A zoning ordinance that has been in the works for over a year that calls for a mixed-use development on the former Maneely site off Old Bear Brook Road will once again be reviewed during the Planning Board’s meeting on Wednesday, August 12.
According to Sam Surtees, the township’s Division of Land Use manager, the hearing is scheduled so that neighbors and residents will be able to hear a discussion of the changes that are being proposed to the ordinance since the last public hearing on the ordinance in December, 2008. Well over 100 residents who live within 200 feet of the proposed site will be noticed, he said.
Plans call for a mixed-use development that would include a mix of modest-sized stores, personal and professional services, corporate suites, market rate-residential units and Project Freedom, which provides affordable housing for people with disabilities.
Maneely Princeton LLC, which owns the site, is looking to have the site placed into a new Planned Mixed-Use Neighborhood/Affordable Housing (PMN) District. West Windsor Planning officials have been working on the ordinance that changes the Master Plan to include the zone. The last draft was updated in August, 2006. The zone would set forth requirements for the creation of a village-style center that is pedestrian-friendly with a mixture of uses.
The issue stirred a variety of concerns from residents and Planning Board members last summer, including over issues associated with the impacts to the environment, including stormwater runoff, and the change of character of the area, including the view of the project from their homes.
The Maneely site is located on Bear Brook Road and Old Bear Brook Road, adjacent to the Estates at Princeton Junction, and across from Windsor Haven. The concept plans propose that 15 acres of the site be preserved, including the detention areas. A majority of the preserved land corresponds with the greenbelt area, flood plain, and wood line.
Plans originally called for 51 townhouses, 46 apartments, and 60 Project Freedom affordable housing units on the site. The non-residential component of the site was proposed to include 202 hotel suites with a 7,800 square-foot business center and a 3,200 square-foot fitness center, as well as 11,000 square feet of office space and 40,000 square feet of retail space.
As part of the township’s third-round state Council on Affordable Housing obligations, an 15 additional affordable units were added to the Project Freedom site before the township submitted its plan to COAH in December, 2008. Project Freedom is a non-profit organization that develops barrier-free housing to enable disabled individuals to live independently.
Of the 46.21 acres, Maneely has proposed to provide 10 of the acres for the non-profit municipally-sponsored affordable housing development known as Project Freedom. Both the 10 acres set aside for the project and the 15 acres to be preserved meet township policy guidelines in the land use plan
Over the course of the past year, township officials have been meeting with residents of the Windsor Haven development and other residents along Old Bear Brook Road as they continue working on the draft zoning ordinance.
However, the most recent draft features more changes, including language proposed by former Planning Board member Heidi Kleinman. There are some areas in which language has been crossed out, which has some residents, including Old Bear Brook Drive resident Holly Kelemen, concerned.
During the Township Council’s July 13 meeting, Kelemen and another resident approached the board to ask them to address their concerns. Kelemen said that the only neighborhood that has been solicited for input has been the Windsor Haven neighborhood. She said she was concerned that the homes proposed on Old Bear Brook Road only have 35-foot setbacks, and that the number of residential units has now been increased to 75 units.
She referenced a 50-foot setback proposed by Kleinman for the buildings adjacent to Old Bear Brook Road. That setback was increased to 35 feet from 20 feet.
“This neighborhood has never opposed Project Freedom,” she said. “Others have. All we have asked for is buffering from noise, lights, and sights,” and she asked that the residents’ concerns be addressed.
However, Planning Board Chairman Marvin Gardner said that he has asked township officials to meet once more with all of the affected homeowners in the immediate area before the August 12 meeting.
He also said that “the mere fact that an ordinance comes before us in a certain form doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be approved in that form,” said Gardner. “There could be modifications made to various aspects of that ordinance based upon the testimony that the Planning Board will hear, and the exhibits that will be produced at that hearing.”
Gardner said that not all recommendations made by Planning Board members will necessarily be accepted. “There are always accommodations made because there are competing interests, or there are other reasons why we specifically can’t honor a request made by a Planning Board member. It requires a discussion, evaluation, and determining what the consequences are of whatever action you take.”
“It should be further understood that in the event that the Planning Board does pass that ordinance at the August 12 hearing, or any subsequent hearing, that ordinance will move to the council,” Gardner added. “At that point, further revisions to the ordinance could be made and returned then to the Planning Board for its review.”
“We hope to be responsive to the community’s interest in drafting this ordinance,” Gardner said. “Various affected community groups have competing opinions or have competing interests relative to this ordinance, so it’s conceivable that one community group may find the result appealing, while another community group may feel that the ordinance has negative consequences.”
“Nothing is set at all,” reassures Surtees. “This is the first of several public meetings that starts on August 12. There may be more than one meeting at the governing body. We’ll see how many we need.”
Surtees says that since the township is under COAH jurisdiction, there is a limited amount of time given to officials to rezone the property pursuant to the affordable housing plan that was submitted to COAH.