Hulfish North vote is delayed

Hearing on townhouse plan slated to resume Feb. 3.

By: Jennifer Potash
   The agreement between Princeton Borough and Palmer Square over construction of Hulfish North luxury townhouses hit a few bumps Tuesday as residents urged the Borough Council to go back to the negotiating table.
   The Borough Council held a public hearing on the pact Tuesday. The council continued the hearing to its Feb. 3 meeting, when it is expected to vote on the agreement.
   Under the agreement, Palmer Square will add 10 affordable-housing units within its downtown properties, which include efficiencies and one- and two- bedroom units. The units, under state law, will remain in the affordable-housing inventory for between 20 and 30 years depending on the size of the apartment.
   After receiving approvals for the project, Palmer Square has five years to complete it. The developer will also contribute $137,000 for a new sewer line on Spring Street, $306,000 in sewer-connection fees, $71,000 for past improvements on Chambers Street and $10,000 for improvements to Paul Robeson Place.
   For its part of the agreement, the borough will support Palmer Square’s request before the Planning Board to add 5,000 square feet, or another three units, to the project. Also, the borough will defend the settlement if it is challenged in court — but the borough will not pay for Palmer Square’s legal expenses as the developer originally requested, Borough Attorney Michael Herbert said.
   Several residents spoke out against the agreement Tuesday and urged the council to continue negotiations.
   Mark Freda, a former Borough Council member who participated in negotiations with Palmer Square during his tenure, posed a dozen questions about the agreement, which he argued mostly benefits Palmer Square. Earlier in the evening, Mr. Freda lost a bid to be appointed to the Borough Council seat left vacant when former council member Joseph O’Neill was sworn in as mayor.
   "Developers develop and take risks," Mr. Freda said. "Palmer Square is trying to transfer so much risk to the borough."
   Many of Mr. Freda’s points were the subject of intense negotiations for several years, Mr. Herbert said.
   Palmer Square is taking on a fair amount of risk if one looks back at it’s 68-year history, said Mayor O’Neill.
   "If anyone knows of a development in a community in this state that took 68 years to complete, please tell me," Mayor O’Neill said.
   Borough Councilman Roger Martindell, who drafted his own lengthy list of questions, said he would bring them up at the next meeting.
   For moral and aesthetic reasons, the borough should reject the pact and begin anew, said Sheldon Sturges, a resident of Palmer Square and co-chairman of Princeton Future.
   "Placing a big battleship of 100 town homes for millionaires in the heart of our town is simply not just," said Mr. Sturges, who said he was speaking for himself, not for Princeton Future. He said he advocates a development that will serve a variety of income levels. Also, the development should include a realignment of Paul Robeson Place to a narrower street more hospitable to pedestrians and bicyclists, Mr. Sturges said.
   Pierna Thayer, a member of the borough’s Affordable Housing Board, said asking for 20 affordable units — rather than 10 — out of 100 market-rate units is a reasonable request for the borough to make of Palmer Square.
   "I find it offensive," she said of the proposed 10 units.
   Council President Mildred Trotman said she wished the borough could have gained more affordable housing in the deal but added the borough could have ended up with nothing if the matter had gone to court.
   Sidney Willis, chairman of the borough’s Affordable Housing Board and a former state housing official in the Cahill and Byrne administrations, praised the borough for fighting for an agreement that added affordable-housing units to the borough inventory rather than a cash contribution or a provision to locate the affordable units in another community.
   The agreement has a Jan. 30 deadline for the parties to act.
   Mr. Herbert said he would call Palmer Square’s attorney, Henry Hill, to explain the borough sought the extra time to Feb. 3 to allow the public more time to comment and ask questions about the agreement.
   But reopening negotiations may be unlikely, Mr. Herbert said, as the Palmer Square owners have not expressed a desire to continue them.