Letters: Avalon Bay Ignoring Design Standards at Downtown Hospital Site

Tonight, critical Planning Board hearings continue on AvalonBay’s proposal to stick a gated “private Community” into Princeton’s emerging downtown. Hearing dates are also scheduled for December 10  and 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Township Complex. Come, speak out; help our Planning Board deny AvalonBay’s effort to violate Borough Code and the Master Plan, which both aim at a rejuvenated, diversified neighborhood.

From the outset, AvalonBay has ignored design standards, which Code pointedly characterizes as “a framework within which” any developer must work. The term “framework” does not allow dismissal. While AvalonBay has slurred design standards as “vague” (“subjective”), legal practice insists that each individual design standard be evaluated on its own merits. Furthermore, the developer (not the Planning Board) must prove that a specific Standard is “vague”; only a judge may give a final ruling. Planning Board members may rightfully maintain that AvalonBay must heed a specific design standard—or they can deny the application. This situation also obtains if a developer claims that following a design standard is “cost-generative” (thereby governed by laws for developments with affordable housing components): the developer must present a baseline cost before claiming that adhering to a specific Standard is cost-generative, and a judge must rule on that claim in court.

An important design standard reads: “Any applicant must document that the open space provides linkages between and through the development . . .” (17A-193B.d.1; see also 17A-193B.e.3). Requiring documentation from a developer is not a “vague” stipulation, nor is the phrase “through the development.” AvalonBay might fight the Standard—and lose. The corollary to both Standards, added late in the drafting of Borough Code, belongs to “legislative history”:  “The development shall have [note that the verb mandates] an enhanced system of public open spaces and pathways” (17A-193B.d.4). “Enhanced”: a comparative adjective. “Enhanced” over what?—the hospital’s present footprint. AvalonBay disregards plain English—and has, indeed, subtracted the present walkway from Witherspoon to Harris.

Sometimes Mr. Ladell has shimmied, affirming that his development does indeed comply with a specific design standard. Can he really switch back and forth between honoring and trashing design standards en masse, claiming they are “vague”? On November 15, he claimed compliance with this standard: “New construction should be concentrated in the central portion of the site and building setback should increase as building height increases” (17A-193B.a.8). To manage this claim, he included the entire garage as part of the site—though he has otherwise argued that the “site” is only what’s in his major site plan application (the new residences). His argument that the northerly wall of apartments (abutting the garage) would be the highest point was deceptive. The real center is Mr. Ladell’s swimming pool—and there are no changes in building height (setbacks) throughout a perimeter structure that is always 52 feet high (not counting additional lofts).

Planning Board members will doubtless not be duped by Mr. Ladell’s disingenuous rhetoric. They should deny his application and vote to weave a renewed site back into a welcoming neighborhood.

Daniel A. Harris

One Comment

  1. AvalonBay should get the heave-ho. They have been nothing but bad news since their name appeared on the horizon. Shifty, greedy opportunists who don’t give a damn about this town.

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