The Princeton Planning Board was slated to review a report tonight, Sept. 9, that recommends that three properties on Franklin Avenue be declared an area in need of redevelopment.
Some Princeton residents who live near the area did not receive notices about the meeting, so the discussion has been postponed until the planning board’s Oct. 7 meeting. The planning board will review the report at that meeting and then make a recommendation to the Princeton Council.
Two of the parcels that are in the proposed area in need of redevelopment on Franklin Avenue are slated for affordable housing as part of the town’s legal settlement with Fair Share Housing. The parcels in the study area are known as lots 2, 26, and 27. The consultant hired by the town determined that the three parcels qualify for the “area in need of redevelopment” designation under the state’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.
According to the report by Heyer, Greul & Associates, all three lots qualify under the state statute due to their obsolete layouts and faulty arrangements. The consultant reported that Lot 27 is a vacant and underutilized parking lot with excessive impervious coverage and no stormwater management infrastructure. “The property is obsolete and no longer required to meet the parking demand of surrounding land uses,” reads the report. “While it has been repurposed as a storage lot for municipal vehicles and a farmers market on select Thursdays and some overflow from the high school, the site remains largely unused and obsolete.”
Single-story affordable apartments are located on lots 2 and 26. The apartments are managed by the Princeton Housing Authority and were built in the 1930s and 1940s. According to the report, the apartments are outdated, show major signs of disrepair, and are not ADA accessible.
There are 10 single-story units on one parcel at the site, and another 10 on a second parcel, for a total of 20 affordable units. Each apartment is just 489 square feet. The town wants to build at least 80 affordable housing units at the site. There is also a proposal to build up to another 80 units at the site, making the new proposed apartment complex a mix of market-rate and affordable units, with up to 160 units on Franklin Avenue.
“For these reasons and the analysis provided in the study, there is substantial evidence to designate the study area as an area in need of redevelopment according to the statutory criteria,” reads the report.
Using the area in need of redevelopment statute gives local officials more control over development than conventional zoning. Officials can give input on density, setbacks, building designs, site layouts, structures to be preserved, areas to be down-zoned, and open space. The redevelopment zone designation also authorizes the municipality to select a qualified developer and enter into a redevelopment agreement with the developer that details the obligations of the developer. Developers are often given payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) deals as part of these agreements.
Princeton officials have used the statute a few times in recent years, starting with the Princeton Theological Seminary property on Stockton Street, which was first slated for more student housing and then sold to a private developer. The statute has also been used to declare Avalon Bay’s future apartment site at Thanet Circle and the Princeton Shopping Center area as “areas in need of redevelopment.”
Some residents who live in the residential neighborhoods near the Franklin lot have expressed concerns about building 160 units at the site. Proponents of the development have brushed aside those concerns and labeled anyone who raises any concerns a NIMBY. On one Zoom call in the spring, a resident who expressed some concerns about the potential for 160 units at the site was called a racist.