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
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.