Why Did AvalonBay Walk Away From Court Fight With Princeton?

AvB_Princeton

Are we all friends again?

AvalonBay and Princeton have entered into a settlement that will suspend AvalonBay’s litigation that had threatened to see the two sides square off in Mercer County Court at the end of April. The court case related to the Princeton Planning Board’s decision to reject AvalonBay’s redevelopment plan for the former Princeton University Medical Center site on Witherspoon Street. We are relieved that a costly court battle has been avoided, but we can’t help wondering: what made AvalonBay decide to give up on the court fight at such a late stage?

Although we don’t have any insider information about what is going through the minds of AvalonBay senior management, we can speculate based on the available documents. AvalonBay seemed to have a fairly strong case (you can find their full court filing at PlanetPrinceton here). Several members of the Princeton Planning Board supported their application, purely because they thought AvalonBay would defeat them in court.  Yet Princeton was not giving up without a fight, and it looked like a judge would have to decide whether the Planning Board decision was fair or not.

AvalonBay’s court filing definitely played the victim card. They complained that they had been treated unfairly for not doing things ‘the Princeton Way’. The Princeton Planning Board, in their written justification for denying the application, accused AvalonBay of presenting a plan that “excludes the public and turns its back to the broader neighborhood”. Some of this is barely better than playground name-calling. What was the factual basis for the Planning Board decision, and was it reasonable?

The Planning Board Decision And The ‘Design Standards’

The Planning Board decision rested on two key reasons: (1) The AvalonBay plan did not include sufficient routes for pedestrians to circulate around the site, and (2) AvalonBay did not provide sufficiently detailed schemes of their plan to allow it to be properly evaluated. Of these two reasons, the second appears extremely weak. The Planning Board could easily have asked for more detailed explanation at any point, but did not do so. We doubt that this reason would have stood up in court.

That takes us to the primary reason: the lack of pedestrian circulation. In 2006, based on citizen input, a list of ‘design standards’ was drawn up to guide future development of the site. One of these ‘design standards’ required ‘pathways that provide linkages between and through the development as well as the surrounding neighborhood’. We previously discussed how the AvalonBay plan had many features in common with Holder Hall, a much-loved Princeton University landmark. Like Holder Hall, the AvalonBay proposal was one large building with two courtyards in the middle. However, the AvalonBay plan did not afford as many opportunities for pedestrians to enter these central courtyards. In fact, just one entrance was provided.

AvalonBay’s first line of attack was to argue that the Design Standards were never intended to be a set of hard-and-fast rules that a developer would have to follow. AvalonBay cited numerous statements by Princeton official talking about how the Design Standards were, for example, ‘really suggestions’. The lawyer for Princeton Borough, Henry Chou aadvised that the Design Standards were unenforceable on this project. Princeton Borough Council also neglected to take an opportunity to try to strengthen language in the zoning ordinance relating to the Design Standards, believing them to be inherently unenforceable. However, although there may have been some confusion about whether the Design Standards were rules or a wish-list, by the time of the Planning Board’s decision, the Township attorney, Gerard Muller, was advising that the Design Standards were indeed enforceable. The language in the site ordinance seems to support his view, stating, “the following criteria and standards shall be used by all municipal agencies in reviewing application…” Based on this word ‘shall’, we think that AvalonBay would have failed to show in court that the Design Standards are non-binding.

How Much Pedestrian Circulation Is Required?

If the Design Standards do apply, was AvalonBay’s application acceptable?  It really depends on whether you accept that the AvalonBay plan had the necessary “linkages between and through the development as well as the surrounding neighborhood”. There is some vagueness here. There were clearly linkages between the development and the surrounding neighborhood. There were also linkages through the development, if you include a route along the service lane and through the parking garage. As such, the AvalonBay application may have fitted within the letter of the law. The Planning Board written decision addresses this point with hyperbole, arguing that such a pedestrian linkage would represent ‘a public safety disaster’. That is a very subjective opinion, and one that we think would not have found favor with the judge.

There is another problem with the Planning Board decision on this point: they take 4 1/2 pages to argue why the AvalonBay application did not meet the requirement for sufficient pedestrian linkages. The Design Standards are legally unenforeceable if they are vague, and if it requires 4 1/2 pages to argue a point, that probably means it relates to a vague standard. Nonetheless, only the judge would be in a position to rule on this matter.

