Planet Princeton

Waxwood Developer Seeks to Change Terms of Agreement with Town of Princeton

Architect and developer J. Robert Hillier is once again asking Princeton officials to change the terms of an agreement regarding the Waxwood development in the historic Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood.

In 2002, the Princeton Borough Council approved a developer’s agreement with Hillier, and the zoning board approved variances, for the conversion of the Waxwood on Quarry Street into 34 condominium units. Three of the 34 proposed condominium units were designated low-income or moderate-income units. For each of the three affordable units, the developer was responsible for providing a direct subsidy equal to the difference between the market price and the affordable housing price requirements of the municipality’s affordable housing program.

Hillier also agreed to sell five additional units to Witherspoon neighborhood residents who don’t meet state income requirements for affordable housing, according to the agreement. Assistance was to be provided by the Waxwood Foundation, a foundation set up by Hillier to assist residents who have lived in the neighborhood for ten years or more or who are the direct descendants of residents in the historic neighborhood, the oldest African-American neighborhood in the state. Under the agreement, all covenants and conditions were binding on all the parties and their successors.

The agreement was amended to allow Hillier to rent the units out for five years so he could receive generous federal tax credits for the project, which preserved the historic building that was once a school for black children.

In 2010, Hillier was granted an extension by the Princeton Borough Council that allowed him to wait another five years to sell the units as condominiums. Hillier said back then that selling the units would be a financial hardship for him because the housing market had crashed.

Now, Hillier has requested a permanent modification to the developer’s agreement, requesting a release from the provision that would require the conversion of the rental units to for-sale units. He has argued that the market is doing so well that many residents would not be able to afford the condominiums now, thus the units should remain rentals.

Hillier wrote a letter to residents at the Waxwood on Nov. 10 asking them to voice support for the change.

“We strongly believe that The Waxwood provides a much needed and reasonably priced residential rental alternative close to the downtown, and our average 5-year tenancy is a solid indicator of the property’s rental desirability,” reads the letter. “Preserving the current rental arrangement will ensure your ability to continue on as a tenant at The Waxwood. If you wish to comment on our request to the Town, please feel free to do so…Your support for our request would be very much

appreciated!”

But some neighborhood residents see the move as a bait and switch, and say Hillier is breaking promises to the neighborhood. A flyer was circulated in the neighborhood and beyond this weekend calling on residents to show up at the council meeting tonight to voice their opposition to any changes in the developer’s agreement.

waxwoodflyer

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Dan D’Menny

    The town should never have given him (or any other developer) incentives in the first place. Let them pay full price for the development work, but then let him lease to those who can pay the rent.

    I am still unclear why apartments 1/3 mile from Palmer Square should be set aside for the politically-connected, when plenty of middle income families are willing to pay market rents to live proximate to downtown.

  • Liz Winslow

    I don’t have anything to add. This was spot-on perfect.

  • FreshAir

    Definitely agree, Steve. So hard to stomach anyone with Hillier’s uber luxe lifestyle claiming “hardship”, in these harsh economic times for working class folks. He might as well be saying “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”, his request is just so out-of touch with reality. Council allowed Hillier to exchange an affordable unit for a drainage ditch, in a recent apartment development here. With this opportunity to make more over time, Hillier still refused to give sheltered parking spaces to the less fortunate residents there. Princeton has given this homeboy amazing opportunities….our public library, our 81 million dollar schools renovation, etc. etc. Part of the problem may be that town leaders regularly enter into “hardship” agreements with those who have no true hardship. Hardworking taxpayers pay for the roads, schools, & systems that support Hillier’s & others’ developments. Council might at least charge sufficient developer fees to fund the construction department & only allow “hardship” for those citizens who just wish to maintain a tiny, healthy foothold here…not make big profits. Princeton was once a very hip, diverse community. Gentrification here is ending that.

  • Pat Palmer

    If I were on council, I definitely would deny this request for a change. Hillier should at least try to sell the units per the agreement. Greed?

  • Steve Buyske

    So in 2010 Hillier couldn’t sell the units since the market was too low and now he can’t sell because the market is too high? The borough helped him out in 2010 because he pleaded financial hardship—if it would be a hardship for residents to buy now I’m sure Hillier could see his way to helping them out.

    I am sickened by developer’s agreements that are changed later on when it’s inconvenient for the developer to live up to his or her promises.

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