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Clarification requested from Princeton council on their recent letter regarding the PTS site

Princeton council published a response to our proposal for affordable housing. In that response there were a number of claims about what they believe are benefits of a luxury 'market rate' development combined with the NJ State mandate for 20% of units to be affordable housing.

This is our request to clarify some details of that letter.

While there has been much debate over how the TRW site on Stockton should be developed, all the proposals, including adaptive re-use and the designation of the site as affordable housing, have come from one side – the residents and taxpayers of Princeton.

The overarching concern from residents has been that the final project complements the diverse nature of the area both in terms of scale, mix of residents and topography. Our request is “first do no harm”.

There is no proposal from the developer that has been shared with the people of Princeton, yet we are told by Princeton council that the project will:

Be an inclusionary project of both market-rate and affordable units.

Be built at densities consistent with smart growth, which will convey significant environmental and economic benefits due to the walkability.

Incorporate robust stormwater mitigation systems.

Contain enhanced green technologies such as a high performance, energy-efficient building envelope, solar panels, building electrification, green roofs, etc.,

Be high quality design and architectural features integrating the new development aesthetically into the neighborhood and ensuring the beauty of this Gateway to Princeton.

Include the preservation of mature trees, especially street trees, certainly a priority for the municipal negotiating team.

Convert a previously tax-exempt property into one that generates significant annual income for the town, helping offset Princeton homeowners’ tax burden.

These claims are to be welcomed but what are they based on.

Under the Area-in-Need-of-Redevelopment designation, there are supposed to be additional benefits to the community to support a generous zoning variance. It is not clear from this letter what these benefits will be?

The requirement for the development to include 20 percent affordable housing is part of the town’s legal settlement with Fair Share Housing. It is a requirement, not an ANR benefit. And it is temporary, reverting to the developer after only 30 years.

Smart growth suggests better use of land in towns. All proposals that have been made by PCRD offer a higher density use than what was there previously. But at what level will the density exceed the balancing benefits? While these sites are close to town and its many restaurants, they are not walkable to supermarkets or schools, and we should expect the number of cars and traffic to rise proportionately with the number of residents.

Stormwater mitigation systems are now mandatory. But using mechanical solutions as a replacement for old growth trees does not further a climate friendly agenda. People want to live in healthy ecosystems with trees.

Enhanced green technologies such as a high performance, energy-efficient building envelope, solar panels all sound great, but the main site, where the majority of development will be centered, is relatively small at just over 3.5 acres. To understand if this will be meaningful, we need to understand the specifics of how this will be achieved.

The street trees are owned by Princeton and should already be protected by a strong Shade Tree ordinance. Not only should the street trees not be threatened in any way, if the town truly intends to prioritize the climate, the old growth trees on the property should be protected as well.

The change in ownership from a tax-exempt institution to a for-profit developer will only relieve the burden of current taxpayers if the town doesn’t negotiate a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT). We need every developer to pay their fair share of our school taxes if Princeton is going to maintain a premier school system.

Once there is a proposal, we will have a better understanding of how these concerns may be addressed. Creating a redevelopment plan for the sites and enumerating the specific benefits to the town will be an important safeguard for all Princeton residents who are concerned with rising costs of living and the gentrification of the more affordable areas to live.

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