Opponents of a planned 65-unit affordable housing development on the site of the former SAVE animal shelter, on the corner of Mount Lucas and Herrontown roads, are challenging the rezoning of the land and town planners’ approval of the application.
The Old Orchard Village Homeowners Association Inc. is suing the Municipality of Princeton over rezoning the three-acre parcel, and is also suing the Princeton Planning Board and developer 900 Herrontown Princeton LP in Mercer County Superior Court.
The homeowners association, which manages the adjacent residential development on Old Orchard Road, seeks to void an ordinance that rezoned the land for the development, and to overturn the Princeton Planning Board’s approval of the subsequent application.
Princeton Council rezoned the land earlier this year from S-2, which permits commercial uses, to the newly created AH-3 affordable housing zone.
The new zone permits the development of a 65-unit affordable housing development. Of the 65 units, there would be 64 units set aside for low- and moderate-income households. The 65th unit is earmarked for the building superintendent.
The lawsuit, which was filed in May, claims that the ordinance was adopted to “spot-zone a specific parcel of land” to allow for the development of affordable housing, based on a plan that was not consistent with the Princeton Master Plan or the 2017 Master Plan re-examination report.
The Princeton Municipal Code and the Master Plan consistently and repeatedly cite the importance of preserving the quality of life of residential neighborhoods, the lawsuit said. But the new ordinance does not preserve the quality of life for the Old Orchard Village subdivision, the lawsuit said.
The new ordinance allows for an “excessive” number of affordable housing units, at nearly 22 units per acre, in an “inappropriate location, given the size of the property and the surrounding neighborhood, the lawsuit said.
It permits “high-density residential development inconsistent with the much less dense development in the surrounding area,” the lawsuit said.
The ordinance would allow the construction of four, 45-foot-tall multi-family apartment buildings next to two-story attached single-family homes, the lawsuit said. There are 12 single-family attached units in the 7-acre Old Orchard Village development, next to the former SAVE site.
“Seeking to partially satisfy a municipality’s unmet affordable housing need is not a legal justification to rezone the parcel at the density and bulk standards proposed. The need to provide housing opportunities for persons of low and moderate income need not lead to poor planning,” the lawsuit said.
The town acknowledged that the purpose of the ordinance was to create a “realistic opportunity” to develop low- and moderate-income housing and to address its fair share housing obligation under the New Jersey Fair Housing Act.
Princeton is among many New Jersey towns that have been sued by the Fair Share Housing Center for failure to provide its fair share of affordable housing.
The lawsuit stated that the ordinance “inappropriately places a disproportional amount of affordable housing at the parcel, as compared to other locations in Princeton,” and was intended to get around certain legal requirements “in order to permit development of the parcel consistent with the developer’s concept plan.”
Princeton Council’s adoption of the ordinance was “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and contrary to law,” the lawsuit said. The homeowners association is attempting to have the ordinance declared to be void.
The second lawsuit, filed by the homeowners association in September, challenges the Princeton Planning Board’s subsequent approval of the 900 Herrontown Princeton LP’s application in June. it seeks to have the board’s approval deemed “null and void.”
The lawsuit takes exception to the site plan and design of the 65-unit affordable housing development, such as the number of parking spaces.
Although the 75 parking spaces proposed by the applicant – and approved by the planning board – meets the requirements of the new AH-3 zone, the lawsuit said there should be 129.7 parking spaces, based on the New Jersey Residential Site Improvement Standards (RSIS). The state law does allow for exceptions.
The applicant’s engineer admitted that the 75-space parking lot was based on the ordinance and that no studies had been conducted, the lawsuit said. The RSIS would have required nearly 130 parking spaces for the development, based on the parking standards for the mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.
The lawsuit claimed that while exceptions to such standards may be granted, the applicant did not apply for an exception from the RSIS standards and the planning board did not approve an exception to the state standard.
Neither the civil engineer nor the traffic engineering consultant provided a traffic study specifically of the development to support the lesser amount of parking spaces, the lawsuit said.
Also, the applicant made “substantial” changes to the site plan between the planning board’s June 13 and June 20 public hearings. Details of those changes were not provided to the planning board or the public in advance of the June 20 meeting.
The state Municipal Land Use Law requires an applicant to provide revised documents at least 10 days in advance of a public hearing to the town, so they may be made available to the public.
There is an exception if the revisions are to “substantiate or clarify or supplement” earlier plans. The lawsuit said the changes made by the applicant amounted to “substantial” revisions.
The planning board’s approval of the development plans based on revisions that were not disclosed to it or the public prior to the June 20 hearing – less than 10 days in advance of the public hearing – violated the state Municipal Land Use Law, according to the lawsuit. It was “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable and contrary to law.”
Finally, the lawsuit contends that if its earlier lawsuit challenging the re-zoning of the property is upheld in court, then the development application is “null and void (because) the application was not filed to seek approval of development plans according to the requirements of the S-2 zone.”