Planning Board needs some guts

Cara Carpenito, Princeton
To the editor:
The Planning Board’s first hearing on AvalonBay’s new application began in pathos when chairperson Wanda Gunning thanked municipal staff for meeting an impossible schedule for reviewing the application. She noted that some of them (paid with our taxes) had “stayed up all night.”
   They deserved thanks. But not for a moment did any member of the Planning Board chastise AvalonBay’s chief attorney Robert Kasuba for imposing such a brutal schedule for review on the municipality.
   Will Princeton excuse the board? How could they dissent? They’re operating under the bullying terms of the consent order (4/18/13), which they may not even have read when they gave permission to sign off on it? Princeton Council did the same thing.
   Why is the consent order outrageous? Point four: “ . . . If the Planning Board approves the application and litigation is filed challenging that approval, AvalonBay, at its option, may continue prosecuting this current litigation while, if it so chooses, defending the application in the subsequent [new] litigation [Avalon first filed a lawsuit on 2/19/13 against the former Planning Board for its 7-3 denial of “Plan A,” 12/19/12]. If they Planning Board denies the application or [!!!] imposes conditions on the approval of the application its approval that AvalonBay opposes, AvalonBay, at its option, may continue with the current litigation [on Plan A] while, if it so chooses, filing litigation challenging the Planning Board’s denial of the application or conditions imposed on an approval of the application . . .”.
   So: AvalonBay threatens further litigation against the Planning Board if it doesn’t like any new conditions of approval? Is this a loaded gun, or what?
   Conditions of approval are routinely attached to approvals. What if AvalonBay “opposes” the condition proposed by both the Site Plan Review Advisory Board and the Princeton Environmental Council that AvalonBay build to Energy Star standards, version 3 (issued by the Environmental Protection Agency), no matter what? Or the PEC’s proposed condition that AvalonBay provide a minimum of 200 bike spaces (less than one bike per unit)? What about SPRAB’s proposal for opening a public archway through Building 2 to the piazza? And many more proposed COA’s to make this gargantuan hulk a smidge more acceptable.
   This Planning Board has little leeway to request modifications, much less deny the application. A Packet article on 6/28/13 said: “Earlier in the week, Mayor Liz Lempert dismissed a notion that the Planning Board hearings were a mere formality. “It’s not any different than any other Planning Board application . . .”; “I’m not going to prejudge what the Planning Board’s going to decide.” But as AvalonBay told the Planning Board (6/27), it held private meetings with the mayor, attended variously by four members of the Planning Board, the chairs of SPRAB and the PEC. Was AvalonBay’s new plan pre-approved — no matter what they planned to submit (submission on 5/20/19).
   When SPRAB formulated its report without municipal staff input, Bill Wolfe said it right: “This sets a very bad precedent.” The Planning Board needs some guts.
Cara Carpenito