Letters: Former Princeton Council member ponders how affordable housing loophole was included in town’s new ordinance

To the Editor:

As a former member of the Princeton Council, I voted for the December of 2019 affordable housing settlement agreement in which the former Princeton Borough’s 20% set-aside requirement for as-of-right multifamily development was eliminated in favor of set asides only for projects that require some kind of zoning relief, such as a variance. I want to apologize for my mistake.

I only skimmed the document and did not realize the loophole was added to weaken the requirement. There is no excuse for my carelessness. My theory for how the language ended up in the document is that the settlement agreement used boilerplate language and the change was an oversight. Given the length and complexity of the agreement and the many pressing issues that were hashed out near the end, this makes the most sense to me. 

Nearly every action taken by the council is accompanied by a memo by staff or legal counsel summarizing or explaining it. It was totally uncharacteristic for the change to have been inserted without explanation. There was no discussion. This does not relieve my responsibility to read the agreement carefully. I was given the document for review in draft form and still didn’t notice. But it may help explain how the loophole remained in the ordinance the Council adopted in June of 2020. It was only during a recent site plan review for the proposed “as-of-right” development on the Griggs corner site that Council members became aware of the loophole that took the developer off the hook for affordable housing.

It is particularly distressing that the Griggs Corner developer is now proposing to eliminate affordable units in their project given Palmer Square’s history of forcible displacement of a Black neighborhood that is still an open wound for many in the community. Apparently, the developer had originally proposed to include one affordable unit but then withdrew that plan when they realized the ordinance had changed.  But there is nothing to prevent the developer from including one or two affordable units.

It is one thing to be compelled to do the right thing by law. Another possibility is to do it voluntarily as a good citizen. Affordable units still generate income, just not quite as much. The new building would be profitable even with one or two affordable units—witness that the calculation to buy the property was made before it was known that the 20% requirement was no longer operative.

Others may have differing recollections or a different understanding. I offer my own perspective because I feel terrible I carelessly overlooked the important passage and I want to come clean to the public and say again how sorry I am. I know the council will work to rectify the oversight for future developments. I hope the Griggs Corner developer will reverse their decision to capitalize on the mistake. 

Jenny Crumiller

Editor’s note: Jenny Crumiller served on the Princeton Council through December of 2019. The council approved the affordable housing settlement agreement with Fair Share Housing at her last meeting as a councilperson, the week before Christmas. She was not on the Princeton Council when the council voted to introduce and approve the municipality’s new affordable housing ordinance in June of 2020. Both the settlement agreement and the affordable housing ordinance included language that eliminated the former borough’s 20% affordable housing set aside.


  1. Thank you, Jenny, for this apology and very likely explanation. What continues to frustrate me is that Municipal Counsel, our special Counsel for the Settlement (assuming we had one), and municipal staff did not catch this. Plenty of blame to go around.

    One Council member said in the press that our municipal ordinance change was due to a change in State law. However no one has provided a specific citation in State law that supports this theory. Moreover, if there is something is State law, does it state (a) when variances are requested, an affordable housing set aside may be required, or (b) A municipality may not require an affordable housing set aside unless a variance is requested? I’m no lawyer, but only (b) would constrain us in the case of the Griggs Corner development…. assuming no variances have been requested.

  2. The recently released memo by the town attorney does not point to any recent change in state law or to any case that would have made continuing the 20% set-aside for as-of-right development legally suspect. The regulations cited in the memo are highly technical regulations designed to implement Mt. Laurel’s requirement that zoning be inclusionary. One tactic used by towns was to create zoning that looked “inclusionary” but contained no incentive for developers. Basically, this type of zoning looks inclusionary on it face but in fact is exclusionary because its promise will not be realized. As is clear from the context of the Fair Share settlement, this was not a concern in Princeton because Princeton has prioritized affordable housing and because the settlement included many overlay zones with ample incentives for development. In context, then, it is a real stretch to view a 20% AH obligation for as-of-right projects as somehow bad because not “inclusionary.” Put another way, to determine whether a municipality is meeting its Mt. Laurel obligations, one must look at the entire zoning picture, not to one provision in isolation from everything else. As for the other concern about the ordinance – that it might be challenged as a taking – the town legal memo cites not a single case to support this. “Takings” arguments are part of the kit bag of conservative property rights litigators who in recent years have challenged a vast array of local and state regulations on the ground that they add up to a “taking” of property without due process of law. In the case of the Borough 20% AH requirement – which had been in place for over 20 years and never challenged – it is a real stretch to claim it might be a “taking” to continue it and include it in a townwide ordinance. Also, to repeat, the attorney memo cited no case to suggest that the as-of-right set aside could be invalidated as a taking.
    What is puzzling about this story is Fair Share’s role. Why would a group dedicated to increasing affordable housing press to relieve as-of-right projects from any AH set aside requirement?
    Finally, though, it is shocking the Council was not briefed on this significant and substantive change in the AH rules that was made through omission of a few words in the settlement and in the ordinance.

Comments are closed.