An apartment complex proposed for construction on land owned by Princeton Theological Seminary could add at least 230 kids to the West Windsor-Plainsboro School District.
The proposal was of such concern to the school district that Superintendent David Aderhold appeared before the West Windsor Planning Board to comment on the impact of the project on the district. The plan, which is only in a conceptual stage right now, was reviewed by the board on Aug. 3.
Aderhold expressed concern about the number of students that recent housing approvals have added to the district and warned there may be a need to build new classroom space.
The proposed apartment project being reviewd by the board, a 443-unit luxury rental development called Woodstone, is being developed by a partnership consisting of Passaic-based Woodmont Properties and Parsippany-based Fieldstone Properties. The number of units is subject to change and a formal application is not expected to go before the Planning Board for at least six months.
The development would be situated within a 68.5-acre parcel off Canal Pointe Boulevard and Wheeler Way, between Princeton County Club and Colonnade Pointe. The land is owned by the Seminary, and the nonprofit will lease a 23-acre portion of the parcel to the developer.
Woodstone will be separate from the 240-unit Charlotte Rachel Wilson Apartments located on another section of the same tract, which serves as housing for Seminary students and their families.
Aderhold expressed “major concern” over the number of school children Woodstone could generate. He said an “extremely realistic” estimate is 230 students, based on a 0.52 student per unit ratio that the district had used to estimate the number of kids generated by the Princeton Terrace development on Clarksville Road, when that development was approved.
In actuality, the student per unit ratio at the 465-unit Princeton Terrace turned out to be higher—the development was built out last year and will contribute 389 children (0.84 students per unit) to the district this upcoming school year.
Thus the estimate of 230 students might actually be low, though the Seminary apartment complex is sure to differ from Princeton Terrace and the final unit tally is not finalized. In addition, the nearby Colonnade and Canal Point developments have historically had a rate fewer than 0.3 students per unit.
Aderhold said that children from the proposed development would attend Maurice Hawk, Village, Grover, and High School South. An additional 60-80 students at Maurice Hawk would necessitate a four to six classroom expansion, as all elementary schools in the district operate without spare classrooms. An alternative to school construction would be increasing the number of students per class.
Factoring in additional residential projects at other sites, Aderhold said, “I have to think about potential bond referendums to the community.”
Approved projects that could further burden the school district include the 394-unit rental complex at Forrestal Village and the mixed-use Toll Brothers development on Bear Brook Road. Big unknowns include the Transit Village at the Princeton Junction train station and the 658-acre Howard Hughes property.
Attorney Henry Kent-Smith and Woodmont executive Steve Santola represented the Woodstone developers. They declined to specify the number of bedrooms in each of the units in the complex, which will consist of 14 apartment buildings ranging from two to four stories tall. Of the proposed 443 units, 20 percent will be set aside as affordable units.
Santola said the target market living in the rentals would not be families. He estimated a “minimum” of 40 percent of occupants will be millennials, and 25 percent will be 55-plus.
In addition to Aderhold, also speaking during the public comment section of the meeting was Council President Linda Geevers, who emphasized the need to analyze the impact of the proposed development and to ensure it will be revenue positive. School board president Tony Fleres was also in attendance.
In response to concerns raised in public comments, Planning Board Chairman Marvin Gardner said that the planning board’s home rule is limited: the township’s hands are tied by state land use law and the courts when it comes to the issue of school kids and housing.
“There are court decisions that indicate the number of school children produced by a development cannot be the basis for rejecting an application,” Gardner said. “This planning board is very limited in that respect.”
Gardner said denying an application on the basis of fiscal implications would expose the board to litigation that the town would have little chance of winning.
He also pointed out that a positive aspect of the proposal is Woodstone’s contribution to the township’s affordable housing obligation.
However, the board does have jurisdiction over land use issues that may impact the final size of the development—open space, for example. The Woodstone developers requested multiple waivers in their concept plan, one of which sought to lower the distance between buildings from a minimum of 75 feet to 25 feet.
The unit-density of the site is within the R-5A zoning maximum of 10 units per acre. Although the proposed complex will be situated on only 23 acres, which would cap the project at only 230 units, the 443 unit number is calculated based on the entire 68.5-acre parcel.
Although the entire parcel is considered when calculating unit density, that’s not the case when it comes to taxes paid, because as a nonprofit, the Seminary is not obligated to pay property taxes on its buildings, said Zoning Officer Sam Surtees. Taxes will be paid, though, on the Woodstone development, since it would be a for-profit venture.
Aderhold said that the 240 existing units of Seminary housing has contributed 40 to 50 children to the district in the past three years, and in prior years the figure has approached 80 children. The Seminary makes voluntary payments of $72,000 to the district and $92,000 to the township.
According to the state Department of Education, the total spending per pupil in the WW-P School District was $18,677 in the 2014-15 school year.