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Letter: We Don't Need FortressAvalon

Highlights of AvalonBay hearings at the Planning Board on December 13.

To the Editor:

Some highlights of AvalonBay hearings at the Planning Board on December 13 (final hearing tonight, 7:30):

First, Peter Steck, urban planner for Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods, argued that AvalonBay requires multiple variances which AvalonBay hasn’t sought---permissions to deviate from zoning. “This application,” he stated, “is really not ready to be heard.” Some variances, he said, can only be requested from the Zoning Board of Adjustment (beyond Planning Board jurisdiction).

He also argued that AvalonBay’s open space for “both public and private use” (the MRRO zone definition) falls short of the 20% minimum required—17.5% at best, since AvalonBay counts the public municipal sidewalk as its own open space (!), and more likely 14.1%, since open space between downstairs apartments and Witherspoon Street and Franklin Avenue is private (with private walkways to raised private patios). With this shortfall on public open space, the application violates Borough Code. Design Standards have special applicability because AvalonBay, choosing not to reuse the hospital, redesigned from scratch, with all options available (not just its figure-8 stumblingblock without publicly usable open space).

Robert Simon, PCSN’s land-use attorney, questioned Jeremy Lang’s Planner’s Report. He said it was “not independent work,” since Mr. Lang had quoted extensively—without attribution—the report submitted by architect Jonathan Metz. “The words are his,” Mr. Lang admitted, “but “I agree.” Messy: draw your own conclusions.

Public speakers gave new environmental information. Vincent Giordano, an environmental attorney with extensive experience in “due diligence” for major corporations, noted carcinogens in onsite groundwater, 2-4 times above state quality standards; soils have not yet been properly tested. Heidi Fichtenbaum, noting minimal costs associated with LEED-certification, said AvalonBay’s building was already “obsolete.” Holly Nelson unfurled a dramatic streetscape showing   FortressAvalon as a wedge in the surrounding neighborhood.

Anne Studholme, AvalonBay’s attorney, risked her reputation, whispering to Mr. Lang while Mr. Simon questioned him—and should have been called out of order.

Come speak. Princeton doesn’t need FortressAvalon.

Linda Oppenheim

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Alexi Assmus December 19, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Do the neighbors have Property Tax Assistance Corporation working for them?
David Keddie December 19, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Dear Ms. Assmus, You seem concerned that Avalon Bay won't be a good neighbor. My concern is with the terrible lack and terrible quality of rental apartments in walking distance of the university. My wife and I lived in any number of poor quality yet very expensive apartments in town. As a chaplain at the university I've known grad students and post-docs, often internationals who don't drive, who've faced racist landlords, leaking roofs, burst pipes, vermin, live wires, furnaces that repeatedly fail in winter, not to mention lack of amenities on site such as laundry. The first place we lived on Vandeventer had two burst pipes, one leaking roof, a failed furnace, no cabinets in the kitchen, mice, and draughty windows. Despite these deficiencies it cost as much as Avalon Bay will ask for nice new apartments. I've known a number of folks who've lived in the Avalon Bay communities in the vicinity of Princeton, driven out of town by it's unaffordable rental market and forced to commute to campus. Their experience with Avalon Bay is that is has been professional, so much so that friends chose to move to another Avalon Bay community when they relocated. That sounds much more attractive to me than the large number of individual landlords who do minimum maintenance on their Princeton rental apartments knowing that even with turnover every year there will always be another international grad student forced to rent in walking distance.
PrincetonIQ December 19, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Wonderfully stated. The opponents to this project cloak their comments in "we're just looking out for the community," but in reality they're thinking of themselves and not the community at all. Your viewpoint and perspective is fresh and refreshing.
PrincetonIQ December 19, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Actually, the neighbors formed a group that is trying to bully politicians into trying to convert property tax assessments into a government assistance program. Wish is horrific and a terrible misuse of time and energy, and misleading to the unfortunate neighbors who are paying lawyers to tell them what they want to hear, not the truth.
Alexi Assmus December 20, 2012 at 06:43 PM
I've had a different experience with rental apartments in Princeton. I lived in a terrific rental on University Place owned by the university when I taught there. We have some nice rentals in our neighborhood (the Tree Streets) and I see from the Town Topics that apartment are often priced less than the luxury apartments Avalon proposes. I know that the university has grown quickly recently, particularly in the sciences, and there must be many more grad students and post docs. The university is building over 300 residential units at Merwick/Stanworth, although I believe those are for faculty and staff. Those site plans are beautiful by the way --- many individual buildings, open space throughout with bikeways and walkways, green construction. I see the need for more rental apartments for grad students and postdocs. On the other hand 300 units (about the number zoned for at the former hospital site, as well as approximately what the university is building at Merwick/Stanwork) --- is over 10% of the current number of residential properties in the Borough ( ~ 2000 properties). Two large redevelopments and the number of residential units in the center of town increases by over 20%. Some in these center-of-town neighborhoods don't necessarily welcome that.

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