PRINCETON: Town expects affordable housing plan to be filed the first part of next year

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Princeton expects to file its affordable housing plan with a Mercer County judge in the first part of next year, this to comply with a state Supreme Court ruling in March affecting how municipalities provide housing opportunities for moderate to low income earners.
The plan will demonstrate how, at a variety of sites in town, affordable housing either is built already or under construction. For instance, the 280-unit AvalonBay development going up on Witherspoon Street will contain 56 affordable units.
In addition, the plan will point to opportunities for new housing, including through possible zoning changes along Route 206 out to the Montgomery border to encourage residential development. Another opportunity the town has pointed to is rezoning Princeton Community Village, a low to moderate income housing development off Bunn Drive, to allow for the construction of 40 more new units there.
In both of those cases, the town council would need to change the zoning.
Princeton and other New Jersey towns need to come up with such plans to comply with a state Supreme Court decision in March that said state judges, not the Council on Affordable Housing, will make sure towns are meeting court-mandated requirements to provide affordable housing opportunities to satisfy regional needs.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson, sitting in Trenton, will need to approve the plan at a bench trial. Her’s is a critical decision to spare Princeton from facing builder’s remedy lawsuits for not making housing opportunities available that the state Supreme Court has mandated down through the years in its series of Mount Laurel decisions. In such lawsuits, a developer could be allowed to bypass local zoning regulations to construct a housing project.
“This was a plan that was developed under the pressure of litigation, so it’s not the be-all and end-all for affordable housing in Princeton,” Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said Thursday on what the town will present to the judge. “We had to come up with something in a very short time.”
“We want to present something to the court that is a good faith effort at providing affordable housing in Princeton,” Mayor Liz Lempert said Wednesday.
Princeton is a mostly built-out community, so there is little in the way of vacant land that is not already preserved open space or privately owned. But opportunities exist.
In its court filings, the town will show that a parking lot on Franklin Avenue could be the site of a 25-unit residential development, part of which would have to be set aside for affordable housing. Based on current municipal requirements, 20 percent of those units, or five of them, have to be affordable.
The former owner of the Princeton Shopping Center, George Comfort & Sons, has acquired a parcel at Terhune Road and North Harrison Street that could hold up to 50 units, 10 of which would be set aside for affordable. At the moment, the land is zoned for senior housing.
The town plans to demonstrate it has or could provide 339 actual affordable units. And for providing rentals and taking other steps, the town gets 106 credits toward that amount for a total of 445.
Princeton Councilman Patrick Simon said Thursday that community feedback “has been pretty good” to what the town is proposing. He said one sentiment that officials heard is the town should do more in the way of affordable housing.
“Princeton’s historic commitment to providing affordable housing has helped to make us the dynamic, diverse community that we are today,” Mayor Lempert said. “Continuing to invest in affordable housing is something we do in Princeton not just to follow the law but because it reflects our values as a community.”