The Trail at Princeton Pike approved

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The Trail at Princeton Pike townhouse and apartment development, planned for a 35-acre site at the end of Lenox Drive in the Princeton Pike Corporate Center, was approved by the Lawrence Township Planning Board at a special meeting Oct. 26.

The application submitted by JAS Homes Inc., which was approved by a 5-4 vote, is part of Lawrence Township’s settlement agreement with the Fair Share Housing Center. The non-profit group sued Lawrence Township – and many other New Jersey towns – over their alleged failure to provide its fair share of affordable housing.

Planning Board members Maria Connolly, Jon Dauber, Terrence Leggett, Ed Wiznitzer and Municipal Manager Kevin Nerwinski, who sits on the board, voted “yes.” The “no” votes were cast by board members Ian Dember, Philip Duran and Kim Taylor, and Lawrence Township Councilman Christopher Bobbitt, who also sits on the board.

The Trail at Princeton Pike is planned for the site of two office buildings that were approved but never built. The land was rezoned in 2017 to permit residential uses in conjunction with the Fair Share Housing Center lawsuit settlement.

The 189-unit development includes 145 market-rate townhouses and 44 affordable rental apartments. The townhouses will be for sale, at a price of $460,000 to $500,000. The rental apartments will be clustered in two buildings, across the street from some of the townhouses.

The townhouses will have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a one-car or two-car garage. The rental apartments will include one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Parking will be in a parking lot outside of the apartment buildings.

The plan to cluster the apartments, which are earmarked for low- and moderate-income households, was a bone of contention for the four dissenting Planning Board members. They favored dispersing the affordable units among the townhouses to avoid stigmatizing the residents who would live in the affordable housing units.

Kim Taylor, one of the Planning Board members who voted against approving the application, said the failure to integrate the affordable housing units in with the market rate units amounted to segregated housing – socially and financially.

“This is not consistent with Lawrence Township’s values. Why, in 2020, are we taking a step backwards? This is not good for Lawrence Township, in my opinion,” Taylor said. Other developments that include affordable housing have interspersed the units among the market rate units, she said.

Brian Slaugh, the Planning Board’s planning consultant, said the developer’s agreement with the town – which grew out of the lawsuit settlement – allows for market rate units to be located on one part of the site and for the affordable units to be located elsewhere on the site “even if we prefer something else.”

Planning Board attorney Ed Schmierer said the developer’s agreement was approved by the Lawrence Township Council, and that there is precedent for allowing two different types of housing – market rate and affordable – on the same parcel.

Schmierer pointed to the Griggs Farm development in Princeton, which separates the market rate units from the affordable housing units.

The application also drew criticism from some Lawrence Township residents.

John Emmons said he supports the need to provide affordable housing, but this is not the right location. It is at the end of an office park, and he compared it to a pending application for affordable housing on land next to the Lawrence Shopping Center.

Unlike The Trail at Princeton Pike, the residents of that development would be able to walk to school, to the grocery store and to recreational opportunities, Emmons said.

The Trail at Princeton Pike development is being driven by a desire to maximize profit, which is not the intent of meeting the need to provide affordable housing, he said.

Paul Larson, who is the vice president of the Lawrence Historical Society’s board of trustees, said the applicant should have conducted additional archeological studies of the land, which is near the Lawrence Township-owned Brearley House. The 18th-century farmhouse was built by one of the earliest settlers in the township.

Larson also criticized the proximity of the development to the Brearley House, and the lack of buffering between the development and the historic house. The applicant cleared out some trees and underbrush on its own land near the house without township officials’ permission two years ago.

“This is not a proper buffer to the Brearley House at all. It is an irreversible encroachment on the Brearley House,” Larson said. It is also an encroachment on an adjacent pre-historic site traced back to the Leni Lenape Indians, he said.