Does ‘Mount Laurel’ Legislation Trump The Design Standards?

As expected, AvalonBay argued that the Design Standards were in violation of State law, known as the ‘Mount Laurel’ statutes, which prohibits zoning requirements that would add unnecessary cost to a development that includes affordable housing. The AvalonBay plan would have included 56 units of affordable housing. The Planning Board decision pre-emptively addressed this potential argument, by pointing out that a redesign of the plan to include improved pedestrian circulation would have been no more costly than the original proposal. This would appear to be a strong argument, that we think would give Princeton victory on this point.

AvalonBay also argued that the development should go ahead because the 56 units of affordable housing were required to fulfill Princeton’s plan to provide affordable housing. This is not a very strong argument, because the 56 units of affordable housing could be provided by anybody- it doesn’t have to be AvalonBay that gets to build them.

Trying To Guess The Outcome

It appears to us that AvalonBay had a slight advantage with their litigation. Court cases are hard to predict, however, and it seems likely that AvalonBay came to the conclusion that a negotiated re-application might result in quicker progress. There is another possibility, which is that AvalonBay don’t want to upset people in Princeton by using legal force to get their way. We doubt AvalonBay would do anything for sentimental reasons, but AvalonBay might have other future applications in mind and don’t want to ruin their relationship with Princeton municipal officials.

A key advantage for AvalonBay of pursuing a re-application in the context of the current ‘consent agreement’ is that it may be exempt from re-zoning of the hospital site. In January, an ad-hoc committee was appointed by the Princeton Council to make recommendations on changes to the hospital site zoning. This committee met several times and considered a number of recommendations, including reducing the maximum number of allowed units from its current limit of 280, and, among many other additional regulations, banning any possibility of a drive-through bank on the site. Although no final report appears to have been issued by this committee (the issue was apparently on hold pending the AvalonBay litigation), these new zoning ordinances might have applied to a future application if AvalonBay lost in court. Perhaps AvalonBay considered that the best way to get a profitable, 280-unit development built was by going back to the table and trying to find a plan that will make everybody happy.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As of today, the future development of the hospital site is not clear. AvalonBay and the Princeton Council have apparently been working behind closed doors to come up with a new plan for the site that would  be submitted to the Planning Board for review in May. Both sides would be bound by a ‘consent agreement’, the terms of which have not been published. Based on statements from Mayor Liz Lempert, a team from AvalonBay are revising their plan to be more objectively compliant with the Design Standards. Presumably AvalonBay believe that by conforming to the Design Standards, they will win approval from the Planning Board to move forward with a development. If the Planning Board approves their new plan during the summer, ground may be broken on the development before the end of the year.

This timeline assumes that a new plan would meet with approval from the Planning Board- which is not a sure bet. During the hearings on the previous AvalonBay plan, statements from members of the public at the Planning Board meetings were overwhelmingly negative. The Planning Board Decision claims to be independent of the public testimony, but it is hard to imagine that the individual members of the Planning Board were not influenced by vocal opponents of the plan into taking a narrow and strict interpretation of the Design Standards. Given the large number of regulations and ordinances relating to the site, the Planning Board could give AvalonBay another runaround, wrapping the project in red tape, and using administrative process to stall development. AvalonBay has previously claimed that they must get the green light on the project before the summer, or they will give up on the development. Skeptical Planning Board members might reason that a little more stalling might be enough to chase AvalonBay out of town. However, AvalonBay could still re-activate their dormant litigation in this eventuality.

Even if AvalonBay can somehow get past the Planning Board, we predict another court battle down the road. ‘Princeton Citizens For Sustainable Neighborhoods’, a protest group that opposes the AvalonBay development, is scrutinizing every aspect of the process and has retained legal representation. With the previous AvalonBay plan, this group prepared a list of alleged zoning problems that might have been sufficient to stall or block the project even if the Planning Board decision relating to the Design Standards had been over-ruled. Based on their track record, it seems likely that this group will seek to challenge any new AvalonBay plan in court. Members of PCSN are already complaining about the process for review of a potential new AvalonBay plan, even before any details of the plan have been published!

Members of the Princeton Community might want to get used to having the vacant hospital building around. It seems likely that it will be a long time before redevelopment of this site happens.

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49 Responses to Why Did AvalonBay Walk Away From Court Fight With Princeton?

