Planet Princeton

Town leaders consider bold solution to need for schools, affordable housing

April 1, 2018

By Douglas Rubin

Image result for mixed use high-rise development
A rendering of the new mixed use development proposed for Valley Road.

If the Princeton School Board has its way, a large multi-use development will rise high along Valley Road between Witherspoon Street and Harris Road, solving several problems.

As the municipality of Princeton may be required to build 750 or more new units of affordable housing, Stephen Cochrane, Princeton Superintendent of Schools, identified a need and an opportunity. “As long as we’re going to build a new school, we might as well build several hundred apartments and some office space too,” he said. “The top floors can be sold off as condominiums and we can collect rent from the apartments and the office space.”

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert has met with Cochrane to discuss the idea and notes that “The school referendum gives us the chance to approve the bonding capacity needed to build most of the affordable housing that Judge Jacobsen says we have to. It’s faster and more environmentally friendly than requiring developers to set aside 20% of their market-rate housing to get to the 773 units we may need.”

While no specifics were offered, Cochrane and members of the school board acknowledge the development could cost upwards of $500 million, excluding the land which they already own.

Michelle Tuck-Ponder, a member of the School Board and a former mayor of Princeton Township, said the debt will be “less than $20,000 per resident, which will be paid back as soon as possible through condominium sales and rental income.”

Remembering Princeton’s history of using public debt to build Griggs Farm Tuck-Ponder said, “By financing public housing through an education referendum, we can keep the municipal portion of Princeton homeowners’ taxes from rising too high.”

The consultants who previously studied the re-use of the Valley Road School building, and who are already being paid to help redesign and right-size the Princeton School system’s educational facilities, have helped with preliminary studies. An anonymous source confirmed that tentative plans include 550 apartments and 20,000-plus square feet of office space within a sprawling development that will rise 10 or more stores high above Valley Road.

The athletic field behind the building is only partially used, so there will be some reconfiguration, the source said, adding that  the façade along Witherspoon Street wouls reflect the rich history of the Valley Road School. Requests for comment from the Valley Road School Adaptive Reuse Committee were made but not answered.

Nat Bottigheimer, a member of Princeton’s Progressive Action Group and an expert in urban transportation, applauded efforts to densify the core of Princeton. “This development offers a chance for more families to live in Princeton affordably, with limited environmental impact,” he said. “We hope they will minimize parking spaces and consider running a trolley line on both Witherspoon and Valley to connect the development with downtown Princeton as well as the Shopping Center.”

Happy April Fool’s Day. This is our annual April Fool’s spoof story. 

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.

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