By Joseph A. McLaughlin
President of the Old Orchard Village Homeowners Association
I attended both the Princeton Planning Board meeting on March 21 and the Princeton Council meeting on March 25. The experience brought me back to my days of high school English class and the words of George Orwell. I thought, “All Princeton neighborhoods are equal – it’s just that some Princeton neighborhoods are more equal than others.”
The discussion at the governing body was about changes to two land use ordinances. In one ordinance, the proposed density would be consistent with that of adjacent parcels – but the other would permit density more than 25 times that of its next-door neighbors. One proposed to reduce the permitted floor area ratio – the second would allow the maximum floor area to be double what is permitted on neighboring properties. One would reduce the allowable area that could be covered by impervious materials – the other would permit the area of impervious surfaces to double. One would reduce the allowable building mass permitted – the second would allow building height to increase by 50%. The discussion of one ordinance focused on concerns about changes to the character of neighborhoods caused by new development – the neighborhood adversely impacted by the latter was never mentioned.
The first ordinance is Ordinance #2019-2 – An ordinance “Eliminating Proportional Increase in Floor Area Ratio on Undersized Lots.”
The second is Ordinance #2019-10 – An ordinance to create an “AH-3 Affordable Housing 3 Residential Zone” that would authorize the construction of 65 housing units on a three- acre lot adjacent to houses built to a ¾ unit per acre density. It would also allow four-story, 45-foot high multi-family apartment buildings to be erected next to two-story attached single family homes. The buffer between the single family and multi-family uses is being cut in half.
It’s curious why neither the governing body of Princeton nor the Princeton Planning Board acknowledge that the proposed zoning they are proposing for an isolated parcel will have a detrimental impact upon me and my neighbors on Old Orchard Lane. On March 21, the Princeton Planning Board met and held a master plan consistency review hearing about Ordinance 2019-10, which would create a new zone one the corner of Mount Lucas Road and Herrontown Road – the AH-3 (Affordable Housing) Zone. The stated primary goals of the Princeton Master Plan, which was re-examined in 2017, include:
-Ensuring a proper balance between new residential developments, non-residential development and affordable housing and preservation of open space
-Maintaining the character of neighborhoods
-Ensuring that redevelopment is compatible with existing development
At the Planning Board hearing I presented a professional planner who highlighted the increases in bulk, density, and impervious cover which are much more intrusive than those which exist in all but a few areas of the municipality. Despite this presentation, there was not one question or comment from any planning board member that reflected upon the impact that the proposed development would have upon the existing neighborhood. They could have acknowledged that a dense, four story development would create an adverse impact upon the adjoining properties and suggested ways to mitigate the disturbance. They did not. In fact, the only change they made was suggested by a woman who was sitting next to the developer for the entire meeting and that was to allow the new building to be even taller along our joint property line than originally planned!
My neighborhood on Old Orchard and Mount Lucas is quiet and removed from the hustle of the town. Old Orchard Lane is 12 single-family townhomes on a cul-de-sac surrounded by woods. I am certainly not against affordable housing in my neighborhood. If the density proposed was reasonable, like that of Griggs Farm, Princeton Community Village or the former Stanworth Property, it would still have an impact upon our way of living but would be acceptable.
If the buildings were similar in scale to ours – two stories near us and possibly three stories near Herrontown Road, the project would fit better into the neighborhood. A reduction of the density to between 10 and 14 units an acre would still result in the creation of a significant amount of affordable housing. This reduction in density would allow for less of the site to be covered with buildings, concrete and pavement, and would mitigate drainage concerns.
While the Princeton Fair Share Housing Plan identifies a need to provide housing in the S-2 zone, which includes the three-acre lot next to us (which used to house S.A.V.E.), the density contemplated is at six units per acre – not 22 units per acre.
The Fair Share Housing Plan calls for the development of affordable housing on Sycamore Road east of South Harrison Street and off Terhune Road. These plans call for densities of 10 to 12 units per acre, but I’m sure 22 units per acre would fit in just fine. A three-acre lot on Ridgeview Road could accommodate 65 units. Why not a four-story apartment building on the Monument Hall property behind Boudinot Street, or 11 apartments on a half-acre lot in the Riverside neighborhood? They would all be like what the mayor and council are proposing in my neighborhood. But maybe not. After all, “All neighborhoods in Princeton are equal, it’s just that some neighborhoods are more equal than others.”