Sites for new affordable housing in Princeton were listed last week in a joint meeting of Council and the Planning Board. In response to a statewide legal process, Princeton is submitting a new Housing Plan, to ensure that the town is protected from “builder’s remedy” lawsuits, which might allow a developer to overturn local zoning.
Attorney Kevin Van Hise, who represents the town for affordable housing litigation, advised that there have been new developments in Mercer County Court. Judge Jacobson, who has been hearing the cases related to local housing plans, has apparently recognized that it is impossible to establish firm affordable housing numbers for each municipality by the end of the year. The job of establishing so-called ‘Third Round’ obligations, which has been ongoing since 1999, will now drag on into the new year. But Mercer County has appointed ‘special masters’ to advise on affordable housing numbers. One of these ‘masters’, Richard Reading, has produced new numbers, which challenge the earlier analysis of David Kinsey for Fair Share Housing Center. Whereas Kinsey suggested that Princeton should build 1,000 new affordable units, Reading says 424 units are enough.
The court will continue to hear arguments to establish the final number, but Princeton must submit a draft Housing Element to the court by December 7. Van Hise said that Judge Jacobson will recognize the legitimacy of a Housing Element if it meets either the number of units suggested by Kinsey, or the number suggested by Reading. That means Princeton has a choice: to propose a Housing Element with 1,000 affordable units, or a plan with 424 units. Despite Princeton’s vaunted commitment to affordable housing, the planners are going with the figure of 424 units, to be built through 2025.
As Princeton has approved a number of affordable housing developments in recent years, it is not so hard to reach 424 units. In practice, Princeton only has to build 339 units to achieve the target, because the town has earned ‘credits’ by building certain special classes of affordable housing. The 56 units of affordable housing already approved in the controversial AvalonBay development count toward the obligation, as do the 56 units in Princeton University’s Merwick-Stanworth campus (pictured above). Senior housing at Harriet Bryan House, which opened in 2007, adds more. There is also new affordable housing at Copperwood, and under construction at 255 Nassau Street.
That means that planners are only envisaging new affordable housing construction at a small number of sites:
- 10 units next to the Princeton Shopping Center at North Harrison and Terhune (built under 20% affordable set-aside rule).
- 5 units on the Franklin Avenue parking lot (built under 20% affordable set-aside rule).
- 40 units at Princeton Community Village (100% affordable development).
- 30 units at the so-called ‘S2 site’ at northern Mt Lucas Road (built under 20% affordable set-aside rule).
If this plan moves forward, Princeton will continue its decades-long tradition of zoning most affordable housing at non-walkable sites at the edge of town. The largest number of new affordable units will also be concentrated at the existing 100%-affordable Princeton Community Village. More importantly, by aiming for the lower target of 445 affordable units, Princeton is only just surpassing the most conservative interpretation of the legally-required bare minimum. At the meeting last week, local resident Anne Waldron Neumann questioned why the town was setting a target of 445 units, when a minimum of 1,600 people are currently waiting on local lists for affordable housing. Given this difference, Princeton’s housing plan looks more like a non-housing plan, but elected officials in attendance at the meeting did not seem particularly concerned.