Recently a somewhat frantic opinion piece was published in two local media outlets that appeared to be a personal attack on individuals who have raised questions on re-development practice in the light of recent New Jersey Supreme Court rulings.
The attack was in response to a letter published in Planet Princeton that raised questions about Princeton’s approach to redevelopment and its interpretation of Local Redevelopment and Housing Law in light of the recent clarification of that law by the NJ Supreme Court. Specifically, the Court reiterated that the standard for applying this law should be “that the property is ‘blighted’ AND must prove that the area is detrimental to the community and that there is a public benefit to redeveloping the buildings.” The court also emphasized that the fact that a property is old or requires modernizing or is in need of repair is not a confirmation of “blight.”
One doesn’t need to be a planner or a lawyer to understand that this ruling by the New Jersey Supreme Court will change the way the “area in need of redevelopment” designation is used as a redevelopment tool. Bearing this in mind, it is possible to conclude that Princeton has very little, if any property, or land that would meet this definition.
This point may be worthy of debate and it is not to say that there should not be re-development but using the Area in Need of Redevelopment (ANR) tool, as now defined, does not appear to be the way forward in the majority of cases. If a developer wishes to apply for rezoning and negotiate a tax break, so be it, but there should be full public scrutiny and evaluation of the public good before proceeding, not an administrative ruling.
Of the 3 currently approved ANR’s in Princeton it is clear two of them are already well advanced. In the case of Princeton Theological Seminary properties there are the following questions:
Should recent ANR designations be reviewed, especially where there is no approved redevelopment plan?
What is the public purpose from this development?
Should ANR rezoning be reviewed in the light of this ruling and if there needs to be a change should we revert to the normal review process?
Should a developer be granted a tax break through a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), depriving the schools of millions of dollars over 30 years, that essentially must be funded by existing taxpayers?
Also mentioned in the original Planet Princeton letter, there were a number of noncontiguous properties included in the same Princeton Theological Seminary-approved ANR. Please see the pictures taken of the playing field and the conference center below. Do they look blighted? Do they appear to be causing harm to the community? The goals for this ANR may have been laudable, but they don’t now meet the legal standard necessary to comply with the recent clarification of the law.
Sadly, there appears to be a consistent hostile and demeaning tone from individuals associated with development in Princeton, bordering on bullying, whenever suggestions or questions are raised or a process clarification is asked for. These comments disparage neighborhoods, and individuals’ motivations, and liberally accuse people of being NIMBYs amongst other terms. Today the same individual claimed “Their agenda is focused on perpetuating institutional racism in their tony neighborhood. “ Why do those arguing for more development and developer tax breaks feel the need to behave this way? Is raising questions in the face of new information a reason for name-calling? Can the town not bear a civil discussion of such an important issue?
I would like to think Princeton is better than that. Putting this energy into more imaginative solutions may be a start. What is so attractive about an investor-owned luxury rental housing complex with the legal minimum of “affordable” rental apartments?
Is that the best we can do?