Proposed Density at Hospital Site Too High
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?
Task Force Should not Be `Hobbled’ with an Affordable Housing Quota at the Hospital Site
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.