  1. Alexi Assmus says:

    1. Please take a look at a 3D model of Avalon Princeton that was proposed at this past fall’s Planning Board Hearings to judge whether there were linkages through and crossing the site. Images are better than words here — which may be way it took 4 1/2 pages to discuss this without using an image. (link below)

    2. The standard way to achieve an infill redevelopment that excels and is neighborhood sensitive is to go through a neighborhood visioning process followed by a concept plan review at the Planning Board . At a minimum, Avalon should use the concept plan review process at the Planning Board (NJSA 40:55D-10.1) to vet sketches that are not yet finalized. It is critical that there is public input at the earliest stages for there to be a positive public consensus when fully engineered site plans are vetted at Planning Board Hearings. If the first time the public sees plans for the former hospital site redevelopment is when AvalonBay supplies fully engineered site plans in mid-May there will be no chance for dialogue — as it will be costly to change plans at that point.

  2. Alexi Assmus says:

    Note: On the 3D model, in link above, one cannot see the entrance from Witherspoon to the small interior courtyard that AvalonBay added to their plans in response to public and municipal officials comments that Borough Code required an open redevelopment. There was no way for the public to cross the interior courtyard, or the complex itself, as the entrance tunnel (with building above) deadended into the small interior courtyard.

    • Alexi, thanks for your comments. It’s clear there would have been no pedestrian path running through the building. There is, however, a pedestrian linkage through the development- along the service lane. This route may have been sufficient for the AvalonBay plan to be in conformity with the Design Standards. It’s potentially within the letter of the law, if not the spirit of the community input from 2006.
      Perhaps the most disappointing thing with the plan was that the parking structure would have remained in place. It deadens the streetscape along Henry Ave.

  3. Alexi Assmus says:

    I agree with you about the parking garage. So much better if it could come down (although the facade to the garage and plantings along Henry is well done). Princeton Future’s Witherspoon Street Corridor Study proposed taking the garage down in their six concept plans (2006) for the hospital site redevelopment. Here is one of their plans for a 111-unit redevelopment (their plans ranged from under 100 units to over 300 units). https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=322606597842357&set=a.244987112270973.36017.244985522271132&type=1

    Also take a look at what an award-winning architectural team can imagine for a 5.5 acre site (199 units). And they didn’t go above three floors plus loft. Great architectural design costs very little in the scheme of things. https://www.facebook.com/PrincetonCitizensFor/posts/299579646839580

    • The hospital site is zoned for 280 units, so these examples, though interesteing, are not really equivalent.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        Walkable —

        Looking at good architectural design is important. It develops taste. I wouldn’t say these drawings are irrelevant. Take a look at a wide range of well-designed town development: under “Urbanism” in the right-hand column: http://www.mparchitects.com/site/projects

        Over the long-term good architectural design is an inexpensive way of providing benefits to many, many people— they enjoy and are uplifted by the spaces it provides. People from all walks of life enjoy good architecture and the built environment around them. Very democratic.

      • Everyone wants good architectural design, but how do we define ‘good’? That which some people find beautiful and interesting will be loathed or held to be garbage by others. Asking for ‘good architecture’ is like asking for ‘sensible political ideas’. Everybody wants it, but there is no consensus about what it means.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        There is such a thing as different tastes and there is also such a thing as good taste. Education and experience helps develop good taste. Also a focus on pleasure and enjoyment.

      • That’s fine, but how do we define ‘good taste’? We can’t. We risk shooting ourselves in the foot by trying to regulate for ‘good taste’. For example, some local residents are arguing that redevelopment at the hospital site should take the form of multiple, small buildings. But as this blog post showed, Holder Hall, a landmark residential complex in Princeton University, is just one large building. If we regulated according to these self-appointed ‘good taste’ experts, we would prevent the possibility of a building like Holder Hall being built again.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        You choose an architect who has designed and built beautiful buildings, allow them to understand the parameters and to use a charette and neighborhood visioning to come up with a design. The creative drives the process and convinces the neighbors. There could be a beautiful design with a 3-sided courtyard (like Holder Hall but more open to the public passing along Witherspoon) and there could be a beautiful design with multiple buildings, I’m sure. Let a good architect create the design after getting public input at the beginning of the process, Don’t start with a design and then tinker with it to meet public concerns. Tinkering may make what is finally built less architecturally pleasing than what you started with initially.

