After months of study, the Franklin Avenue Development Task Force delivered its report – which contained no surprises, but generated some pushback from neighbors – at a special Princeton Council meeting June 30.
The eight-member task force, created by the Princeton Council in October 2020, was asked to help develop a set of design standards for a proposed affordable housing development on the site of the Princeton Housing Authority’s Franklin Terrace and Maple Terrace apartments and the adjoining municipally-owned parking lot.
The Princeton Housing Authority developments on Franklin Avenue include a combined 20 units of one- and two-bedroom rental units. Franklin Terrace and Maple Terrace were built in the 1930s and 1940s.
The potential redevelopment of the Franklin Avenue site grew out of the town’s settlement with the Fair Share Housing Center, which sued Princeton – and many other New Jersey towns – for allegedly failing to provide their fair share of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households.
Last year, the Princeton Council adopted two ordinances that would pave the way for the construction of as many as 80 affordable units and 80 market rate units on the site of the Franklin Terrace and Maple Terrace developments.
At the June 30 Princeton Council meeting, Princeton Councilwoman Mia Sacks emphasized that “we have not agreed on anything.” She said the task force’s presentation could be viewed as a menu of options, and that finances would decide which ones would be chosen.
Three subcommittees were formed by the Franklin Avenue Development Task Force to address the site plan; sustainability and landscaping; and access, streetscape and infrastructure.
While there were overlapping recommendations from the three subcommittees, it was generally agreed that a series of three- and four-story apartment buildings would be built on the site. A plaza could be built on the corner of Franklin Avenue and Witherspoon Street to invite the larger community into the new development.
The four-story building would be set at the rear of the property, and the three-story apartment buildings would be located along Franklin Avenue. The smaller buildings would screen the taller building in the rear, and would have front porches to make them look more house-like.
Parking would be in a parking garage set underneath the buildings. The report suggested an entrance/exit into the parking garage on the eastern border of the property, next to the alley behind the homes on Jefferson Road. It could be screened by trees.
A second entrance/exit could be located opposite Pauline Drive or Albert Way, which is part of the Avalon Princeton apartment development across the street from the Franklin Avenue redevelopment site.
The report also suggested that Franklin Avenue, which has parking on the south side of the street in front of the Franklin Terrace and Maple Terrace homes, could be widened to allow for parking on both sides of the street. It would be reserved for residents of the new apartment development.
Some of the open space or unused land could become a community garden, or an orchard for the residents if there is no demand for the community garden.
Public art and “kid-oriented” aspects could be incorporated into the site.
The report called for an entrance into the Princeton Cemetery, since the development backs up to it. Residents could walk through the cemetery to reach Nassau Street and the Princeton Public Library, rather than walk on Franklin Avenue to Witherspoon Street.
While the design and layout of the development has not yet been determined, the report urged planners and architects to design it to meet energy-efficient “Passive House” standards.
Passive House design standards would ensure that very little energy has to be used, which would help the residents of the low- and moderate-income housing units. Energy costs are a more significant percentage of their income than for other households, one subcommittee member said.
The report recommended that the buildings would be all-electric, and powered by solar, wind and other sources of carbon-zero electricity. There would be no use of fossil fuels. There would be a limited number of electric vehicle charging stations.
But there was some pushback from neighbors when the meeting was opened for public comment.
Several residents said they were concerned that the apartment buildings would loom over their homes. Harris Road resident Michael Floyd said the maximum building height in most areas of Princeton is 35 feet, but the three- and four-story buildings would exceed it.
Martha Friedman, who lives on Jefferson Road next to the site, and Anita Garoniak, who lives on Harris Road, said the residents of the apartments would be able to look down and into their homes.
“It will not be pleasant for us,” Friedman said.
Several Jefferson Road residents, whose homes back up to the site and who use the so-called Jefferson Alley to get to their garages, said putting the parking garage entrance/exit next to the alley would be disruptive. There would be noise and lights from the cars entering and leaving the development, they said.
Neighbor Marco Gottardis questioned the proposal to widen Franklin Avenue to allow for more on-street parking. He said he would prefer a bicycle lane. He said he does not want Princeton to look like Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is “wall-to-wall cars.”
Jefferson Road resident Howard Heft reminded the Princeton Council that the court-ordered lawsuit settlement called for 80 affordable apartments. He also said the process was not as open to the community as promised – no website, no interviews with neighborhood residents, and no discussion of issues that concern them.
But there were supporters, as well.
Joshua Zinder said that whether it is 80 apartments or another number, Princeton needs the new apartments. The Franklin Avenue parking lot is one of the most under-utilized properties in town, he said.
Responding to the public comments, Earline Baumunk, who sits on the Franklin Avenue Development Task Force, said that what excited the members was the possibility that residents of the market rate and affordable units would live next to each other.
If the Franklin Avenue redevelopment project, which would be across the street from the upscale Avalon Princeton rental apartment development, is limited to 80 affordable housing units, it’s going to be just like the Franklin Terrace and Maple Terrace developments, Baumunk said. There won’t be any interaction between them and the Avalon Princeton residents.
Baumunk, who lives at Avalon Princeton, said she has tried to make friends with the residents at the Franklin Terrace and Maple Terrace developments, but it is “almost impossible because it is so (economically) segregated. I think that is the thing we were working to eliminate,” she said.
Baumunk said 20% of the apartments at Avalon Princeton are set aside for low- and moderate-income households. To make her point, she said she lives next door to a single mother – from a different economic group than herself – who is raising children. They have become friends, she said.
Princeton officials said that while the next steps have not been laid out in detail, there will be more public meetings to discuss the development – whether it is at the Princeton Council or the Princeton Planning Board.