Township vote on June 26th to submit a blended open space tax of 1.7 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to the voters this November.  This will enable a united Princeton to continue good stewardship of its recreation and passive open space and make key acquisitions contemplated by our joint Master Plan.  Studies of the finances behind this number show that it is more than justified.

In the past, voters in the Township have voted twice to support an open space tax (2 cents/$100), and one was also passed separately by Borough voters (1 cent/$100).  Because those entities will cease to exist on December 31, it is necessary to have a new ballot question to re-authorize the “joint” tax.  The Joint Consolidation Commission included a 1.7-cent tax in its calculation of the tax savings of consolidation, and it was recommended by the Finance Subcommittee of the Transition Task Force. Without an open space tax, the unified Princeton will lose its access to Green Acres Planning Incentive Grants and much of its ability to leverage purchases and recreation projects.

Beyond the aesthetic and health benefits we enjoy from preserved lands, open space helps decrease costs caused by flooding, heat-sink effects and loss of species diversity, and dampens the need for expensive infrastructure.  By protecting open space at the same time we proceed with various contemplated developments, we can achieve a balance that will keep our united community a financially viable and environmentally desirable place to live.

We encourage all Princetonians to urge your representatives to support this measure on the 26th at the joint meeting of the Borough and Township governing bodies.  The voters will have their say in November; they should not be deprived of that opportunity.

Very truly yours,

Wendy L. Mager
President, Friends of Princeton Open Space

Residents Feel Betrayed Regarding Redevelopment of Hospital Site by AvalonBay

Letter to Editor:

Princeton citizens are deeply concerned about the redevelopment of the 5.6-acre site, owned by University Medical Center of Princeton (UMCP), located on Witherspoon Street. This site is now under contract by UMCP (seller) and AvalonBay (buyer/developer).

A lot of us now feel betrayed.

In 2004, neighborhood folks, local government, landowning UMCP, and the greater Princeton community came together to negotiate a sensible development of the UMCP site, satisfactory to all stakeholders—resulting in the 2006 Master Plan, Borough Code (including Design Standards)—providing for a new MRRO zone: Mixed Residential-Retail-Office.

We’ve been most generous to UMCP: we’ve raised $100MM + to help UMCP relocate to Plainsboro. And we agreed to a much higher housing density (280 units) than suits so that UMCP could get a better price for the property. UMCP agreed to the new Zoning, new Plans, and new Standards. But now UMCP wants to violate their own agreement. Now UMCP doesn’t care about the neighborhood, the town and the people. What has happened? Has UMCP been operating in bad faith?

What was made municipal law requires:

1) a benefit to the community from improvements to the “pedestrian environment” along Witherspoon Street—but now UMCP has got a developer whose plan—a closed fortress—will kill the pedestrian environment. Wow! And where’s the “compatibility with surrounding buildings” we all negotiated? Where’s the enhanced system of “public open spaces and pathways that provide linkages between and through the development as well as the surrounding neighborhood”? With the promise of cash in hand from AvalonBay, UMCP now disrespects the neighborhood, the town, and the people.

2) environmental and energy-efficiency standards, with a first and only preference for LEED guidelines.

3) retail use encouraged for the first floor—but UMCP/AvalonBay wants to remove the retail component. Most importantly, this scrapping of the retail element poisons the Master Plan.

We’re dumbfounded, sad, and angry. After nearly 100 years of a close relationship between hospital and residents, everything is being unraveled—all the promises that underlie the Master Plan are being broken. Why is UMCP breaking our trust?

We request that UMCP reaffirms its intent to make any developer hew to the good intentions behind the Master Plan and Borough Code. We request an open process by UMCP in vetting development plans submitted by any developer—along with UMCP attendance, along with any buyer/developer, at appropriate municipal meetings. And of course: UMCP should vet any developer more fully than seems to have happened with AvalonBay.

We request a  developer who respects the laws that specifically concern redevelopment of this 5.6-acre site, who respects all the stakeholders, including the neighbors and the Princeton community and who understands our generosity to help UMCP relocate.

Dr. Marco Gottardis