Firefighters show support for affordable housing plan

Princeton Packet

4 February, 1987

Firefighters show support for affordable housing plan

By Majorie Snyder
Staff Writer

Although much of their time is often spent fighting fires, some members of the Princeton Fire Department these days are directing their energy toward support of affordable housing in Princeton Borough. 

While officials’ plans to build 20 affordable housing units on Hamilton Avenue have drawn criticism from dozens of neighbors, 20 firefighters recently signed a letter endorsing the housing program.

In a letter to The Packet, members from the three fire panics expressed concern about residents’ protests to ordable housing on Hamilton Avenue. Twenty of the 130 fire department members signed the letter submitted Monday.

“I was born here, I was raised here, I work here. I serve my community for nothing,” said Henry Tamasi, 6, a volunteer of Princeton Hook and Ladder for seven rears. An accountant at Nassau Savings in Princeton, Mr. Tamasi said he lives with his parents on Harrison Street because “I couldn’t do it any other way.” 

Several firefighters interviewed Monday said they want to live in Princeton, but high rents have forced them to look elsewhere. They said they are hopeful the borough’s 72-unit affordable housing program will help keep them in town and ultimately, reduce emergency response times.

Site plans of the Hamilton Avenue units are slated for review by the Princeton Regional Planning Board today, Tuesday, at S p.m. in the Valley Road Building. 

The Borough Council is expected to give final approval to the project Thursday in Borough Hall. Both meetings are open to the public.

Firefighters and other volunteers in community activities, as well as police, would be among those who would be given priority in selecting those eligible for the affordable housing units. Among others considered top priority are borough residents no longer financially able to live in Princeton and employees of the Medical Center at Princeton and school district.

In response to residents’ complaints about losing park areas for housing, the volunteer firefighters contend in the letter that the duplexes are configured to allow for “art half a football field of linear open space” along Hamilton Avenue, with grown trees maintained on the nearly one-acre lot.

Firefighters also assert that the new housing will occupy 22 percent of the lot, while most of the surrounding neighborhood is approximately 30 percent lot coverage.

Residents have contended that the Hamilton Avenue project is too dense for the neighborhood.

Third, firefighters said the borough’s original plans to extend Maple Street into Hamilton Avenue — which would have caused a loss of 120 feet of open space —would have been worth the result.

“The ‘price’ of 120 linear feet of ‘open space’ is surely minimal to the borough when compared with the price that borough residents would have to pay for a paid fire department if all the volunteers are forced out of town,” the volunteers wrote in the letter.

Neighbors’ concerns led project architect Harvey Myers to alter designs to create up to five feet of setbacks and more trees. The new design calls for five two-story duplexes behind 94 through 98 Spruce St. Another five duplexes with similar features will be built farther down Hamilton Avenue, across from Westminster Choir College.

Despite architectural changes, some residents insisted at a meeting nearly three weeks ago that borough officials are moving too quickly to implement the program.

While he admitted loss of grassy areas is important, firefighter Jeff Golomb said he thinks residents want to delay the project. He said keeping volunteers in the borough is “absolutely necessary.”

Living outside of Princeton “makes a big response difference” in reaching the North Harrison Street firehouse, said Mr. Golomb, who lives with his wife and two children in Plainsboro. A 14-year member of the fire department, Mr. Golomb was raised in Princeton Township, where his parents still reside.

 “I believe the townspeople understand the need for affordable housing. I think most of the objections are relative to the placement,” said Mr. Golomb, 32, a computer consultant. “(Borough residents) have to be willing to give up some land someplace in town.”

The tentative groundbreaking date for the Hamilton Avenue units is April 20.

The proposed “Victorian-type” units boast steep-pitched roofs, 2-foot projected bay windows, dormer windows in the second-floor living rooms, porches and balconies and decorative shingles. The wood units will be painted either tan or gray, with lavender or green borders along the doorways and windows.

In addition to the 20 units on Hamilton Avenue, the borough seeks to construct eight units at John and Clay streets and 28 units on Maclean Street, as well as rehabilitate the 16-unit Shirley Court, a housing complex situated off Witherspoon Street.

Of the total 72 units, 40 are planned for low- and moderate-income people, and the other 32 are what the borough describes as “market-rate” units.

The housing program seeks to meet the 1983 state Supreme Court’s Mount Laurel II decision, which requires towns to provide opportunities for low- and moderate-income housing and forbids exclusionary zoning.

Other firefighters hope the ruling leads to results. here.

Joseph Myers III is making plans to move with his wife and child from his grandparents’ house on Linden Lane to an apartment in Griggstown. The Myers family has lived in Princeton for more than a century, but now, the 24-year-old computer operator said, “there’s no way I can afford to stay here.” 

As Captain of Engine Co. No. 1, Patrick Root of Plainsboro said he thinks firefighters should be given the chance to live in Princeton.

“I think it’s a good thing, but all the other people in town, they don’t like it,” said Mr. Root, an electrician who lives in the Quail Ridge apartment complex. “They want everything but they don’t want to give anything back.” 

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