      • Neighborhood visioning overseen by a respected architect already happened for re-use of the hospital site. What you describe only works if all parties are willing to compromise and accept the outcome of the visioning process.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        What exactly are you referring to?

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        Are you referring to hospital consultant Hillier’s concept plan? Or the concept plans that came out of the Witherspoon Street Corridor study — there were 6 of these and they ranged in density from 111 to above 300 (parking garage comes down)? Task Force architect Areta Pawlynsky believes that the Witherspoon Street Corridor Study reflected the public interest, while the Hillier plan reflected that of the hospital. Unfortunately there are 6 different concept plans in the Witherspoon Study — nothing to point to as final.

      • The public process involving architects and charettes produced Design Standards which are very much final. But certain residents refuse to accept the Design Standards, and as such, directly undermine the legitimacy of community-oriented planning.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        Who refuses to accept the Design Standards?

      • Two parties have challenged the Design Standards: AvalonBay, the developer, who petitioned to increase the maximum allowed density (a proposal which was rejected) and PCSN, a group of local people, who are petitioning to decrease the maximum allowed density.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        Walkable I don’t understand you. Sometimes you are very knowledgeable about the details and then sometimes not so. The density maximum is not a requirement in Design Standards which are part of the site plan ordinance. The density requirement is part of the so-called Bulk Regulations that sit in the Zoning Ordinance. The density is allowed to be “UP TO 280” units — so certainly 140 units, for example, would be allowed. Calling for less than 280 units does not violate Design Standards nor Bulk Regulations nor any of the requirements in the Zoning or Site Plan Ordinance for that matter.

      • ‘Calling for’ less than 280 units is fine. Lobbying to change the code to prevent 280 units, on the other hand, is attempting to undermine the community-oriented planning process (which involved respected architects and visioning) that determined the allowable density.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        Architects and others on the Hospital Ordinance Task Force argued that the maximum 280 units density unit number was reverse-engineered from the capacity of the hospital towers to be converted into apartments, an analysis that was done by architect consultant Robert Hiller hired by the hospital. Elected officials and municipal staff did not think carefully about what would happen if the hospital towers came down when planning for and writing the MRRO Zoning Ordinance, based on the Hillier concept plan (hospital stays up) for the site. The four times the surrounding-neighborhood density (280 units) in the Hiller plan was sold to the neighborhood and town on the premise that it was sustainable to reuse the towers. Only the Witherspoon Street Corridor Study, headed by Yina Moore, thought about that possibility of the hospital buildings (and the parking garage) coming down. That group and its work was separate from the work of the Princeton Health Care Task Force, headed by Marvin Reed — the hospital had representatives on the Task Force. The Witherspoon Study was sponsored by Princeton Future rather than the municipality. People believe the work of the Witherspoon Street Corridor Study is more reflective of the neighborhood’s desires.

        In any case, municipalities are allowed to rezone properties and they are allowed to decrease density when rezoning.

      • Here’s the problem: you say you want community-oriented planning, but it seems you don’t want to accept the outcome of past community-oriented planning. This sets a terrible example. If we’re going to do community-oriented planning in Princeton (a good idea) then we have to respect the outcome of community planning efforts. Otherwise, community planning is meaningless.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        There are two sets of community-oriented concept plans: a concept plan for the hospital towers staying up (hospital consultant Hillier plan) and a series of six plans for the buildings coming down (Witherspoon Corridor Study).

        The concept plan for the former hospital site that was used to construct the zoning ordinance (2005-6) was based on the reuse of the hospital building (hospital consultant Hiller plan). The Princeton Future group, Witherspoon Street Corridor Study, produced concept plans for the case of the hospital and garage coming down. The Corridor Study held community-wide meetings. These concept plans too were presented at the Planning Board. Do you not think of these Witherspoon Study concept plans as representing community-oriented planning?

      • Yes, but all these concept plans were part of a process that led to the formulation of the current site use plan. The community-oriented planning was a long, laborious process, designed to hear many voices, share lots of ideas, and ensure that the final outcome was a good compromise that worked as best as possible for everybody. Regardless of the process, the final results of the community planning are clearly formulated (well, fairly clearly, as this post points out, there is still some vagueness). To attempt to change the outcome of the community-oriented planning now is to undermine the possibility of doing community-oriented planning in future. You can’t be for community planning in theory but against it in practice. Orderly community-oriented planning is a good idea, because otherwise our planning descends into a who-can-shout-the-loudest session in Planning Board meetings + a bunch of court cases. But if certain groups refuse to accept community-oriented planning, then it definitely raises a question about whether community-oriented planning can ever work in Princeton.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        If the developer, AvalonBay, had followed the concept plan developed by the hospital consultant’s architect Robert Hillier for retaining the hospital towers, AvalonBay could have said that they followed community-oriented planning.

