The Princeton Governing body voted unanimously Monday night to purchase a double lot on Lytle Street in the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood and expand Mary Moss Park after reaching a compromise with a group that wants affordable housing on the site.
A porch that is considered an important historic feature of the house at the site, 31-33 Lytle Street, will also be preserved.
It is still unclear whether affordable housing will be built on the property, but affordable housing advocates and officials hope the town will be able to partner with Habitat for Humanity to build two affordable housing units on one of the lots.
Resident John Heilner called the compromise a triple win for the community.
“It will create additional affordable housing, allow for the expansion of Mary Moss Playground, and maintain the scale and streetscape with the replication of a key historical site in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood,” he said.
The property is owned by developer Roman Barsky, who originally planned to subdivide the property and build two homes at the site. Barsky will be paid up to $525,000 by the town for the property. Barsky paid $345,500 to purchase the property from the estate of Grover Tash, according to property tax records.
The town will borrow money to purchase the property. The portion of the property that will become a park will be purchased with open space funds and the housing would be paid for with affordable housing trust funds that were put aside for a project on Peck Place that fell through, Princeton Administrator Mark Dashield said.
Tom Caruso, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, attended the meeting. He said Habitat will raise money from local businesses and individuals to build two affordable housing units at the site. Habitat will select lower income owners for the homes after doing background and credit checks, and then issue mortgages with no interest. Buyers must put in 300 hours of work on the project, attend homeowner classes and pay $2,500 for closing costs.
Habitat for Humanity will need to work with an architect to develop plans that comply with Princeton zoning laws and then come up with a proposal for the two units. “A shovel won’t go in the ground until the money is raised to fund the project,” Caruso said. A few residents stepped forward at the meeting to contribute funds.
Resident Kip Cherry said she is glad the porch and porch line of the house will be preserved because they are an important historic feature of the street.
“This proposal, although it is a comprise, is a good proposal,” she said. “Many residents hope the area will become a historic district.”
Resident and Princeton University professor Patricia Fernandez Kelly, who studies cities and segregation, said she supports the proposal.
“It will do a lot for affordability,” she said, adding that Princeton has already become a golden ghetto for the rich. “The desire for luxury housing is forcing the more vulnerable to leave town,” she said. “This step can set an important example.”
Resident Hendricks Davis, who lives in the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood, said more could be done in terms of affordable housing.
“A good solution is being presented tonight, and still don’t think it is the best solution. The town should consider the best and highest use and the redevelopment of both lots for affordable homes that would be for sale to low and moderate income families,” he said, adding that developing the whole site for affordable housing would make up for the loss of the Peck Place project.
“From a position of opportunity, this is an extraordinary opportunity for people in the neighborhood to develop home ownership opportunities,” he said. “The municipality body has the duty to pursue every opportunity to develop ratables. The town should purchase the entire property for affordable homes. Two units is better than none, but five is better than two.”
Resident and former Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore, who also lives in the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood, noted that one promise of consolidation was the creation of advisory planning districts. Residents who were worried about losing their voices in a consolidated town were told not to fear, because the planning district structure would mean they would have a say about development in their neighborhoods. The governing body scrapped the idea of advisory planning districts after consolidation, saying it would be too hard to implement.
“Several residents who are not part of the neighborhood put forth the proposal for the Lytle Street property,” Moore said. “It does concern me that we don’t have the planning districts.”