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Op-ed: Some Princeton neighborhoods are more equal than others

19

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.”

More charts and the full study Mr. McLaughlin references can be viewed here.

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19 Comments

  1. Initially the bike lane and path scheme seemed to be about improving bike safety and greening Princeton. It’s clearer that the reality of installing bike paths is about development and putting in affordable housing and other rental projects. City councilmen are in bed with the developers, and residents are losing out.

  2. Council and mayor are more concerned with pushing their bike agenda than doing the right thing by their constituents. This proposal will make traffic worse and more dangerous for pedestrians and bikers. Tim Quinn. Vote him out

  3. Building affordable housing with the proposed density will create a traffic nightmare in the Mt. Lucas Road, Herrontown Rd and Rte 206 area. As it is, during the morning rush hour, it is a real challenge to get on and off Mt Lucas given the steady stream of vehicles. Add to this a proposed 65+ additional cars that will use Mt Lucas at the intersection of Herrontown as their primary access route. It will be a traffic nightmare and have an impact on the air quality with idling cars in stop and go traffic. Has an environmental impact study been conducted? What were the findings?

    The township omitted any consultation with the community that lives in the area. As a home owner in the direct vicinity of this proposed affordable housing development, I am outraged that the township thought it was acceptable to push this through without providing in a timely manner, the impacted homeowners with any information or an opportunity to weigh in and perhaps help find a viable solution for the problem of lack of affordable housing, that would be in harmony with the existing neighbourhood.

    As for bike and walking paths along Mt. Lucas Rd, who are you kidding? The existing sidewalk is uneven and poorly maintained. It’s missing in some areas altogether, so you’re either walking on the road or crossing to the other side which might have a proper sidewalk. Some bikers already frequently use the sidewalks as safer than road, which already makes present sidewalks not as safe for pedestrians. If you add bike lanes to an already fairly narrow Mt. Lucas Rd, with the added traffic that this development will generate, you exacerbate the traffic and air quality challenges that I mentioned earlier.

    As a previous commenter has noted, in the past the township has vetoed rezoning commercial land for residential use. What prompts an about face in this situation?

    This plan is poorly conceived and the process has been managed in very shoddy manner. The township needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink how it can address the needs for affordable housing in Princeton.

  4. Building affordable housing with the proposed density will create a traffic nightmare on Mt. Lucas Road, Herrontown Rd and Rte 206. As it is, during the morning rush hour, it is a real challenge to get on and off Mt Lucas given the steady stream of vehicles. Add to this a proposed 65+ additional cars on Mt Lucas at the intersection of Herrontown as their primary access route. It will be a traffic nightmare and have an impact on the air quality with idling cars in stop and go traffic. Has an environmental impact study been conducted? What were the findings?

    The township omitted any consultation with the community that lives in the area. As a home owner in the direct vicinity of this proposed affordable housing development, I am outraged that the township thought it was acceptable to push this through without providing us in a timely manner, the information or opportunity to weigh in and perhaps help find a viable solution for the problem of lack of affordable housing that is in harmony with the existing neighbourhood.

    As for bike and walking paths along Mt. Lucas Rd, who are you kidding? The pavement is uneven and poorly maintained. It’s missing in some areas altogether, so you’re either walking on the road or crossing to the other side which might have a paved walking path. Some bike riders already frequently use sidewalks as they perceive them to be safer than the road, which already makes present sidewalks not as safe for pedestrians. Adding bike lanes to an already fairly narrow Mt. Lucas Rd, with the added traffic that this development will generate, will greatly exacerbate the traffic and air quality challenges that I mentioned earlier.

    As a previous commenter has noted, in the past the township has vetoed rezoning commercial land for residential use. What prompts an about face in this situation?

    This plan is poorly conceived and the process has been managed in very shoddy manner. The township needs to go back to the drawing board and rethink how it can address the needs for affordable housing in Princeton. .

  5. I completely support the comments posted here by Charles McVicker and Marge and John D’Amico, who are among my neighbors in Old Orchard Lane.

  6. The municipality would like us to believe that their current plans to construct housing in Princeton North will to not lead to gridlock on 206 and Mt Lucas. No proper studies have been done. No public conversations have been convened with taxpayers. They need to be had alongside hearings about housing projects.

    Affordable housing needs to be dispersed on walkable lots throughout town, and not concentrated in the North (at 2.5 plus miles from the town core). Look at the comments here.

    Although the town says that an infrastructure of bike and walking trails are in place to accommodate an increased population, no one will use them. Very few currently do. Bikers bike on the road and not on the Mt Lucas asphalt path. Mt Lucas is a death trap of careless speeders.

    There are serious traffic consequences for anyone driving Mt Lucas, Witherspoon, 206, and a citywide discussion needs to be had before any projects get approved.

    This isn’t happening. The municipality is clueless and there are long term consequences for such hasty decision making.

    What can we learn from cities such as Boston, Portland, Toronto, and Vancouver, which have developed thoughtfully planned and sustainable affordable housing. Such housing such be an asset, not something that brings traffic havoc and alienates the communities it is designed to host.

