Jul 26, 2014
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Hospital Site: 280 Units and Fit Into The Neighborhood?

Task force unveils a plan with 280 units in a walkable, open development, with businesses and low building heights facing the street.

Hospital Site: 280 Units and Fit Into The Neighborhood? Hospital Site: 280 Units and Fit Into The Neighborhood? Hospital Site: 280 Units and Fit Into The Neighborhood? Hospital Site: 280 Units and Fit Into The Neighborhood?


The task force charged with recommending zoning changes at the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street has outlined with a plan that could accommodate 280 apartments and also address the concerns of neighbors. 

Hospital Site MRRO Ordinance Task Force member and architect Bill Wolfe on Tuesday outlined a tentative plan would include three, four, five and six story buildings, with the highest building abutting the parking garage. 

"It's tight, but it's doable," Wolfe said, noting that the average size of the units is similar to that of AvalonBay's proposal last year. 

The plan also includes public open space and public pathways throughout the development to avoid the appearance of a "monolithic" or "gated" community.

The buildings along Franklin Street would be three stories tall, but only two stories tall would face Franklin Street.

An ad hoc group created concept plans for a site containing 250, 260, 270 and 280 units. But the focus is on the 280-unit plan because Princeton Council wants to maintain the density in order to procure 56 affordable units (20 percent) on the site.

The plan was created simply to show what could be built on the site, with an eye to then amending the ordinance to achieve a desirable planning board application.

The task force will make zoning recommendations to Princeton Council. Should Council endorse those recommendations, the revised ordinance proposal would go to the planning board to review for adherence to the master plan before Council could vote to adopt the changes.

No final decisions have been made by the task force, but the group has discussed that it may like prospective developers to meet the following requirements:

  • minimum of 12,000 sq. ft. of retail/non-residential space on the ground floor along Witherspoon Street (up to 24,000 sq. ft allowed)
  • minimum of three residential buildings
  • Thirty percent of the site would be public open space 
  • walkways allowed between buildings, but must be above the ground floor
  • minimum distances required between buildings and across open space. 
  • building length could not exceed 150 feet (except along building abutting parking garage)

Now it will up to the task force to write the new zoning requirements in a way that will result in a development that will be amenable to the Princeton community. 

"What matters most is how it looks, how it feels walking down the sidewalk," task force member Gail Ullman said. 

Officials and members of the public also feel strongly that redevelopment should include energy conservation. To achieve that goal, Wolfe suggested that the ordinance could allow 260 units but offer a 20 unit bonus if the developer follows Princeton's energy conservation recommendations. Another resident suggested that if a developer chooses not to pursue the density bonus, Princeton could subsidize the four additional affordable housing units, to keep with the 56 units Council wants. 

The caveat is that AvalonBay, whose plans to redevelop the site were rejected by the planning board in December, could appeal the rejection within 45 days of it being finalized. Should the developer prevail, the company could build under the guidelines of the existing ordinance.

Hospital officials do not object to amending the ordinance, but say their priority is not devaluing the sale price of the property.

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