Elm Court II rezoning in works

Amendments would pave way for 68 more housing units.

By: David Campbell
   Master Plan amendments are in the works to incorporate a court-mediated settlement permitting the Elm Court II senior-housing development on Elm Road to proceed into Princeton’s long-range community vision.
   The Master Plan Subcommittee of the Princeton Regional Planning Board on Wednesday recommended amendments that could lead to zoning changes in Princeton Borough and Princeton Township that protect the senior development from further legal challenges and nearby homeowners from future encroachment, said David Kinsey, a trustee of Princeton Community Housing.
   "This is a good news story of a positive next step to the creation of Elm Court II and the protection of the surrounding neighborhood," Mr. Kinsey said.
   The subcommittee on Wednesday considered the amendments in accordance with a settlement brokered in December by Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg that permits 68 new low-income senior-housing units to be constructed at the 89-unit Elm Court.
   Further expansions of Elm Court are prohibited under the settlement, which was agreed to last year by PCH, the borough and township, the Princeton Regional Planning Board and the Mountain Brook Homeowners Association. The settlement also preserves objectors’ rights to challenge any future municipal actions on the proposed expansion.
   The homeowners association filed a lawsuit in March 1999 challenging the Planning Board’s December 1998 decision to create a property subdivision and easement behind Elm Court for a new 7½-acre lot.
   The court challenges are not over, however.
   In March, plaintiffs from that original suit filed papers in the Appellate Division of Superior Court seeking a re-examination of the December settlement.
   Plaintiffs Richard Barrett and Tim and Linda Patrick-Miller, all of Rosedale Lane, and the Sierra Club of Central New Jersey are seeking to have the settlement thrown out on grounds the borough and township illegally diverted public open space bought with state Green Acres money, failed to hold a public hearing on the settlement and bargained away municipal powers.
   R. William Potter, attorney for the plaintiffs, said Wednesday he made a settlement offer in mid-April that the municipalities and PCH currently are reviewing, but he would not discuss details of the offer.
   On Wednesday, the Master Plan subcommittee agreed by consensus to recommend Master Plan amendments that encourage the expansion of Elm Court to 157 total units with no further construction near the single-family Hunt Drive-Winfield Road neighborhood in accordance with the development’s founding covenant.
   The subcommittee also recommended amendments to the Master Plan encouraging zoning changes that would expand an existing senior overlay zone in the township and create one in the borough making Elm Court and its expansion, which straddle the two municipalities, a conforming use.
   In addition, the subcommittee also agreed to recommend Master Plan amendments extending the conservation of the adjacent Henry Smyth Preserve, approximately 10 acres in size, for 25 years. The land was deeded to the borough with the proviso it remain open space until about 2025, Mr. Kinsey said.
   The Planning Board is expected to hold a public hearing on the proposed Master Plan changes in late June. If it adopts the changes, the borough and township could approve the new senior-housing overlays as recommended, after which a formal application for Elm Court II would be submitted to the Planning Board.