This letter was originally published in the September 2017 Princeton Echo.
We, members of the Princeton Progressive Action Group, in common with many other local residents, are alarmed at the increasingly pressing lack of housing that is available at middle income levels at Princeton. The municipality has begun taking steps to change zoning to reduce the size and control the look of new houses/additions. Making more stringent setbacks, height and coverage requirements could possibly make houses smaller and better-fitting into the streetscape, but these changes alone have not and will not make them more affordable.
We encourage the municipality to concentrate the next round of zoning changes on allowing and encouraging the “missing middle homes” described in the Progress Report of the Neighborhood Character Initiative and thus fulfilling the goal of our Master Plan to encourage diversity in our housing stock. Below are three specific suggestions for short-term actions that are easy to implement, have low or no impact, and will make a substantial difference:
1. Allow “flats” or secondary units that could be rented out by the primary homeowner in the former Borough, similarly to the former Township. The income from these flats can help residents stay in their homes longer by offsetting rising taxes or providing money for property maintenance and improvement.
2. Allow residents to convert existing houses with “flats” to two-family dwellings/duplexes or to build new duplexes. This will not increase the size of houses over what is currently allowed, or increase density since two families are already allowed to occupy these properties. The only difference is that instead of a $1.3 million house with a potential rental unit, there could be two separate units. Since the flat ordinance for larger lots requires one unit to be larger and one to be smaller, there will likely be a unit for sale at $950k and a smaller unit for $350k. We could finally get our desperately-needed homes for middle-income families and empty-nesters.
3. Reduce parking requirements: Current zoning requires 1.5 cars per dwelling unit. This means 2 cars for a single-family residence and 3 cars for a house with a flat. Often flats are not feasible because the property cannot accommodate the additional parking. Eliminating the parking requirement for a unit that is designed to accommodate aging-in-place could be a win-win for all.
In summary, we affirm that the neighborhood character we should protect comprises not just the buildings but the people who live in those buildings. We can start with these simple changes in the short term, while working on the long-term items of form-based zoning and neighborhood character guidelines.
Sent on behalf of the Princeton Progressive Action Group, co-signed by these group members:
Samuel F. Bunting, Tineke Thio,
Jane Manners, Omar Wasow,
Valerie Haynes, Jenny Ludmer,
Yael Niv, Suzanne Lehrer,
Andras Ferencz, Marina Rubina,
Melissa Lane, Jeffrey Oakman,
Carolyn Jones, Andrew Thomas,
Nat Bottigheimer, Kirsten Thoft,
Ted Nadeau, Abel Smith, Mia Sacks, Leah Boustan