PRINCETON: Council undecided on how to utilize land purchase

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By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Princeton will obtain a parking lot on Franklin Avenue, across the street from the AvalonBay development, but a Mercer County judge might have a big say in how the town decides to reuse the property.
The town is acquiring the land from Princeton University for $1, in a donation that was part of the agreement the two sides had reached in 2014 for Nassau Hall to make voluntary financial contributions to the municipality. The town is due take title to the property by the middle of this fall, pending the outcome of a title search and soil testing.
Officials had talked of using the parcel for affordable housing, even listing the property in an affordable housing plan for the past several years. In such a case, the town would have to decide how much housing would be built there and where, on the property, to put it.
But leaving themselves some wiggle room, officials this week have said they have not made an ironclad guarantee that is how they intend to use the lot.
“We never sat down and said this spot has to be affordable housing,” said Councilman Lance Liverman by phone Wednesday.
In large part, the town’s thinking might be influenced by the upcoming ruling by Judge Mary C. Jacobson, who is to decide what Princeton’s affordable housing requirement will be from 1999 to 2025. Her decision is expected next month, and she will set a number of units that the town is responsible for providing.
“Depending on what the obligation is determined for Princeton, we’ll be looking at the housing plan and figuring out how all those pieces fit together,” Mayor Liz Lempert said Monday in speaking with reporters.
As a whole, the council will have to decide, ultimately, how best to use the property, amid the usual tug of war from community members who want housing built there versus those who don’t.
“I think that the conversation will be based on what’s the best use for the town for that land, for that space,” Liverman said. He echoed the view that the judge’s ruling would influence officials’ thinking about the property, depending on the number of housing units she sets.
“I think that we will make the decision about that property independently of the judge’s decision, unless the decision is so onerous that we feel we don’t have any choice,” said Council President and acting Mayor Jenny Crumiller on Wednesday. “I’m hoping that won’t be the case.”
For his part, Liverman believes the property would make for a good location for affordable housing, given it is within walking distance of downtown, and thinks it should be used that way.
Yet it appears nothing is in concrete. While Mayor Lempert said earlier in the week the property would be for affordable housing, Liverman and Crumiller said that is not a certainty.
“There’s nothing signed that says we have to use it for affordable housing,” he said.
“We haven’t had a council discussion on that,” Crumiller said. “There’s no plan etched in stone.”