Princeton Hospital moved to Plainsboro last year, ending a 100-year tenure in town. The old hospital complex on Witherspoon Street went dark, and has been left to slowly decay ever since. UMPCC, the organization which runs the hospital, had sold the site to developer AvalonBay Communities, Inc. AvalonBay runs over 170 apartment communities throughout the USA, including at Fox Run Drive in Plainsboro (pictured above). However, their plan for adding apartments in Princeton came unstuck in December of last year, when the Princeton Planning Board tossed out their site plan.
The cold of December has turned to the swelter of late June, and AvalonBay are back, with a new plan. This plan has already unanimously passed the Site Plan Review Advisory Board, and received qualified support from the Princeton Environmental Commission. Although the previous plan received negative feedback, a number of local residents have written to support the new plan, which has been substantially revised to take account of previous criticism.
We see quite a few positives in the new plan, which is the biggest opportunity for adding walkable housing in downtown Princeton in some time. The new plan would see the ugly old hospital tower replaced, would bring 56 much-needed affordable and 234 market-rate homes, a new park and entire new streets, and a significant tax ratable to the municipal budget. Adding homes on a bus line in walking distance to jobs and stores is also the green thing to do, after decades of building homes on fields and forests in developments accessible only by car. AvalonBay have additionally promised a LEED-silver and EnergyStar-rated development.
Nonetheless there are some outstanding questions, which we hope to ask during the upcoming Planning Board sessions:
- What sort of play equipment will be placed in the park on the corner of Witherspoon and Franklin for kids to use?
- How many covered bike parking spaces will there be?
- Will any spaces in the parking garage be dedicated to car-share vehicles?
- Will AvalonBay retain the right to switch residential units to a commercial purpose in the future, if that option becomes desirable?
We’re sure there will be plenty of questions and the meetings will be long, but it’s important to get this site right, because the Witherspoon corridor will be an increasingly important and active site in Princeton’s future. Most of all we hope the meetings can pass off in a civil manner. A group of opponents to hospital site redevelopment have promised a ‘rally’ outside the municipal office tonight, and have previously allied themselves with an out-of-town union to march in the streets against AvalonBay.
Although people have strong feelings and are well within their rights to give voice to legitimate criticism, some of the rhetoric has gone way too far and people have been unfairly insulted (go to 34’35” in this video of a recent Council meeting if you need an example). We don’t all have the same ideas about what is best for the hospital site, but people should be allowed to discuss the plan without fear of being abused. Let’s all be nice, and sort this hospital site out once and for all, for the benefit of the whole community!
Follow Walkable Princeton on Twitter (@walkprinceton) for our live-tweet of the first Planning Board hearing on the ‘Avalon B’ plan tonight, June 27 at ‘Witherspoon Hall’ (400 Witherspoon St) from 7 p.m! Further Planning Board hearings are scheduled about this site plan on July 11, 18 and 25.