        Here is the hospital consultant’s concept plan:

        In any case, AvalonBay decided to demolish the buildings, so the hospital’s concept plan is no longer relevant. Community-oriented concept plans for the case of the hospital building being demolished were developed by the Witherspoon Street Corridor Study in 2005/6. There were six of these plans developed — from 111 unit density to over 300 units. Here is one of those plans:

        I can post the others individually if you wish to see them.

        The Witherspoon Street Corridor Study concept plans are fairly rough and there are six different ones. In my personal opinion, we need an architect-led charette to come up with a single concept plan for the infill development at the former hospital site. I highly regard the work of Moule and Polyzoides. Stefanos Polyzoides was both an undergrad and graduate student at Princeton University, knows the town as well as the hospital. Here is an example of his firm’s work — plans for a site about the size of the MRRO zone (~5 acres). 199 units, very open development, park in center, townhouses on edge, subterranean parking.

        http://www.mparchitects.com/site/projects/maxpac-square

        Check out other architecture for infill development, particularly that of Merwick and Stanworth in Princeton,

        There is more on the PCSN Facebook site (scroll down)

        https://www.facebook.com/PrincetonCitizensFor

        and on Moule and Polyzoides’ Projects page

        http://www.mparchitects.com/site/projects

      • Obviously a number of concept plans were discussed during the community consultation, but the overall outcome was described pretty clearly. You are attempting to pick and choose elements of the conversation that you personally preferred while ignoring the overall outcome. Site use is not contingent on the hospital tower being demolished or reused. Nor is it contingent on development at the Merwick site or anywhere else. We have to ask ‘Are we in favor of community-oriented planning’? Or are we only in favor of it when it gives the outcome we want, otherwise we will fight and lobby against it? PCSN demands a community-oriented process while simultaneously demanding that the results of a previous community-oriented process are overturned.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        I don’t understand your point. The concept plan to retain the hospital towers cannot be followed if the hospital towers are going to be demolished. Aren’t the other community-oriented concept plans for the case of the hospital towers being demolished (Witherspoon St Corridor Study) applicable?

        The Site Plan Ordinance is more general — the so-called Design Standards (the site plan ordinance) apply whether or not the hospital towers are demolished.

      • None of the concept plans were intended as an end-point for the discussion. The community-oriented planning was not intended to settle on a final plan for the site. How could it, when a buyer had not yet been found? Instead, the community discussion ended with a list of guidelines for development. These are the guidelines that are now being opposed by PCSN.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        Can you please give specifics?

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        … of guidelines that “are being opposed by PCSN”. …

      • The site use, agreed after extensive community consultation, allows for up to 280 residential units. PCSN has continually- continually- pushed for a reduced density, despite the number of 280 already having been a subject of intense discussion during the prior community consultation. PCSN has even lobbied for a lower density to be written into the site plan, thereby attempting to set their own standards beyond that which was agreed previously by the community. The site plan was written so as to have flexibility, and PCSN wants to take that flexibility away.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        All architects on the Hospital Ordinance Task Force, meeting Jan/Feb 2013, agreed that the zoning for the maximum number of units on the former hospital site was too high if the hospital buildings came down. The Task Force itself recommended a lowering of density in this case. This is not just a PCSN thing.

        Another way to look at it is that the current ordinances do recognize this: It is not possible to build 280 units of new construction and comply with the Code requirement that new construction be in scale and character with the surrounding neighborhood. This is where you can see that the 280 units applied to the hospital towers remaining.

        As they say in the pharmaceutical industry, “several orthogonal methods” (independent methods) came up a number of units for the former hospital site substantially lower than 280 given completely new construction.

        1. Task Force Architect Heidi Fichtenbaum’s drawings for the site (putting the number of untis at 120 plus)

        2. Smart-growth advocate Urban Land Institute’s position that anything more than two times the density of the surrounding neighborhood is a burden on the neighoborhood.

