Letters: Arts Council Tops Fundraising Goal, Planning Board Should Oppose AvalonBay Development

Arts Council Exceeds Dining by Design Fundraising Goal

To the Editor:

“Wow!” Was the word used by many as they entered Frick Laboratories, Princeton University for the Arts Council of Princeton’s Dining by Design: POP! Fundraiser held on December 1, 2012. The ACP would like to thank our event sponsors, dinner hosts, guest artist presenters, auction donors and our event committee, especially the talented and dedicated décor Co-Chairs Dawn McClatchy and Sandy Bonasera and their team. We would also like to thank the over 400 attendees who supported our event and recognize our Board of Trustees for their unprecedented generosity and dedication. In addition, we truly appreciate Princeton University for providing the spectacular event venue.

We are proud to have exceeded our fundraising goals, raising more than $111,000 to continue our critical support of important free programs that make the arts accessible to at-risk youth, seniors and people from all backgrounds. Programs for at-risk youth include: Arts Exchange (for HomeFront of Trenton), Art Reach (for Princeton Young Achievers and Princeton Nursery School), and Kids at Work: Discovery through Art (for Princeton Regional Schools). This funding is also supports scholarships to ensure that our classes are accessible to all and for Creative Aging Programming for Seniors and Caregivers. For more information about these and other Arts Council of Princeton programs we invite you to visit our website www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.

Thank you again to everyone for your continuing support in helping to achieve our mission of “building community through the arts.”

Jeff Nathanson, Executive Director
Jeniah “Kookie” Johnson, Director of Community Relations

Princeton Doesn’t Need `Fortress Avalon’

To the Editor:

Some highlights of AvalonBay hearings at the Planning Board on December 13:

First, Peter Steck, urban planner for Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, argued that AvalonBay requires multiple variances which AvalonBay hasn’t sought—permissions to deviate from zoning. “This application,” he stated, “is really not ready to be heard.” Some variances, he said, can only be requested from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (beyond Planning Board jurisdiction).

He also argued that AvalonBay’s open space for “both public and private use” (the MRRO zone definition) falls short of the 20% minimum required—17.5% at best, since AvalonBay counts the public municipal sidewalk as its own open space (!), and more likely 14.1%, since open space between downstairs apartments and Witherspoon Street and Franklin Avenue is private (with private walkways to raised private patios). With this shortfall on public open space, the application violates Borough Code. Design Standards have special applicability because AvalonBay, choosing not to reuse the hospital, redesigned from scratch, with all options available (not just its figure-8 stumbling block without publicly usable open space).

Robert Simon, PCSN’s land-use attorney, questioned Jeremy Lang’s Planner’s Report. He said it was “not independent work,” since Mr. Lang had quoted extensively—without attribution—the report submitted by architect Jonathan Metz. “The words are his,” Mr. Lang admitted, “but “I agree.” Messy: draw your own conclusions.

Public speakers gave new environmental information. Vincent Giordano, an environmental attorney with extensive experience in “due diligence” for major corporations, noted carcinogens in onsite groundwater, 2-4 times above state quality standards; soils have not yet been properly tested. Heidi Fichtenbaum, noting minimal costs associated with LEED-certification, said AvalonBay’s building was already “obsolete.” Holly Nelson unfurled a dramatic streetscape showing   FortressAvalon as a wedge in the surrounding neighborhood.

Anne Studholme, AvalonBay’s attorney, risked her reputation, whispering to Mr. Lang while Mr. Simon questioned him—and should have been called out of order.

Come speak. Princeton doesn’t need FortressAvalon.

Linda Oppenheim

The Planning Board Should Vote Its Conscience

To the Editor:

The economic  consequences of Princeton HealthCare’s contract with AvalonBay include a huge fiscal impact on Princeton municipal government and the taxpayers. The loss of expected tax revenues will increasingly be felt. This deadweight exceeds AvalonBay’s crippling refusal to permit local retail shops along Witherspoon Street and its misguided insistence on building an obsolete structure without solar paneling (and thus passing on, without regard for social justice, higher utility costs to its renters, including those in the 20% affordable units).

Why will this happen? Barry Rabner of Princeton HealthCare recklessly chose to sign a contract with the one corporate developer who was almost guaranteed not to build according to the Master Plan and Borough Code, which prohibit any “private gated community.” AvalonBay, nationwide, builds only “Private Communities,” according to corporate policy. The company has thus run into powerful opposition from Princeton community members who scorn the fortress-effect and deplore the loss of publicly usable open space even while supporting rental housing and 20% affordable housing.

The consequence of Mr. Rabner’s deeply misguided choice is that AvalonBay’s application is likely to end up in court, further delaying (for how long, no one can guess) a settling of the contingency contract—at which time the developer will begin paying property taxes. No one can know, today, who will appeal.

That’s only part of the story. AvalonBay retains the Property Tax Assistance Company to represent them in gaining property tax reductions from municipalities. A PTA brochure lists AvalonBay as its chief client and boasts that “Since 1992, we have reduced their tax liability by nearly 30%” for AvalonBay properties in California and Washington (document available from Daniel A. Harris). AvalonBay’s projected taxes for the old Princeton Borough were estimated at between $3.7MM and $4MM. Deduct 25% (conservatively). You get $3M in much-needed revenue—from a company that intends to haggle.

Of course the hospital never paid taxes as a non-profit organization. Its taxes since June 2012, if any, are unknown. Though Princeton has survived, any new taxes will be a plus, even if wrenched downwards by AvalonBay’s PTA crew. But the unpredictable delay resulting from  judicial appeal is detrimental to the fiscal health of Princeton’s future, and so is any future conflict with AvalonBay as corporate taxpayer. The entire Borough as well as the old hospital’s neighborhood will feel increasingly cheated by Princeton HealthCare and by Mr. Rabner in particular.

Is there a solution to this problem that would preserve the integrity of all parties?

While we wait: since there is no desired revenue stream at hand, the Board should vote for the best urban planning it can get—surely not AvalonBay’s behemoth.

The Planning Board should vote its conscience.

Jane Buttars