A rendering of a mixed-use project at the Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor, where AvalonBay Communities Inc. is planning 800 residential units, a hotel and an upscale retail plaza. — Courtesy: AvalonBay Communities Inc.
By Joshua Burd
A plan that would bring 800 residential units, a hotel and an upscale retail plaza to the Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor is set to move forward in the coming months, setting a path for one of the state’s largest and most anticipated redevelopment projects.
The master developer, AvalonBay Communities Inc., is preparing to seek proposals from other builders that would participate in the $300 million project. The company plans to develop 550 multifamily apartments as part of the 24-acre site, while it will select outside firms to lead the construction of 150 townhomes, 100 senior housing units and the 120-key hotel.
The site, which sits off Washington Road about a mile from Route 1, is currently home to a cluster of low-slung, aging office buildings. But AvalonBay’s plan also calls for 37,000 square feet of retail space that will wrap around a bustling, 50,000-square-foot public promenade adjacent to the train station, along with two shared parking decks to serve the project.
As the company’s top executive in New Jersey noted, the project provides it with a rare opportunity “to truly transform an area as opposed to developing a project.”
“We have been fortunate to have developed many wonderful residential and some mixed-use communities throughout New Jersey and are currently building four,” said Ron Ladell, a senior vice president with AvalonBay, pointing to projects in Piscataway, Boonton, Teaneck and Old Bridge.
“However, this mixed-use project at the Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor will dramatically and forever change the character and appearance of the site and provide a multitude of residents, guests, shoppers and visitors with a focal point for enjoying life.”
With a development agreement in place, AvalonBay expects to issue a request for proposals by the end of the month in hopes of submitting a site plan approval by year-end, Ladell said. Doing so would represent a major step forward for the property next to the train station, for which West Windsor approved a redevelopment plan in 2009.
An earlier proposal by Intercap Holdings never came to fruition. But AvalonBay has spent the past three years seeking to revive and refine the project alongside township officials, paving the way for a vibrant downtown setting that the town currently lacks.
The site, which AvalonBay would acquire from Lubert-Adler Real Estate Funds, is served by NJ Transit’s Northeast Corridor line and provides access to Princeton via the shuttle service known as the dinky. And as Ladell noted, Princeton Junction serves more than 4,000 daily commuters who park at the station.
Redeveloping the site will also serve another critical purpose: helping West Windsor fulfill its state-mandated affordable housing requirements. The project is part of a settlement between the municipality and affordable housing advocates, following last year’s high-profile court ruling that the town was undercounting its obligations for low- and moderate-income residents.
To that end, AvalonBay’s project is slated to include 132 affordable units, which is also 32 more than a previous plan for the site.
“The transit village project will not only help us to satisfy our affordable housing obligation, it will finally give us the central focal point that the community has been seeking,” West Windsor Mayor Hermant Marathe said last year after the town reached its agreement with AvalonBay.
Ladell said the project will be distinctive from other developments in New Jersey, in that it will provide multiple options for seniors who qualify for affordable housing. In theory, those residents could take their pick from any of the three choices — the rental units, the designated active adult housing or the for-sale townhomes that are planned for the site.
Once it selects other developers for the senior housing, townhome and hotel components, AvalonBay will deliver the sites with the infrastructure in place. Ladell’s team, meantime, will spearhead the construction of the retail-lined promenade, which will include an amphitheater and a glass enclosure for art displays, vendors and other programming. The hotel will serve as the focal point of the plaza and could also include a rooftop deck with a restaurant.
Ladell, whose team is based in Woodbridge, added that the real estate investment trust owns an existing community in West Windsor and thus has been in the township for decades. The opportunity to expand its footprint in such a market is especially appealing, he said, given the challenges of developing in the Garden State.
“If you find an appropriate site from a demographic point of view and from an access point of view — be it a TOD or a highway — then New Jersey has intrinsic and inherent benefits and values that will likely lead to success,” Ladell said. “However, there is a clear understanding for developers in New Jersey that it takes perseverance and patience to work through the home rule process.
“Notwithstanding all of the foregoing, we are late in the economic cycle and there are aspects of development that continue to be challenging, including but not limited to ever-increasing construction costs.”