The Princeton Planning Board approved an application for a three-home subdivision off Bayard Lane (aka Route 206) at their meeting on July 7. The meeting was a continuation of a hearing that began in February, and represents the latest attempt to develop this site, after a 2016 plan for duplex homes was withdrawn amid widespread neighborhood opposition. Neighbors who spoke at the hearing in February were also concerned by the latest plan. The issue of stormwater was raised over and over again, with nearby residents fearful that new homes would bring flooding after heavy rains.
The application is for three houses, accessed from a shared driveway near the intersection with Birch Avenue (map). The site is about half a mile from downtown Princeton, and the developer is proposing to replace and improve the sidewalk next to the property, which is currently sub-standard. The proposed houses would be four-bedroom single-family homes with front and rear yards, and connecting garages. The application was deemed to be fully conforming to the local zoning, with no variances required. An area behind two of the houses is designated by the state as protected wetlands, and would be permanently fenced-off and unavailable for use by the residents.
After the meeting in February, the applicant significantly revised the stormwater management plan. The town has strict regulations about necessary stormwater mitigations, which have been revised and strengthened recently. New developments must be able to retain and filter water leaving the site, and they must use ‘green’ features to achieve this. An underground detention system, which had previously been envisaged to drain the area in front of the homes was eliminated, in favor of collecting all stormwater in a ‘bioretention basin‘ at the rear of the site. The grading of the planned development had been changed, and paths and roads downsized or eliminated to reduce impervious area.
The stormwater management report for the application was 248 pages long, and included information about geology, the water table, soil borings, and computer modeling. The town’s own staff testified that the redeveloped site would reduce the rate of stormwater run-off from the site. Nevertheless, the Planning Board seemed skeptical. Had the applicant considered water run-off from adjoining properties? (Yes, that had been accounted for.) What about water running in from Bayard Lane itself? (That would be avoided by the grade of the site and a retaining wall.) Would the basements flood? (All structures would be built several feet above the seasonal groundwater maximum).
Despite all these considerations, several members of the Board still seemed unconvinced. David Cohen accepted that the proposal would reduce stormwater run-off for 2-year, 10-year and 100-year flood events, as the regulations required, but what about a 500-year storm? What if the entire local area flooded? Tim Quinn suggested that it might be better to have no houses at all. The applicant, Howard Rabin, responded, “We’ve worked hard to meet every regulation, in terms of setbacks or stormwater, you name it. I am asking for fairness now.”
After some discussion about whether the Board could or should ban basements in the new properties, the application passed on a an 8-1 vote. Tim Quinn voted against, and Zenon Tech-Czarny and Jack Taylor indicated that their ‘yes’ votes only came with great hesitation.
The approval comes amid ever-increasing vigilance about stormwater issues from the Princeton Planning Board. At the June 2 Planning Board meeting, an application to build three houses off Van Dyke Road got considerable scrutiny, despite a 200-page stormwater management report, and expert testimony that the development would reduce the rate of run-off. Some Planning Board members appeared to hope that new, even-more-stringent, wetlands regulations introduced by the state could be retrospectively applied to the development proposal. After much discussion, a decision on that application was deferred until September. Princeton Council is also developing a plan to establish a ‘stormwater utility’, which might levy fees on all property owners in town to provide funding to manage stormwater run-off.