        The Jefferson/Moore neighborhood surrounding the hospital is at a density of 10 units/ acre. If we have 280 units at the former hospital site, that gives a density of between 40-50 units per acre depending on whether or not you count the parking garage in the acreage. This is more than 4 times the density of the surrounding neighborhood.(You probably should count the garage in any density calculation — but remember all of it is not going to be used for residential parking. If I remember correctly only 5/7ths of the acreage of the garage should be counted).

        3. Massachusetts state law defines as smart-growth anything above 8 units/acre (45 units) for single-family neighborhoods; ;anything above 10 units/acre or 56 units for duplex homes; and anything above 20 units/acre or 102 units for apartments. Constructing 280 units in the MRRO zone would be almost three times MA law’s highest standard for smart growth density.

        I’m happy to not get so numerical about this, but I’d like to see what would come out of a charette run by an architect with deep experience in infill redevelopment and a record of beautiful work. And that there be attention to the fact that when the hospital was negotiating with Borough Council on the rezoning of their property for sale — they submitted space calculations that promised 100,000 sf of public open space!

      • The most appropriate density is not decided by people in Massachusetts, or the backroom dealings of the unelected Hospital Ordinance Task Force committee, but by open community consultation. This has already taken place, which gave the current allowed density. PCSN’s multiple orthogonal efforts to undermine community-oriented planning ought to be ignored.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        You have a nice sense of humor Walkable. But Princetonians are an independent bunch and PCSN accepts no credit for the views of the Task Force.

        You are not correct, either, about the 280 units being community consensus. That number emerged for the benefit of the hospital. There was no community consensus on density as far as I can see. The Witherspoon Street Corridor Study presented six different plans and numbers to the Planning Board.

      • We are going round in circles here. We accept that there were different concept plans. We accept that there were different opinions about the density requirement at the public consultation. Of course there was, there are many different voices in a community. But the process led to a clear limit, which is 280 units. PCSN has continually lobbied for a lower limit, thereby attempting to over-rule the outcome of the community-oriented planning process. PCSN wants community-oriented planning, except when it disagrees with the outcome, in which case it doesn’t. Therefore PCSN joins with AvalonBay in attempting to change the allowed density of the site– you do realize that’s what you both have in common, right? Both of you have attempted to change the allowed density.

      • Alexi Assmus says:

        In response to Walkable comment: “Therefore PCSN joins with AvalonBay in attempting to change the allowed density of the site– you do realize that’s what you both have in common, right? Both of you have attempted to change the allowed density.”

        The difference is that AvalonBay is an S&P500 corporate REIT that is mass producing apartments for record profits for both their shareholders and executives (their Exec Vice Presidents are realizing $5-10 million a year by selling stock options in the company). Increased density drives profits. AvalonBay representatives are doing their jobs and are compensated through salary and stocks.

        PCSN in contrast is representing individual town residents interests in working to lower the density on the former hospital site; all work is volunteer; and the organization is funded by individual donations from over 100 town residents.

        Don’t get me wrong. I have enormous respect for corporations. They emerged following the US Civil War — providing mass production and mass distribution of goods.. The provide very good jobs. Succesful corporations are very long-lasting institutions; in most cases permanent institutions. However, they certainly are a different animal than local groups of concerned citizens.

      • AvalonBay is profitable because they make a product that people want to buy. If they were half as bad as PCSN claim, they would be out of business by now.

        PCSN got support from the Princeton community when opposing the ‘Avalon A’ design, and they won that fight. But AvalonBay has now compromised, and come back with a greener, more contextualized design. After burning thousands of dollars of their donors’ money on a spectacular court defeat last week, PCSN ought to consider whether it is time to declare victory and call it a day. Town residents recognize that Princeton needs the homes that AvalonBay is providing, and that AvalonBay has made significant compromises on their original proposal. 280 units was an agreed limit based on community consultation, and there is no appetite to downzone now.

  4. Alexi Assmus says:

    The hospital is zoned for “up to 280 units.”. 280 units is the maxim number allowed. 56 units of affordable housing may be provided whatever the density through a private-non-profit partnership.

