Letters: Rezone Hospital Site with Lower Density

Proposed Density at Hospital Site Too High

Dear Editor:

At last Thursday’s Hospital Ordinance Task Force meeting, the committee heard that Council did not approve their recommendation to reduce the allowed density (number of units) at the site if the buildings are demolished.

The issue was the number of affordable housing units at “56”. Although some members of  Council may remember otherwise, transcripts and memoranda nowhere support that the number “56” units of affordable housing was an original part of discussions. The discussions were around  providing  20% affordable.  The number “56″ does not appear until fourteen months from the hospital’s first presentation (memorandum from Lee Solow to Bob Bruschi, August 30, 2006, and Marvin Reed, Borough Council minutes, September 12, 2006). Mr. Reed was very straightforward: “development of the hospital site is a ‘density bonus,’ that of 280 units [of which] 56 will be low/moderate COAH-qualifying houses.”   Note:  the current ordinance allows “up to 280 units.” A developer may choose to build fewer units altogether.

For whom was the density bonus created?  The hospital.  The hospital, having now gone back on its promises to the Princeton community, no longer deserves any “density bonus.” It contracted with the one buyer who only builds closed private communities, contrary to Princeton values, and it sold off part of the land destined for a town park.

An architect specializing in designing redevelopments in single-family neighborhoods should work with stakeholders and the neighbors to create a site plan and massing diagram to inform the choice of density.  However, there are yardsticks available which strongly suggest that a density of 280 units or 50 units/acre is too high.

1.   Task-force architect Areta Pawlynsky stated the view of smart-growth advocate Urban Land Institute: more than 2x the density of the surrounding neighborhood is too great a burden on a neighborhood.  2x the neighborhood density in this case is 20 units/acre or 102 units.

2.   Task-force architect Heidi Fichtenbaum, presented drawings to support the opinion that redevelopment in scale and character with the neighborhood gives a maximum density of 23 units/acre or 127 units.

3.   If we were to set the density at that of the surrounding neighborhood, it would be 10 units/acre or 56 units.

4.   Massachusetts legislation defines anything above 8 units/acre as smart-growth density for single-family neighborhoods. In the case of the hospital site, a density above 45 units is smart growth.

5.   If we want to make the hospital a site for apartments, then anything above 20 units/acre or 102 units is smart growth under Massachusetts law.

Balancing the rights and needs of the surrounding neighborhoods with those who support the building of multi-rise apartment buildings to provide housing, particularly for grad students and postdocs at the university, is important.   As former mayor Joe O’Neill said, increased density is a tax on a neighborhood. The major source of jobs within walkable distance of Princeton is the university. If there is a shortage of housing for those who work at the university, shouldn’t the university be pitching in here?

Alexi Assmus

Task Force Should not Be `Hobbled’ with an Affordable Housing Quota at the Hospital Site

Dear Editor:

We have all contributed in many ways to help make Princeton what it is today. We all have a stake in its future. It is a wonderful town.  I wish everyone could live here, but since that is not possible, we have to make choices and decisions, and the time is now.

Do we want to concentrate all new growth in a monstrously large development only because it would render 56 affordable units?  We should take the long view and realize that there are several sites that are ideal for apartments and will likely be built within a reasonable time, and that they would include affordable units as well.

The hospital was always considered an inherently beneficial use and was granted zoning variances time and again. Our neighborhood lost out every time as houses disappeared and the hospital kept growing, along with the traffic.  Must we continue to pay forever, for having our neighborhood degraded and for having lost part of it?  This condition is now being perpetuated because of the artful deal that the hospital struck with the town.  We are once again at risk.

Yes, that is how many of us in our quiet neighborhoods surrounding the hospital feel.  We live quite away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Princeton.  280 units built on the site would bring more than 500 persons to the neighborhood and would be severely out of balance for the surroundings. We have never considered our houses to be in the central district of town; only an outsider would describe our area as such.

I really hope, that the Task Force will do what the Planning Board charged them with, revising the zoning at the site. The Task Force should not be hobbled at the outset with demands from Council, such as the requirement for 56 affordable units. The resounding rejection of the Avalon plan makes it clear that the spot zoning of the site is severely flawed.  It needs revising to be in harmony with the surroundings, urgently.

Why was a task force appointed if they are to be told what their conclusions should be? Are all their meetings and efforts on behalf of a better Princeton in vain?

It is up to us to make sure that whatever is built at the site blends in with the surroundings and is a credit to our town.  This is the time and this is our chance to make it happen.  We will have to live with the results

My wish list:

Number one priority is fewer units.

The buildings should be of reasonable size and separated, not running along a whole block.  Stepped back from the sidewalk would be nice.

A plaza which all residents and the public can use.

Walking and biking paths should cross the area from road to road.  No pool.

All building should be made with approved green methods.

A small convenience store would be nice so tenants could pick up a few items without getting into their car.

Berit Marshall


  1. You know, I really hope the Council holds its nerve and sticks to 280 units. I really look forward to having those new neighbors, maybe some normal middle-class people who aren’t from the wealthiest sections of society. It will add a little more diversity to the town. Plus, it will be nice to have those extra people walking around, adding vitality to the streets. Probably some of them will be cyclists as well. It would be good to have some more bike riders around.

    I also hope that there are extra units to allow people to live near the town. It is so dreary for commuters to have to crawl along Alexander Street and down 206 every morning. I’m sure they would far prefer to walk to work down Witherspoon Street. Maybe they’d stop in to the library for a coffee, or perhaps some new coffee shops would open with the extra business? Maybe downtown would get some ‘normal-people’ stores, if there were more people living nearby who needed basic stuff like eggs and milk.

    It will be nice when I go to the pool again, to meet those new neighbors, and to share their stories. Some new friends. I’m sure they would love the chance to live in Princeton. I guess maybe the line in Conte’s might be longer though. That would be a bit annoying, but maybe I’d also bump into my new friends over at the Clocktower Cabana. We could have a drink together and plan a cycle ride down the D&R canal trail.

    1. dear SFB, I wish you would reveal your identity. Where (if in Princeton) do you live?? We don’t need new residents to obtain ‘diversity’ – come live on my street where we have Princeton professors, Guatemalan landscapers, musicians, architects, teachers, grad students, janitors, retirees, families with young children …. lots of ‘normal middle class people who aren’t from the wealthiest sections of society’, as you put it. Your ideal already exists here.

  2. I wonder why people are so against a pool at the hospital complex . Since we have a community pool should we band swimming pools in Princeton.

    1. There is a beautiful new community pool just a few blocks down the street. It’s really a wonderful scene there. It seems a shame that those who live in residences at the former hospital site not partake of it — having their own private pool would likely mean few would use the community pool. It also seems wasteful to have two large pools so close to each other. BTW: The only pool belonging to an individual that I know of in the center-of-town neighborhoods is across from the university’s engineering building — anyone know of others?

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