This is Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson, who has scheduled a court date for April 29 to resolve a long-running issue in Princeton municipal planning: should AvalonBay be permitted to move forward with their plan to redevelop the former Princeton Hospital site on Witherspoon Street? (Update 4.3.13: this litigation has been suspended following a consent order between Princeton Council and AvalonBay)
Judge Jacobson has been the Top Judge in Mercer County ever since she took over from retiring Judge Linda Feinberg last year. She runs the Mercer ‘vicinage’, a legal territory that include 16 other judges and some 350 staff members. Jacobson is a graduate of Smith College and got her initial legal training at New York University School of Law. No stranger to controversy, Judge Jacobson hit the headlines in 2009 when she approved a lesbian couple who had got married in Canada to divorce in New Jersey, where gay marriage is not permitted. She also waded into the foreclosure scandal following the housing crash, by blocking banks who were ‘robo-signing’ foreclosure orders on New Jersey homeowners.
The latest case follows the decision in December from the Princeton Planning Board to deny AvalonBay permission to build a 280-unt apartment complex at the old Princeton Hospital site on Witherspoon St. The hospital, having existed for 85 years at the central Princeton site, was constrained by zoning in how it used the property, and decided in 2005 to move to a new location. A series of meeting held in 2006 allowed resident input into what might be built at the hospital site, and a list of requirements was put together that was intended to guide future development. The Planning Board decision to reject the AvalonBay proposal was made after a series of meetings, many of which were packed by members of a local residents group, ‘Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods’, who protested the AvalonBay Plan. AvalonBay appealed the decision earlier this year.
The issue has become a matter of some controversy, with former township mayor Bernie Miller accusing AvalonBay of having performed a ‘bait-and-switch sales pitch’ and residents writing to local news outlets to complain about their “arrogant, bullying attitude“. AvalonBay have, in turn, accused the Princeton Planning Board of acting capriciously, disregarding their own procedures to victimize a developer who did not follow ‘the Princeton Way’. Judge Jacobson now has to sort this out. She has made two separate decisions already, in each case ruling against Princeton’s objections, firstly to agree to an expedited court date, and secondly to allow affordable housing advocates, the ‘Fair Share Housing Center‘ to join the court case on AvalonBay’s side.
Here at Walkable Princeton, we look forward to having a decision made about the hospital site as soon as possible. Although the AvalonBay proposal isn’t perfect, it would allow 280 much-needed residential units to be added in a walkable location, including 56 affordable units. It is extremely unfortunate that this case must be decided in the courts, but it is likely that no matter what decision the Planning Board made on this matter, it would have been challenged in court. What we need now is a timely, fair decision so that we can move forward with the site. The alternative, that the derelict hospital continues to sit unoccupied, and Princeton loses the tax revenue that was generated from the site, is not acceptable. It’s hard to know what way Judge Jacobson will rule on the AvalonBay proposal*, but from the video of her we linked to from our Facebook page, we observe that she comes across as knowledgeable, intelligent, reasonably and human. Hopefully she will make a clear and fair decision.
* In a post to follow, we will examine the areas of contention from the AvalonBay court filing.