In 2014, Princeton University donated a disused parking lot on Franklin Avenue (map) to the town of Princeton. The parking lot has not been used much since, but at their meeting on Monday night, Princeton Council took the first steps toward rezoning the land for housing. At a minimum, the site will be used for 80 units of affordable housing, but Council is also considering an alternative plan that would allow for up to 160 homes, including new ground floor retail at the nearby intersection with Witherspoon Street.
Affordable housing at Franklin Ave is required for the town to meet state-mandated ‘fair share’ housing targets. Princeton Council introduced an ordinance to create an “AH-6” zone, which would allow construction of 80 affordable homes in a 100%-affordable development on the old parking lot. At a forum held at Princeton Public Library earlier this year, housing experts explained that financing for 100% affordable developments can be hard to obtain, and a mixed-income development might be preferable. Local architects have been working to develop plans for a development that might include 80 affordable homes and 80 market-rate homes, for a total of 160 units. Princeton Council introduced a second ordinance on Monday night, for an “AHO-6” zoning overlay, which would potentially allow this additional density.
The AHO-6 overlay zone would encompass land adjacent to the Franklin Ave parking lot, which is currently the site of two 1930s-era housing projects of the Princeton Housing Authority (PHA). A joint project including this site would potentially allow more flexibility in what could be built on Franklin Ave, allow a better-integrated development, and resources to replace the aging PHA housing. The Chair of the PHA Board, Mr. Leighton Newlin, told Council that the PHA was committed to providing the best possible homes for its tenants, who include a high proportion of African American households who have lived in Princeton for generations. Mr. Newlin pointed out that the PHA site at Franklin Ave and Witherspoon St is “one of the most under-utilized in Princeton”, and would offer a good opportunity for ‘Smart Growth’ redevelopment as part of the AHO-6 plan.
Buildings of up to five stories (55-ft) would be permitted as part of the AHO-6 overlay. A minimum of 80 units of affordable housing would be required, and no more than 160 units in total would be allowed. Redevelopment as part of the AHO-6 overlay would replace the existing Franklin Ave surface parking lot, and the PHA ‘Franklin Terrace’ and ‘Maple Terrace’ developments. The full site would have to be redeveloped as part of a single, cohesive project. Parking would be included on site at a minimum of one space per housing unit. Retail uses would be permitted on the ground floor where the site fronts onto Witherspoon Street, with up to 10,000 sq ft of commercial space allowed. The adjoining properties on Witherspoon St currently include law offices, and the “Hilton’s” clothing store.
Princeton Council will hold a public hearing and vote on the proposed AH-6 zone and AHO-6 overlay at their meeting on July 27. Concerns about the proposal were raised on Monday night by the Chair of the Princeton School Board, Beth Behrend, and local resident Kip Cherry, who fear that the extra homes and retail might overload the school system and create parking problems.