    Step back and think about this Princeton.

  7. Ghettoize affordable housing?

    Princeton is pushing all of its affordable housing to the edgelands of town. Lanwin Tract (to be developed on Mt Lucas, Bunn Drive, Ewing and now this!) Is the municipality hiding its affordable housing? Racists? Classist bigots?

    New bike and walking paths? Right. The proposed sites are not walkable!

    Why should housing for public school teachers, police officers, and low to middle-income Princeton employees not have the privilege to walk to work, have close access to groceries? Is it because they are the middle class? Should we be ashamed of those workers who contribute more to our community than anyone else?

    There is nothing equitable or green about these plans! Nothing.

    Yes, let’s tear down Princeton’s Master Plan, encircle the town in “projects,” destroy Princeton Ridge and imagine ourselves in Red Hook circa 1960. While we’re at it, think grid lock.

    What a mess! Shame on Princeton! No Foresight!

  8. How can the town radically rezone a commerical lot for affordable housing? The town has vetoed past residential proposals for that very lot. The street is not a residential street!

    This scheme to place a housing project on the margins of a wealthy town is racist and classist. Although Robert Moses would appreciate it, no contemporary urban planner would agree with this project. Shame on you, Princeton.

  9. Affordable housing is so important for Princeton: when it’s with mixed income, when the size and style of construction fits the local community, when there is good public transportation options, and when it does not require the planning board to go back on its decent zoning decisions. The current plan gets an F on all of these key factors. F all around.

  10. The problem is that the town doesn’t have the money to buy land or existing houses in the downtown or more expensive parts of town. It may be better to build the housing in a town where costs are lower and the housing can be located in the downtown area.

  11. Low income housing should be mixed with regular housing, should be built to fit in with existing structures (size and height wise), should be done within current zoning regulations, and should involve some kind of decent conversation with the neighbors- the current project violates all four principles. This is our town?

  12. I’m Marge D’Amico.

    My husband John and I have lived on Old Orchard Lane for 36 years. We have experienced many changes in our neighborhood

    Underneath these facts lie the personal stories of 12 families.

    Here is ours.

    We moved onto Old Orchard Lane in January 1983 and, over the years, have witnessed the construction of Herrontown 1000, the presence and dissolution of SAVE, the evolution of Acorn Glen, from a field of wonderful trees, into the facility it is today, the evolution of Corner House and an overwhelming presence of Penn Medicine.

    We have seen a sharp spike in traffic that frequently prevents us from turning from our street onto Mt. Lucas Avenue. Drivers and pedestrians can only cross Route 206 at great risk. The “striped lines” are of no help.

    Now the town is proposing an AH 3 ordinance plan on the 3-acre Herrontown 900 tract that will allow for 65 units housing over 100 residents that grows a destructive wall of buildings on the north side of our property. The proposed plan allows for the construction of high-rise buildings that impose on the neighborhood. These new buildings do not comport well with existing structures on Old Orchard Lane and our neighbors on Mt Lucas. And the traffic continues to build.

    We enthusiastically support the very laudable goal of affordable housing but it’s important to understand the current proposal allows for too many people, too many cars, too much traffic and not enough open space. It will an overwhelming imposition and overcrowd the neighborhood.

    Thank you.

    Marge and John D’Amico

  13. Awful idea. Guess the council doesn’t want to put affordable housing in the neighborhoods their friends live in. Any affordable housing in the Western section or Riverside? Nope.

  14. I would advise anyone to look at this property and visualize two three and four story buildings and parking for 80 cars. You couldn’t do it with a giant shoe horn. The buildings will be taller than the office buildings next to them. Traffic on Mt. Lucas Road will become dangerous also. This is politics over area residents right to normal area development.

  15. Shouldn’t affordable housing be place close to medical services, grocery stores, playgrounds, parks, schools, and public transportation? As blog Walkable Princeton points out, the proposed location is not walkable. Anyone moving to this commercial strip will not have access to groceries– it’s a food desert.

    Sadly, the town is planning a ghetto as it pushes its affordable housing to the margin and preserves the town center for the wealthy.

    Wouldn’t it make sense to consider renovating the current units (and building up) in the Witherspoon district? Why not consider affordable housing a strength/ and a town asset– something of which to be proud?

    This current proposal will lead to a strain on the principal roads, and certainly become a burden for all residents in the area traveling 206 and Mt. Lucas roads.

  16. Right. Put affordable housing as close to Montgomery as possible. The Thanet property would have been great spot for affordable housing, but NIMBY.

  17. Hey Amelia: The town knows better than to stick low-income housing in wealthy neighborhoods, which would be an obvious fiscal disaster. Reducing property values in western Princeton would damage the tax base, both by cutting assessed valuations (and thereby receipts) and by accelerating the outmigration of those who pay the bulk of Princeton’s bills. Wise up.

  18. The Planning Board apparently feels that the West End should never, ever have to deal with neighbors who make under $250,000 a year. In simple fairness, low-income housing should be built at that end of town, and lots of it.

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