Op-ed: AvalonBay Will Provide Princeton with Needed Affordalbe Rental Housing

By Barbara Trelstad

I have served on Borough Council for seven years, during which time I have served on the Princeton Regional Planning Board and have been part of the process involving the Avalon Bay approvals.  I write now, as a private citizen, in support of the approval of the Avalon Bay development.

I was a member of Borough Council when the Borough Council wrote the zoning that is currently in place, we had before us a potential model of what might be constructed on the hospital site.  It was only a hypothetical guide. It was not a definitive model of what would be and we should not be beholden to that plan!

The first potential developer for the site dropped out, because the model that had been suggested, with for-sale condominium units, leaving the 7 story hospital tower intact, proved to be not economically viable.  In other words they would not make any money.

The hospital needs to sell the site now.  They have chosen a developer who will pay the highest current price for the property, and who has the resources to build.  This seems to be a rational and logical move on their part. The chosen developer is before the Planning Board with a compliant application.  It may not be the most beautiful, but it is compliant with existing zoning.

The Environmental Commission on its first review of the project gave it a “thumbs up” for being smart growth.  It is.  This development puts density where density belongs, close to town, on bus lines, close to schools and other shopping.  There is already an existing parking garage so parking is not an issue. Traffic in and out of the development will be greatly reduced from the 2,000-3,000 car trips per day that took place when the hospital was present.

Moreover, the development’s façade on Franklin Avenue will be broken up with front porches where residents might put a potted geranium in the summer time, or sit and chat with neighbors.  Think of the façade now—it is monolithic and dead.  The proposed development is far more neighborhood friendly. And open space within the development is larger than required by the zoning.

If this application is turned down, what will happen to the property?  The hospital has maintained it nicely in the short term, but what if, for example, there are problems with the site and the hospital finds it necessary to construct a cyclone fence around the property to protect it until a new developer can be found?  This site could remain vacant for a very long time.  This could have a very negative impact on the neighborhood and town.

Finally and most importantly, the developer is willing to devote 20% of this development to affordable housing.  That is 56 units of very badly needed housing towards the Borough’s and soon town’s unmet need of affordable housing units. The remainder of the rental units in this development will be market rate units that provide housing for working people in our town; administrative assistants, plumbers, electricians, teachers, policeman, social workers, etc.  A recent letter to the editor bemoaned the fact that property taxes in Princeton are making it unaffordable for many to live in our town.  This development would provide the housing needed to continue to keep Princeton, NJ an economically diverse and vibrant community.

I am troubled that the opponents of this development are elevating their otherwise laudable concern for the highest environmental standards to the detriment of another important value:  providing affordable rental housing in our community.  We need to work long term on improving our communities environmental building standards, but now is the time to provide a significant amount of rental housing in our community. I ask the Planning Board to approve the Avalon Bay proposal and move on towards working on welcoming Avalon Bay renters into our community.


  1. With all due respect, Ms. Trelstad has been closed minded and in favor of this development from day one. When she should have been listening to the many valid arguments being raised by the public she was very busy watching the clock so that she could kick citizens off the podium as soon as she could. Obvious to all who attended those meetings was her single minded focus on pushing this project through at any cost to the surrounding neighborhood. Of course when you live near campus it is easy to recommend that all of the rental units for the town be stacked on top of each other in someone else’s neighborhood.
    If you are reading this please go and visit Princeton Patch next and have a look at how AvalonBay handles their trash and recyclables in Lawrenceville and West Windsor. The photos are recent and are next to the only scale model of the proposed behemoth which was produced by a local professional architect. AvalonBay has not found it necessary to produce a scale model for us to consider. Obviously they don’t want anyone to be able to see just how large their proposed building is compared to the surrounding neighborhood or just how monolithic it looks. Black and white drawings done by their architect which are lacking and largely inaccurate are all they have offered for consideration by the Planning Board. Maybe they just didn’t want to spend the money on a scale model, after all they have hundreds of thousands of shareholders who may complain about the added cost.
    I’m sure Ms. Trelstad will find the trash piles acceptable for some reason after all there are many community benefits to be drawn from huge piles of trash.

  2. I totally agree with Barbara.

    I personally have lived in an Avalon Bay community (Fox Run in Plainsboro) and I had very few complaints (certainly no trash piles!). I think they are a good company. I have a home in Princeton now and I look forward to the hospital site being redeveloped. The new apartment buildings will be more appealing than the existing structures, they will generate less traffic and less hazardous waste. Plus we will get lots of new neighbors who will add to the vibrant Princeton community! I wish the planning board would hurry up and approve this project. I am disappointed that they were not able to do so at the meeting December 13.

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