Princeton School Board: We didn’t take a position on the affordable housing settlement or the AvalonBay plans
The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education was not involved in the municipality’s affordable housing settlement negotiations and did not take a position on the final settlement, according to a statement issued by the school district. The board issued a statement in response to comments made by a planning board member last week.
Local planning board members unanimously voted at a meeting on Tuesday to affirm that AvalonBay’s plans for more than 200 apartment units on Thanet Road, and the town’s plans for an 80-unit senior apartment complex on the site, conform to the municipal master plan. AvalonBay is giving the town two acres of land for the senior complex in exchange for a 30-year payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement. AvalonBay will pay the municipality 11% of adjusted gross revenue from the Thanet development each year for 30 years in exchange for the land. As things stand right now, the school district won’t see a penny of that money. The municipality will receive 95 percent of the PILOT payments and five percent will go to the county.
An hour into the discussion at the planning board meeting on Tuesday, resident Kip Cherry expressed concerns about the school district not receiving tax revenue from the AvalonBay site or the PILOT.
Planning Board Member and Councilwoman Mia Sacks responded to Cherry and made it sound like the school board supported the plan.
“I’m just going to address your comments about the school children and to say that this particular configuration was the first choice of the school board,” Sacks said at the meeting. “The 80 senior units — if it were built inclusionary — that would be 400 family units. On the Avalon property altogether there are a number of units with developmentally delayed adults that do not have children and then the senior property, which does not have children. In general, the ballpark statistics for affordable units is that they are 90-percent occupied by families with children and in market-rate units, it’s only three percent. So basically this site, whether one agrees with it or not, it’s designed to minimize the impact to the schools and it was something that the schools — it was their first choice actually.”
School officials said in their statement that contrary to statements made at the planning board meeting as reported by Planet Princeton, neither the board of education nor any Princeton Public Schools officials chose any component of the municipality’s affordable housing settlement.
“The board was not involved in municipal settlement negotiations and learned the final details only after the confidential negotiations concluded,” reads the statement. “The board has taken no formal position on the final settlement. It has, however, acknowledged the efforts of the municipality to fulfill Princeton’s mandated obligations with a mix of housing, including senior housing, that has a significantly lower impact on the public schools, in terms of anticipated additional school children, than the affordable housing plan initially proposed in 2018.”
In an email exchange with Planet Princeton late last week, Sacks said she agreed with school board members who say they are unaware of the board reviewing options and endorsing a plan.
“However, the school board president has expressed appreciation on numerous occasions since the settlement plan was released for the concern shown by the municipality in seeking to minimize impact to the schools,” Sacks wrote. “It is certainly possible that individual school board members disagree with the school board president in their feelings about the town’s affordable housing plan, but none have reached out to me directly. I was not a member of Council when this plan was developed and approved last year, but I am aware of how concerned many in the community have been about the potential impact to the schools of the affordable housing settlement. The current plan has a significantly lower impact on the schools than the original plan released in 2018.”
Sacks said she hadn’t had a chance to review the tape of the meeting, but that either she was referring to the configuration of the entire affordable housing settlement weighted toward 100% affordable rather than inclusionary, or specifically to the Thanet site with the senior affordable and special needs group homes, which produce no children.
“I was making the point that the municipality’s decision to go with a plan weighted toward 100% affordable projects as well as the senior PIHRL project both dramatically lower the overall number of kids generated by the plan. This lowers the cost to the schools but is much more expensive for the municipality. I was trying to convey that, if someone thinks this plan is problematic to the schools, they should look at the previous plan by way of comparison. It’s very clear that the council last year, in making decisions about how to configure the plan, prioritized minimizing the impact to the schools and it is equally clear that the schools appreciate that approach,” Sacks wrote. “I think you must’ve interpreted my use of the word ‘choice’ to mean that the schools had a choice in the plan. I was trying to convey that, for obvious reasons, the district preferred a plan that minimized the number of new children suddenly introduced into the system.”
It is sad that the BOE did not have a position given the potential impact on the school population. If there is a potential for big impacts, then the BOE could have asked that school infrastructure costs be included as part of the cost of development instead of passing it along to all. Further, if there was not sufficient information, then the BOE position should have requested an impact study funded by the builders on the schools before the planning board vote. What BOE did instead was punt on its responsibility to the voters and gave the builders a free pass at the expense of Princeton residents. Very sad. If the BOE can pass up opportunities to help taxpayers defray education costs by asking for money from the builders, don’t come begging to the taxpayers expecting easy money when you people can’t do your job.
With all due respect @Don Cox, do you not understand that it is not at all legal or above board for PPS or the BOE to weigh in on any aspect of these municipal negotiations?
A public school system’s mission and obligation is to educate ALL children within its purview. If PPS and/or the BOE start to advocate for anything with regard to how many children are part of the school system, can you see how that is no longer public and seriously an issue?
The story here is that Ms. Sacks, an elected Princeton Municipal Councilperson, represented the PPS/BOE in complete error, both factually and given that she has NO governance to represent the BOE/PPS.
And then on top of that throws Planet Princeton under the proverbial bus afterwards by saying she was “misinterpreted,”
I have two kids in PPS, otherwise I’d follow our Superintendent to Seattle asap.
Thanks for weighing in. It is untrue that school boards can’t weigh in on PILOT negotiations, per the New Jersey School Boards Association. There are recent examples of school districts getting developers to even build new schools for them as part of redevelopment PILOT agreements.
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