  5. Daniel A. Harris says:

    This article is filled with misinformation. I treat only the first paragraph here. 1) As of 4/11/13. there is no settlement, much less a settlement agreement. 2) Attorneys are talking about various versions of a Consent Order that would stay (put on hold) litigation while the parties to the lawsuit discuss alternatives. 3) The parties are AvalonBay, Princeton, Princeton Planning Board, Princeton Council, and Princeton Citizens for a Sustainable Neighborhood. 4) AvalonBay has not “walked away” from litigation; they still have the option to return to the courts, as do other parties who are now negotiating a POSSIBLE REVISION to the original site plan.
    Conversations between AvalonBay and the other parties are still in early stages, with nothing (I repeat: nothing) on paper remotely resembling a site plan, much less a concept plan. A concept plan is desperately needed if AvalonBay is to demonstrate its good faith and if the other parties are to have anything substantive to discuss. As we all know, the first time around, AvalonBay avoided the concept plan phase of planning in a neighborly way with the Princeton community—with the result that it ran into heady opposition and protest. A concept review is desired but not required according to Municipal Land Use Law at 40:55D-10.1. Let us all hope that AvalonBay, this time, chooses to participate in an open, transparent discussion with the community by means of a concept plan and its public review.

    • Hi Daniel,
      Thanks for your feedback! The purpose of this article is to make the details of the court case accessible to a wider audience, who may have struggled previously to make sense of what exactly the court case was about. To make the article accessible, we necessarily omitted legalistic detail, such as the exact list of defendants, and the parties that were allowed to file amicus briefings (you seem to have omitted Fair Share Housing Center in your own list).
      Obviously there is speculation here, but we attempted to give our best possible appraisal of the case. As far as we know, no other local outlet has published an independent appraisal of the case. As for your point #4, we did point out that AvalonBay has the right to re-activate their litigation- but that is in the 14th paragraph and you didn’t go past paragraph #1. It would be great if you could read the whole thing and then add your comments!

    • Alexi Assmus says:

      I’d ;like to point out that although the hearing on Design Standards has been put on hold, AvalonBay pressured the municipality into signing a Consent Order that requires all briefing be done for the case even so, and on an extremely abbreviated timeline. Therefore, most of the legal costs will be incurred for the case as the research and writing of these lengthy legal documents is where the $$$ mount up — the Hearing itself would likely be only a few hours at most. The hearing on the jurisdictional claims will still take place on May 15th. The attorneys for all parties seem to agree that this should be gotten out of the way.

  6. Daniel A. Harris says:

    Do not expect rapid judgements as I work through this misguided analysis.
    Paragraphs 2 and 3. Misleading. AvalonBay played no “victim card.” They have been aggressive and demanding since March 2012. Everyone expected them to sue; it is their habit to litigate. The unnamed writer’s judgment that AvalonBay has a “fairly strong” case constitutes sloppy writing if nothing else. Attorney for Planning Board Gerald Muller wrote a strong Findings of Fact that denied AvalonBay’s claim that the site-plan ordinance (otherwise known as Design Standards) were/are vague, subjective, uninterpretable, etc. His brief says the same. Readers should note that language we have all now read about AvalonBay’s new proposals (by word only, as noted) show surprising compliance with the terms of the site-plan Ordinance (17A-193B). The Ordinance is not, apparently, vague or subjective; its terms are measurable, demonstrable, and enforceable. Among the Ordinance stipulations: building height towards the center, site-permeability with access “crossing the site.” AvalonBay has reportedly agreed to reduce the large interior court to such an extent that their “signature” swimming pool may turn into a “water-feature”—a significant retreat that demonstrates: 1) their ability to read ordinances, 2) their intense desire to build in Princeton at (nearly) any cost. This point is critical: building in Princeton should not come cheaply: Princeton officials should negotiate premium concessions for the privilege of building in Princeton and, indeed, branding Princeton as “AvalonPrinceton.”
    The writer’s charge that attorney Muller engaged in “playground name-calling” is jejeune. It shows as well the writer’s ignorance of the vocabulary of the site-plan Ordinance, which repeatedly stresses the importance of neighborhood continuities and respect for public spaces and access. Count the words! The writer apparently never had the opportunity to listen to, or read, AvalonBay’s attacks on Princeton’s admirable record on affordable housing.
    Provide me with your name and I will answer you directly.

    • Thanks Daniel, please keep reading…it’s quite a long article but we thought it was worth it to try to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of each side’s case. As for the new AvalonBay plan, we have no idea what it looks like, but it will be interesting to see how it takes account of the Design Standards. AvalonBay most certainly portray themselves as victims in their court filings. We included a link to the document.

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