A Mercer County Superior Court judge has ruled in favor of developer AvalonBay regarding a lawsuit filed by a group of residents to block the apartment project at the downtown hospital site.
Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson dismissed all the counts of the lawsuit that was filed by a group of residents calling themselves “Association for Planning at Hospital Site LLC.” The 10 residents who are part of the group all live in the neighborhood surrounding the hospital building on Witherspoon Street.
In December, Jacobson threw out one count of the five-count suit that claimed spot zoning was given for the hospital site. She said the statute of limitations had run out for that issue. Today she dismissed the other four counts.
The Princeton Planning Board rejected AvalonBay’s initial application for the hospital site in December of 2012. AvalonBay sued, and in early 2013 the town and AvalonBay negotiated a consent order. AvalonBay then resubmitted a second application with a revised design, which the planning board then approved in 2013.
The residents claimed the Princeton Planning Board lacked jurisdiction over the revised AvalonBay plans, and that the consent order the town agreed to with AvalonBay should not be considered valid because there were no public hearings before the consent order was negotiated.
“The procedural posture of this case is unusual,” Jacobson wrote in her opinion. “No party sought a remand to the board following settlement negotiations. Given the unique procedural posture of this case, there is little case law directly on point. Thus, the court must explore basic jurisdictional concepts in broadly analogous situations in order to evaluate the plaintiffs’ claims that the board lacked jurisdiction to hear the second application.”
Jacobson said the procedures used by AvalonBay and the board to settle the case went above and beyond the procedural requirements.
“Instead of merely introducing the revised plans and submitting new evidence during a short public settlement hearing, AvalonBay filed an entirely new application,” Jacobson wrote. “The subsequent proceeding involved expert testimony, thousands of pages of evidence, four nights of testimony, and a vote of approval at a public meeting.”
The group’s arguments about the rights of private citizens “ring hollow”, Jacobson said, arguing that their rights were more than adequately protected because public comment was allowed during the public hearings regarding the second AvalonBay application.
“There was no limitation on the public’s right to participate in the hearings, no limitation on testimony, and no limitation on the submission of written evidence contained anywhere in the consent order,” Jacobson wrote.
Residents also argued that the demolition of the hospital site will have health and safety impacts for residents in the surrounding area. Jacobson countered that nothing supports their allegations about the demolition.
It is unclear yet whether the resident group will appeal. The group has created a video about residents’ concerns.