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What's the matter with Princeton?




The council has decided to introduce by ordinance a redevelopment plan for the Tennent-Roberts campus, the Whitleley gymnasium and 92 Stockton St, parcels that were included in the Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) Area in Need of Redevelopment (ANR), at a Council meeting on Monday 8th July.

This decision, at very short notice during a major holiday weekend, made presumably after their closed-session meeting with their lawyer last week, seems hard to explain.

 

The agenda packet for the meeting of Mayor and Council on Monday, July 8 at 7 pm was posted online sometime after 4 PM on Friday, July 5.

 

Information on this ordinance begins on page 76. The packet is not very user friendly.

 

The Mayor and Council no longer allow for any public comment on Ordinance introductions, so it will be sent to the Planning Board for review in the current form. However, there should be some explanation or presentation by staff regarding the redevelopment plan on Monday evening. The meeting of Mayor and Council is in-person at 400 Witherspoon or accessed online here. You also can access the meeting by going to the town’s homepage and clicking on the July 8 date on the calendar.

 

We believe it is scheduled to be reviewed by the Planning Board for consistency with the Master Plan on July 18.

The Public Hearing (approval of the Ordinance) is scheduled for the July 22 meeting of Mayor and Council.

Public comment will be allowed at that meeting, although based on past experiences, it is likely every effort will be made to push through approval on that evening.

 

The selection of the July 4th week to announce this action was clearly when the fewest number of people were paying attention, with many being away from Princeton for the long holiday weekend.

Unfortunately, this action is consistent with many other undemocratic steps to approve projects and push through major zoning proposals with the absolute minimum of public input, ignoring legitimate comment and concerns.

 

We are presently at a point in Princeton where historic districts are being encroached upon, entry level homes are being demolished by builders and replaced with the largest home possible for the lot, and where schools are likely to be overwhelmed by an influx of new students from the planned 1,000 new multi-family units, likely to be well in excess of 500, excluding the impact of this current proposal.

 

Despite his claims to the contrary, it is likely that this developer has requested a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) tax subsidy, which means, if granted, that the existing taxpayers in town will need to shoulder the new developments share of the taxes that would have gone to support the schools. Claims by the council that this is not the case mean that, as per Planet Princeton, the public is being gaslit.

 

The idea that developers are being given a tax break on the backs of other residents to develop a premier property in town is absurd.

It feeds the vicious cycle of increasing property taxes which contributes to the expense of living in Princeton, increasing the need for more affordable housing. (NB: The Avalon development at the former hospital site was built without a PILOT.)

 

The public process for the creation of this redevelopment project has been a charade.

The developer did present his project in October to an audience that was packed with friends and supporters. It represented a builder’s fantasy with a density level even exceeding other multi-family developments, to be placed in the middle of an entirely residential district. It is poorly conceived in terms of public safety, ignoring the fact that the development is bisected by a public roadway with the only egress for potentially 264 resident cars being on 206. In terms of environmental impact, it's hard to overstate the damage caused by clear cutting all the existing 20+ mature trees, including a number of publicly owned street trees. It glosses over that the property, with 70% impervious coverage, is being built on a hill and as a result it will tower at some points 70+ feet over adjacent properties and an historic district some 30 feet away.

 

The Council appears to accept whatever is requested by the developer, despite their obligation to secure meaningful benefits under this development statute for the town. The plan itself is very detailed but has been constructed in a vacuum with no input from residents directly impacted. For example, it states street trees are to be replaced, that is not meaningful it it requires luck and 50 years to replace what is being removed. There are many such well meaning, but poorly conceived sentiments throughout the plan.

Complying with the law to provide 20% affordable units is a legal requirement not something that needs incentivizing.

Despite this, our understanding is that this is what the Council intends to approve?

 

The Council and its predecessors promised when the original ANR for this property was approved, that the public would have a greater say in the development and its impact on the neighborhood than under a conventional development process. In a subsequent letter, the town promised that the neighbors will be consulted as part of the development process.

None of that has happened.

There are many broken promises, yet seemingly the project marches on.

 

There have been many attempts from the public at outreach to individuals on the Council and not one meeting has been held, often on so called ‘legal advice‘ grounds. Yet members of the Council have had numerous meetings with the developer, always making sure that they were off-the-record by having just three members attend, less that a quorum, that would require public notice and participation.

 

So we now find ourselves in a situation where approval for a project will be rushed through, signed off by a small number of individuals, and most likely rubber stamped by the Planning Board, in spite of the pending litigation over the attempt to rezone the very area that this building is proposed for?

 

We do not know if this is an attempt to create a ‘fait accompli ‘but it sure looks like it.

 

Once again, the public is being treated as a nuisance that needs to be put to one side or simply out-maneuvered.

The Council has no mandate for this project or the potential harm it will cause, let alone creating de facto tax increases for taxpayers.

They do it because they can, there is no opposition not even a person with any doubt.

Why they are so friendly to developers, who want to take advantage of Princeton’s excellent schools, so they can charge higher rents, yet not contribute to them, is a complete mystery?

 

We need other voices on the Council, the public needs to be represented and heard.

 

Please contact the individual Council members and Mayor and let them know where you stand?

 

 

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