Letters: UFAR Thanks Runners, Residents Criticize Proposed Avalon Bay Development at Downtown Hospital Site

Thank You For Supporting 5K Fundraiser to Combat Riverblindness

Dear Editor:

At this year’s UFAR 5K to Combat Riverblindness, more than 100 runners helped to keep people from going blind in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We are grateful to the Princeton Theological Seminary for hosting the start and finish of this race, which goes through some of Princeton’s loveliest scenery. Our sponsors also included Merck, Princeton United Methodist Church, Princeton Eye Group, Sight Savers International, Road ID, Rocky Hill Inn, Songbird Capital, Trader Joe’s, and Princeton Fitness and Wellness Center.

All runners received T-shirts, and we were able to give nine prizes, thanks to the generosity of these donors: Blue Ridge Mountain Sports Anthony Rabara Pilates Studio, Rocky Hill Yoga, Forest Jewelers, Princeton Running Company, Landau of Princeton, and the Optical Gallery of Princeton. Race results and photos are posted at www.riverblindness.org.

UFAR is the African-inspired, Lawrenceville-based nonprofit charitable organization that aims, in partnership with other organizations, to eradicate onchocerciasis, known as riverblindness.  This is a horrific disease that causes severe itching and, eventually, leads to blindness by the age of 40. It afflicts more than 13 million people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). According to the World Health Organization, the disease can be eradicated by 2020.  The medicine for riverblindness is provided free by Merck & Co., but distributing it to remote villages is difficult yet only costs 58 cents per person per year for 10 years.

Daniel Shungu, founder, UFAR
Charles Phillips and Liz Meggitt, race co-chairs

Resident to Hospital CEO: Honor Your Commitments to Princeton Community

To the Editor:

It’s now abundantly clear that the University Medical Center of Princeton has officially thumbed its nose at our community. With the recent transaction that turns over their last piece of Princeton land to another real estate company, Barry Rabner has sealed our fate. The same man who bragged about attending 75+ meetings between town officials and the community to determine the “right development” for our neighborhood has now finished slithering out of town.

Mr. Rabner hasn’t attended a public meeting about the former hospital site in ages. He’s been busy with tours of his new hospital and ribbon-cutting ceremonies for his new 32-acre park in his new favorite town—Plainsboro—at the same time he was inking a deal to rid himself of the last possible piece of land (the corner of Witherspoon St at Henry Ave.) that could have allowed him to honor the very last shred of his public commitment to Princeton—a 35,000 SF park (plus a playground for the families and children of the neighborhood. Barry Rabner used to claim our neighborhood had been so important to the hospital for the last century. How sad!— when a respected leader of a large health care system finds it acceptable to sell the entire hospital site to the highest bidder, AvalonBay— without getting any commitment from the developer to comply with the Master Plan that he himself took credit for just a few short years ago!

Mr. Barry Rabner: You have left the two Princetons in the lurch to fight it out with a callous national developer. That’s not an acceptable way to leave a legacy, sir. It is offensive! You have cast disgrace on yourself and the hospital. The community you are now dumping this mess on was responsible for making your hospital what it is today. We donated over $100,000,000 toward your relocation. The money we’ve spent on services from your institution since 1919 is incalculable.

In exchange for a ridiculously high density (280 units), you were supposed to ensure that we got a genuine public park—

not some tiny “community courtyard” consisting of checker boards and benches, surrounded by driveways on three sides and a busy street on the other. We were also supposed to get two playgrounds, a total of 50,000 square feet of green space, and public walkways “crossing the site” that was to help renew the entire existing neighborhood. Did you forget your contribution to the Master Plan?

Dear Mr. Rabner, I want to ask you this question too: what happened? To my fellow Princetonians I give the most obvious answer: GREED! Greed happened! Greed for an unaffordable new home in Plainsboro.

As one of the betrayed, I say to Mr. Rabner: Honor Your Commitments! If you read this letter, I urge you to PLEASE come to the next Regional Planning Board meetings regarding plans for site— November 15th, November 29th and beyond. We need your help more now then ever! Fix the mess you made.

Joe Bardzilowski

Princeton Should Insist on `Absolutely Clean’ Building Site at Downtown Hospital Location

To the Editor:

As I write, the Planning Board has just voted to ask for the Borough Council’s agreement to retain Sovereign Consulting to review the AvalonBay Environmental Impact Statement and related documents. That EIS contains serious misrepresentations, as indicated  by Aaron Kleinbaum, Legal Director of the Eastern Environmental law Center, on behalf of Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, in a series of letters to the Planning Board and the Princeton Environmental Commission.

To its credit, the Planning Board understands the public health issues at stake. But if the review does no more than evaluate the documents thus far submitted, it will be inadequate. Mr. Kleinbaum has called for an independent investigation of the MRRO site, including soil samples that test for contaminant leakage and sewer overflows, before construction—not simply a review of documents to date. Mr. Kleinbaum has recommended sampling throughout the site, including testing underneath the garage. Steve Miller of the Princeton Environmental Commission has noted that the technology exists to test soils underneath concrete, and he supported such testing of the garage at its meeting on October 24 2012. The shortcoming of the Princeton Environmental Commission’s recommendation to the Planning Board is that it recommends “independent testimony . . . regarding whether the testing was adequate” (not new testing), and “To the extent that it is concluded that the testing was inadequate, we recommend that you request adequate testing from Developer.” The Developer?—AvalonBay? hardly an independent party.

Indeed, Avalon is so lax in its environmental practices, and so glib on its website about supposedly sustainable measures (13 pages of fluff)—that AvalonBay’s corporate leadership has been called to task. On April 11, 2012, the Office of the Comptroller for New York City, which manages pension funds for its employees, issued a Memorandum to AvalonBay shareholders setting forth substantive reasons why Avalon Bay has “lagged behind” its peers in the commercial rental market: inadequate reporting on greenhouse emissions, water conservation, waste minimization, energy efficiency, and other environmental and social impacts (full text available from Daniel A. Harris).

We don’t know the scope of work the Planning Board requests, nor what Sovereign Consulting will recommend. We must hope that its proposals insist on an absolutely clean building site and that any further consideration of AvalonBay’s application by the Planning Board be postponed until such a clearance is given. Indeed, Sovereign will not be able to complete its work prior to November 15, when AvalonBay will demand that the Planning Board approve their site plan for the garage. But the Planning Board has ample legal grounds to deny this minor site application on the basis of insufficient evidence (as well as New Jersey case law upholding the rights of municipalities to deny developer’s applications on the basis of concerns about public health). Next step: if Sovereign can not responsibly complete its report until after December 15, when the supposed “clock” for a Planning Board decision runs out, then the Planning Board will be absolutely within its legal rights to deny AvalonBay’s application on the grounds of inadequate and insufficient information.

Jane Buttars
Dodds Lane