The Princeton Planning Board voted 8-1 last night to approve AvalonBay’s plans for 280 apartment units at the downtown hospital site, ending a legal battle and years of questions about the future of the Witherspoon Street property.
“There could be an even better fit, I suppose there could,” said Planning Board member Marvin Reed, saying that the new AvalonBay application is better than the first one approved last December. Former Princeton Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman, who sits not he planning board, agreed with Reed that the new design was much better than the original one.
While Councilwoman and Planning Board member jenny Crumiller expressed her displeasure with the hospital and the process, she said she felt she had to approve the plan because it conforms to the zoning, and is an improvement over previous plans. “It will be much nicer to walk around than the gloomy hospital building,” she said.
Cecilia Birge cast the lone vote against the plan, citing concerns regarding the environment and the historic character of the neighborhood.
Many neighborhood residents opposed the plan and voiced their opposition at the public hearings over the last several weeks, arguing that the new AvalonBay proposal still did not fit with the smaller scale of the surrounding community.
A community group called Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods announced that it would no longer fight the AvalonBay proposal and formally withdrew its objections to the plan, citing mounting legal fees.
Jon Vogel, vice president for development, at AvalonBay, issued a statement after the approval last night expressing the company’s satisfaction with the outcome.
“We can now move forward with a project that will transform the former Princeton University Medical Center into much needed multifamily apartment homes that will be well integrated into the Princeton community,” he said. ““Not only is the approved development more open and accessible to the wider neighborhood, but we have added town homes and many green building features to the plan in response to community comment. We have also committed to build 56 affordable units, which is a full 20 percent of the total 280 apartment homes, which will serve a wide range of incomes. With this plan, we are very pleased to be able to help the Princeton community address its pressing need for both affordable and market rate housing that is within easy walking and biking distance of shopping, services, parks, and the university.”
The 280-unit apartment complex will include five separate buildings ranging from two to five stories. of one large building, Three townhouse buildings will line Franklin Street. An alley behind the townhouses will provide access to the townhouse garages. Affordable housing units will be located throughout the two largest buildings. A public road will run through the property, connecting Franklin Street and Henry Avenue. A public park at the corner of Witherspoon and Franklin is larger than the previous plan. The development would be Energy Star certified and comply with silver level LEED standards.
Asbestos must be removed from the site and the hospital building will be demolished before construction can begin. The demolition and asbestos removal are scheduled to start imminently. A longer-term timetable and expected date for completion of the apartments is not currently available, a spokesman for AvalonBay said Friday afternoon.