Ordinances could allow as many as 160 housing units at Maple/Franklin Terrace site

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A pair of ordinances that would pave the way for the development of as many as 80 affordable housing units, and 80 market rate units, on the site of the Princeton Housing Authority’s Maple Terrace and Franklin Terrace apartments has been introduced by the Princeton Council.

The ordinances, which were introduced at the Princeton Council’s July 13 meeting, are intended to help the town meet its obligation to provide affordable housing. It is part of the Fair Share Housing Center’s lawsuit filed against the town to require it to provide its fair share of affordable housing.

A public hearing on the ordinances is set for the council’s July 27 virtual meeting. The Princeton Planning Board was expected to review the ordinances at its July 23 virtual meeting.

The Maple Terrace and Franklin Terrace developments are on the corner of Franklin Avenue and Witherspoon Street, opposite the Avalon Princeton rental apartment complex. The two Princeton Housing Authority developments include a combined 20 units of one- and two-bedroom rental units.

The basic, or underlying, ordinance creates the new AH-6 Affordable Housing Zone, whose purpose is “to provide a realistic opportunity for the construction of affordable housing.”

All of the rental apartments wold be earmarked for low- and moderate-income households. The building would be up to 45 feet in height, or three-and-a-half stories, according to the ordinance.

The second ordinance that was introduced creates the AHO-6 Affordable Housing Overlay zone. An overlay zone provides an alternative development scheme, planning consultant Michael Sullivan told the Princeton Council.

The AHO-6 overlay zone would provide options to develop the Maple Terrace and Franklin Terrace developments, as well as the parking lot adjacent to them. The parking lot had been used by the former Medical Center of Princeton before the hospital moved to its new site in Plainsboro Township.

The alternative development scenario would allow for up to 160 rental apartments on the property. Half of the apartments would be earmarked for low- and moderate-income households, and half would be market rate apartments.

The AHO-6 zone calls for a maximum building height of 55 feet, or five stories. The building would have at least one storefront on the ground floor, facing Witherspoon Street. There could be additional commercial spaces for a total of 10,000 square feet.

Councilwoman Mia Sacks said the original lawsuit settlement plan called for 80 affordable units on the Maple Terrace and Franklin Terrace properties, but the council has been working on a mixed-income project on the site.

“I know there are some concerns about the number of 160 units. That is the ceiling. What we are doing here is to vote (on the documents) to comply with the court settlement, while keeping our options on the table,” Sacks said.

“We are not deciding (on 80 units versus 160 units). It’s just to ensure that all options are available to us – from 80 units that would be all affordable to 160 units (that would be half affordable and half market rate). All we are doing is voting to make sure all options are available to us,” Sacks said.

The Princeton Housing Authority favors the proposed rezoning, said Leighton Newlin, who chairs the public housing authority’s Board of Commissioners.

“This partnership (with the municipality) will allow the Princeton Housing Authority to re-house 20 families currently residing at Maple Franklin, which were built in the 1930s and 1940s, and is quite possibly the most under-utilized parcel of land in central Princeton,” Newlin said.

If the land is redeveloped, it will provide the housing authority with additional housing for low- and very low-income households, in addition to moderate-income households, Newlin said. The housing authority is committed to its constituency, which is primarily Black, many of whom have lived in Princeton Housing Authority properties for several generations, he said.

“We are sensitive to neighborhood concerns and the impact on the schools. We firmly believe that working together in collaboration, we can incorporate a community within a community that is well designed and that will please the people that live there, the neighboring community that surrounds it and the town of Princeton, which we all call home,” Newlin said.

School district officials, however, are concerned about the potential impact of the rezoning and potential new developments on the district. Their concern is not limited to the Maple Terrace and Franklin Terrace redevelopments, but is inclusive of the rezoning across the town that would increase the number of housing units as a result of the Fair Share Housing Center’s lawsuit settlement.

The original lawsuit settlement and resultant increase in the number of units town-wide was estimated to generate an additional 329 students, Beth Behrend, president of the Princeton Public Schools Boards of Education, told the Princeton Council.

The proposed rezoning to increase the potential number of housing units from 80 units to 160 units could result in an additional 45 students, Behrend said. This does not take into account the council’s rezoning of portions of Nassau Street for additional housing, she said.

“Given the school board’s responsibility to provide students with safe and appropriate learning spaces at a price taxpayers can afford, we comment to remind you of the impact that the council’s decisions will have on the facilities and operations of our excellent public schools,” Behrend said.

Even if the overall tax base increases, state law does not allow the district to exceed the 2% cap on the tax levy to support the costs of educating the additional students, Behrend said.