Tonight, the Princeton Planning Board will review the town’s plan to meet state-mandated affordable housing requirements. The plan has been developed over a period of several years, and envisages over 700 new housing units, as well as zoning changes to make it easier to add affordable housing in several areas. Although many of these proposals have been discussed in public meetings previously, the documents for tonight’s meeting provide an unprecedented level of detail about where and how the town will add new affordable homes. Among the sites for affordable housing is a major redevelopment at Princeton Shopping Center. According to the draft overlay, 200 new rental apartments will be built on the site of the existing Walgreens Pharmacy, which would be demolished, and rebuilt at a new location nearby.
The proposed housing at Princeton Shopping Center would be allowed as part of a new “AHO-5” zone. A four-story building would be constructed, adjacent to the ‘central courtyard’ of the Princeton Shopping Center. This building would replace the Walgreens pharmacy at the south-east corner of the mall. A new Walgreens pharmacy would be constructed fronting onto North Harrison Street, next to the southern entrance to the Princeton Shopping Center (see map above). Parking would be provided in a new structured parking deck, which would replace the existing surface parking lot. Visitor parking would be permitted at street level. At least 22% of the units would be designated as below-market-rate affordable homes, contributing to the town’s requirement to allow construction of affordable homes. The other apartments would be market-rate units.
In a memo to the Planning Board, the town’s chief planner noted that construction of homes in this location will allow people to live close to stores and workplaces, in an area that is well-served by transit (NJ Transit routes 605 and 606, FreeB jitney). By converting an existing developed area to a new use, the development will protect green space in other areas. New homes at the Princeton Shopping Center will also help support businesses there. The Planning Board will review the AHO-5 zone, as well as other measures required to implement the town’s fair housing plan, and pass comments to the Town Council. Council will hold a final public hearing on the ordinances next Monday, July 13. The Planning Board and Council are likely to move quickly, because the town must meet a tight deadline imposed by the NJ Superior Court to finalize the town’s fair housing plan.
Update – July 10, 2020 – After a 5-hour meeting, and substantial opposition from Clearview Ave residents, the Planning Board chose to eliminate the proposed concept plan for affordable housing at the south-east corner of the Princeton Shopping Center. The AHO-5 zone will still be created, and 200 new homes will be added somewhere within the Princeton Shopping Center site, but the revised ordinance provides greater flexibility about where they might be constructed. Council will consider the ordinance again on July 13.