Letters: The Hospital’s Commitment to the Princeton Community

To the Editor:

We now know of the Medical Center’s original commitment to the Princeton community—and its breach of that commitment. On May 26, 2005, Barry Rabner (president and CEO of the Medical Center at Princeton) said at a Planning Board hearing:   “It is our intent to do everything we can to work with the community, and work with this board, in developing a plan that has broad public support. Because it is clear certainly to us, I think to anyone who has done any work in Princeton, that unless there is a plan that has that support, it simply won’t be approved . . . When we select a developer we are not going to simply pick the developer that proposes to pay the most. We need a developer that understands and embraces the plan that is finally approved. We need a developer that understands our neighbors, understands Princeton, and understands what it takes to get this project accomplished.”

Well said, in friendship with the Princeton community. The plan to which Mr. Rabner refers is one that the hospital itself commissioned. Its chief features are: retention of the hospital “towers” for 260 housing units, 20 town homes (total density: 280, as agreed with the community), a public green park of 35,000 square feet with public walkways “crossing the site”, leading to public playgrounds (public open space could be as much as 50,000 square feet), a public fitness center and local retail shops along Witherspoon Street. The entire project would have been green, sustainable.

What happened? Mr. Rabner picked “the developer that proposes to pay the most”—a reputed $36 million. There was at least one other bid, possibly more than one, for around $32 million (a number “heard on the street”). For a $4 million differential (a smidge more than 10% below the top bid but less than .75% of the reported $537 million  cost of the new hospital, Mr. Rabner has done what?—contracted with AvalonBay.

We know what AvalonBay proposes: a site plan that violates Borough Code and the Master Plan on which Mr. Rabner himself worked so hard in over 75 meetings with community/neighborhood people—a monolith five stories high in a 1- and 2-story neighborhood, an all-wood building (potential firetrap), with no walkways through the site, no green public park, no sustainable green building.  No nothing. AvalonBay contributes to its corporate investor, not to the Princeton community. AvalonBay wants to co-opt Princeton by calling its development “AvalonPrinceton.”

How will Mr. Rabner rectify his breach of trust with the community? How can he face members of the Planning Board who heard him speak in 2005? What can he do now to push AvalonBay to comply with all of Borough Code? He and citizens’ groups are stakeholders in the upcoming vote of the Planning Board on the AvalonBay application. It’s high time for him to act, and render himself accountable for his words.

Joseph McGeady