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Princeton Planning Board considers development at Princeton Shopping Center

Princeton Shopping Center, 301 N. Harrison St., Princeton

The Princeton Planning Board is expected to take action on an application to build a 200-unit rental apartment building on a portion of a parking lot at the Princeton Shopping Center when the board meets Oct. 14.

The Planning Board began a public hearing on the application by Princeton (Edens) LLC for preliminary and final site plan and subdivision approval at a special meeting Sept. 29, but ran out of time to complete it after listening to nearly four hours of testimony.

The proposal calls for subdividing part of the property to develop a four-story rental apartment building in the parking lot opposite the Walgreen’s pharmacy. It would be developed by Avalon Bay Communities, Inc.

The apartment building would include a mix of market-rate and affordable housing units. Of the 200 apartments, 160 would be market-rate units and 40 would be set aside for affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households.

A portion of the Princeton Shopping Center building that houses Walgreens would be demolished. The pharmacy would move into a new stand-alone building near the North Harrison Street entrance into the shopping center.

Project architect Ken O’Brien told the Planning Board that the 200 apartments would include a mix of studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

Of the 15 studio apartments, 12 would be market-rate and three would be affordable housing units. The 68 one-bedroom apartments would include 64 market-rate and four affordable housing units.

The 99 two-bedroom apartments would include 74 market-rate units and 25 affordable housing units, and the 18 three-bedroom apartments would include 10 market-rate apartments and eight affordable housing apartments.

There will be 300 parking spaces in a parking garage integrated into the apartment building, to include 20 electric vehicle charging stations, O’Brien said. There would be a separate bicycle parking area for 100 bicycles, plus a maintenance area for them.

After discussing architectural design details, the Planning Board delved into sustainability issues.

Asked whether it would be an all-electric building, attorney Rick Hoff, who represented the applicant, said it would not be an all-electric building.

Several Planning Board members pushed for the applicant to move away from using natural gas to heat the apartment building, and one member, Zenon Tech-Czarny, said it was “unfortunate” that it would not be an all-electric building.

Relying on natural gas for such a “massive building in this age and time would be a big mistake,” Tech-Czarny said. Heat pumps are more efficient and “it makes a lot more sense” to use them for heating purposes, he said.

Tech-Czarny said that natural gas contributes about 39% of greenhouse gas emissions in Princeton.

“If we are going to actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions and act on climate change, we have to stop using natural gas. This will be a huge development and it will be using a lot of natural gas,” he said.

Hoff said his client is aware of the issues, and is not being “flippant” in rejecting them because they will cost more to install. In fact, sometimes the owner is able to generate greater rents by acknowledging sustainability issues and practices, he said.

“While we appreciate the comments, they go above and beyond anything that is being required. We will look at them, but a lot of things likely won’t be included (because) there are other aspects,” Hoff said.

Hoff pointed out that setting aside 20% of the units for affordable housing is a cost to the developer. He said there is “give and take, and we will look at these things.”

The Princeton Planning Board will continue the public hearing at its Oct. 14 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

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