Developer AvalonBay and Princeton Council at Impasse Regarding Environmental Testing

A rendering of the AvalonBay project slated for the hospital site in Princeton.
A rendering of the AvalonBay project slated for the hospital site.

Developer AvalonBay could be heading to court again to sue the town over the developer’s agreement for the Witherspoon Street hospital site.

The governing body and AvalonBay reached an impasse tonight regarding environmental testing at the hospital site after a consultant hired by the town to evaluate environmental concerns issued new recommendations for testing.

Consultant Ira Whitman, who was under fire after his initial report to the Princeton Council last month, said he received new information from staff, elected officials and residents since that meeting.

Whitman presented a revised report tonight recommending that more samples be taken at the site to test for volatile chemicals and metals. He said underground storage tanks and asbestos are state issues, and air pollution caused by lead paint would be under federal jurisdiction.

But Robert Kasuba, a lawyer for AvalonBay, said AvalonBay will not do any testing beyond what was previously proposed.

“We will conduct the testing required by state regulations, nothing more,” Kasuba said. “I can”t be more clear about that.”

Officials asked AvalonBay representatives to reconsider their position, which is unlikely.

The Princeton Council then voted unanimously to approved the developer’s agreement, including all the environmental consultant’s recommendations.

Early this year, resident Jan Weinberg unearthed evidence of a former medical waste incinerator at the hospital that AvalonBay’s consultant had not included in its report on the site, and that hospital officials claimed they had no knowledge of. Residents also say they have evidence that there was a second incinerator at the site.

At a January council meeting, a representative of AvalonBay said state inspectors would not be monitoring the removal of lead-based paints on site during demolition. Dust monitoring will be performed on site during the asbestos abatement process, and water will be sprayed over the property to minimize airborne dust.

The Princeton Council then hired Whitman to evaluate concerns about the incinerator and other environmental issues regarding the demolition of the hospital site.

In March, the Princeton Council extended Whitman’s $8,000 contract, authorizing an additional $3,000, after he gave a preliminary report in which he acknowledged that he had negotiated with AvalonBay officials to come up with recommendations for testing at the site. At that meeting, he did not reveal what his original recommendations where and what issues he had compromised on.

Residents have filed three Open Public Records Requests since that meeting seeking his original reports, and all the requests have been rejected. The town lawyer claims that because the initial report was a “draft”, the report was deliberative material and is therefore not subject to the state’s Open Public Records Act.

Whitman said in his report last month that at AvalonBay’s request, he removed some of his original recommendations, including a recommendation for lead testing at the corner of Franklin Terrace and Witherspoon Street. There is also a building on that corner that housed a radiology and X-ray lab, a location Whitman acknowledged could be a source of lead.

He said last month that a medical waste incinerator was constructed at the hospital between 1963 and 1969. The incinerator has not operated at the site since the 1980s or 1990s. He recommended that AvalonBay conduct additional soil testing prior to and during the demolition for cadmium, mercury, dioxins and other substances. He also suggested that four air monitors be installed at the site, rather than the one AvalonBay originally proposed. He also said he was pleased with AvalonBay’s overall demolition plan, but raised concerns with a plan to crush existing concrete at the site and reuse it.

Demolition could begin within three weeks of the start of asbestos removal. The plan is for workers to work on a “rolling basis”, moving from building to building removing asbestos and then demolishing each building, representatives for AvalonBay said.

The consultant said some procedures like soil testing would need to take place before demolition begins, while other samples could be taken during the appropriate stage of demolition.

Several residents last night expressed concerns about the work hours for the demolition. Town engineer Bob Kiser said under Princeton’s ordinance, work can take place weekdays between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.


  1. I’m glad that the Council finally approved a developer’s agreement. I suspect that the testing is disproportionate, but the developer has the resources to sue to make that case if they so desire. The important thing is that this project has the green light to move forward. Princeton needs those apartments- there’s nothing else like it in town.

  2. The fact that a
    great percentage of the children that live in the Witherspoon-Jackson
    neighborhood are from lower income or less enfranchised families should
    not mean that we do not as a town act to require the highest standards
    of safety and environmental oversight for this demolition and
    construction. As a neighbor/homeowner in the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood, I
    am looking forward to welcoming our new high density, low and moderate
    income, walking/biking culture neighbors that will inhabit the hospital
    site housing. However, I do not think it serves the town, and either
    our to-be new neighbors nor the numerous children who already live,
    attend the public school, and enjoy the recreational resources within a
    quarter mile of the site for demolition and construction to proceed
    without objective and rigorous public health/environmental impact
    oversight in place (ie, we should not just allow Avalon Bay to set its
    own oversight standards). Lead, heavy metal and asbestos, incinerator
    waste, and plastic/concrete dust and other airborne particulates can
    cause serious issues in growing lungs, brains and bodies. Avalon Bay
    has proved to be a bad safety actor in other sites all over the country
    (just google “Avalon Bay violation” and “Avalon Bay unsafe” for starters
    ….). If we care about the health of our kids, our town should
    exercise a higher standard (as Judge Jacobson made a point of stating
    that we as a town absolutely have the right to do).

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