Palmer Square townhouse approval postponed again

Questions from council set back vote at least another week.

By: Jennifer Potash
   The developers agreement between Palmer Square and Princeton Borough over the long-disputed Hulfish North development is on hold for at least another week.
   The Princeton Borough Council continued its discussion of the agreement Tuesday but some members found areas needing clarification.
   The council directed Borough Attorney Michael J. Herbert to address the issues raised with Palmer Square. The governing body will take up the agreement again on Tuesday.
   Mayor Joseph O’Neill said Thursday that after the council reviews the list of clarifications at the next meeting, he will ask for a vote on the agreement.
   Under the developer’s 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 overall 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, Mr. Herbert said.
   Borough officials have said the proposed development will generate at least $60 million in new tax ratables for the borough and eliminate the eyesore of an uncovered parking garage facing Paul Robeson Place.
   Former Mayor Marvin Reed, who with then-Councilman O’Neill brokered the deal with Palmer Square’s principal owners Oded and Henry Aboodi, questioned the borough’s commitment to resolving the issue at Tuesday’s session.
   Following suggestions by council members David Goldfarb and Roger Martindell for more substantive additions to the agreement, such as a penalty clause if the developer fails to complete the project in five years, Mr. Reed warned the deal could collapse if changes went beyond clarifications.
   Mr. Goldfarb said the borough should not be afraid to request changes to get rid of ambiguous language. He also raised concerns about the period of time Palmer Square Management would have to place a tenant in an affordable-housing apartment. The proposed settlement could be interpreted as granting Palmer Square Management a 13-month grace period before it must place a lower income tenant, he said.
   Mr. Herbert said he "couldn’t fathom that interpretation," and the intent of the grace period is to allow Palmer Square Management to place someone in a temporarily designated unit if the permanent affordable unit is unavailable.
   Mr. Martindell said the requirement for the development to be completed in five years lacks any penalties or consequences should Palmer Square miss the deadline.
   Community members also commented on the agreement and urged the council to make changes.
   Mark Freda, a Fisher Avenue resident and former Borough Council member, continued to question the value of the deal to the borough if the infrastructure costs exceed Palmer Square’s contributions.
   Representatives of Princeton Future, the nonprofit organization that promotes a holistic approach to planning, expressed appreciation for the council’s efforts to broker a deal but urged further negotiation for a more inclusive and diverse development.
   Despite various fits and starts over the years to move the Palmer Square project forward, every earlier attempt ended in stalemate.
   The affordable-housing contribution was the central issue of dispute between the borough and Palmer Square. The borough held that Palmer Square must set aside 20 percent of the new units for affordable housing or make an equivalent cash payment. Palmer Square contended its obligation was a $57,000 affordable-housing contribution stemming from its 1990 Planning Board approval.
   Despite the delay Tuesday, Palmer Square officials did not view the extra discussion in a negative light.
   "I absolutely expect it to go through next week," said David Newton, vice president of Palmer Square Management.