The Princeton Planning Board will continue the public hearing and may take action on the proposed 2023 Community Master Plan at a special meeting Nov. 30.
The Planning Board heard a presentation on the Community Master Plan and also listened to residents’ comments during a public hearing on it at a four-hour meeting Nov. 9.
State law requires a municipality to adopt a Master Plan and to update it periodically. A Master Plan sets out a town’s vision for itself, and the land use ordinance implements it.
A Master Plan is adopted by the town’s Planning Board. The land use ordinance or zoning ordinance is adopted by the governing body – in this case, the Princeton Council – following its introduction and a public hearing on the ordinance.
Princeton’s proposed 2023 Community Master Plan would replace the 1996 Community Master Plan. It was developed after 18 months of public outreach that included numerous surveys and listening sessions.
The proposed 237-page Master Plan, plus a 166-page appendix, was released Oct. 30. The appendix includes the results of two surveys, an “open house” report, a bicycle network description, an economic analysis and recommendations, and a recreation and open space inventory.
The vision that the proposed Master Plan sets out for Princeton stated that it will be a “vibrant, growing and welcoming community with a diverse mix of land uses that accommodate a broad variety of needs.”
It also stated that there will be “ample housing (that is) diverse enough to accommodate all who want to live here, and a robust transportation system that de-prioritizes cars.”
But there has been pushback from residents, particularly the proposed density of residential development.
The “Central Neighborhood,” which encompasses much of the former Princeton Borough and extends into the former Princeton Township, is proposed to accommodate a range of four units to 20 units per acre.
The “Neighborhood,” which includes the Western Section and the streets surrounding the Institute for Advanced Study, would accommodate two to eight units per acre.
There is a difference between a building lot and an acre. One acre is 43,560 square feet. A building lot – the lot on which a house sits – may be less than one acre or it may be more than one acre.
Building lots in the Central Neighborhood are smaller than one acre. A home on Moore Street sits on a 5,640-square-foot lot, and a house on Willow Street – off Moore Street – sits on a 4,000-square-foot lot. In the Riverside area, homes sit on lots that are about a half-acre in size.
In the Neighborhood, there is a range of lot sizes. One house on Library Place sits on a 17,100-square-foot lot and another house on Library Place sits on a 31,050-square-foot lot. On Hodge Road, a house is on a 32,120-square-foot lot. A house on Cleveland Lane sits on a 63,400-square-foot lot, which is more than one acre.
The lot sizes increase the further away from the center of town. In the Brookstone development, off Rosedale Road and near the Johnson Park School, homes sit on two-acre lots. It is in the “Greenway Neighborhood,” which envisions one to two units per acre.
Meanwhile, a change.org petition, which “demands a pause and public inclusion in Princeton’s up-zoning plan,” has been signed by more than 600 people as of Nov. 26 since it began circulating Nov. 16. It was started by the Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development.
The petition claimed that “little thought” had been given to the implications of calling for increased density, such as the likely increase in the number of school children and its impact on the Princeton Public Schools.
There is the potential for unintended consequences on the environment, the existing infrastructure, property taxes, traffic and parking, and the town’s well-known historic charm, the petition stated.
“The current up-zoning proposal threatens the very characteristics that attract residents and visitors to Princeton… Increasing density will do nothing for affordable housing. Traffic congestion is already an issue in many parts of town. More development without proper planning will only exacerbate this problem,” the petition stated.
Princeton officials refuted some of the assertions in the change.org petition in an 18-item “frequently asked questions” (FAQ) response posted on the town’s website at www.princetonnj.gov.
Officials said there would not be a pause in the process because “(it) has been lengthy, thorough and well-publicized, and involved robust public engagement. Pausing it would only undermine the integrity of the process.”
The Master Plan does not call for four units on each lot in town, the FAQ states. The land use plan map lists 10 general land use categories, but they are not synonymous with the nearly 70 zoning districts in the zoning ordinance.
“The 10 land use categories provide generalized guidance for use, if and when land use changes occur. These are shown on a per-acre basis, not a per-lot basis, and are based on existing zoning,” according to the FAQ.
Further analysis and outreach, including input from those most affected, would be needed to determine where changes should be made and what they would look like, according to the FAQ.
The FAQ pointed out that Princeton will be required to provide additional affordable housing units to meet state mandates. The Master Plan acknowledges the need to begin planning for the location of new affordable housing units in anticipation of the next round of affordable housing requirements.
On the issue of its impact on the environment, traffic, schools and parking, “(The Master Plan) speaks directly and in detail” to those issues, according to the FAQ.
Addressing traffic congestion, the FAQ states nearly 24,000 people commute to work in town daily. If more of those workers could live in Princeton, they could walk or ride a bicycle to work and put a dent in traffic congestion, it said.
Finally, the FAQ stated that the Princeton Council is not obligated to act on every recommendation in the Master Plan. The Land Use Element of the Master Plan, however, is required to be the basis for the zoning ordinance.