Princeton plans to offer loans for fire safety

After a resolution passed unanimously Monday, Princeton is going to offer loans to the homeowners of Washington Oaks’ 60 affordable housing units. The loans will cover the testing and replacement of sprinkler systems in the multi-family housing units.

Bob Gregory, director of emergency management for Princeton, explained the residential sprinkler systems are fast acting and reduce injury and death in the case of fires. They work to confine fires, keep smoke cool and to a minimum, and open pathways for escape. Gregory said state fire code requires all fast response sprinklers must be tested and replaced after 20 years and retested every 10. The system at Washington Oaks has been functioning for 20-plus years.

Councilman Bernie Miller questioned Gregory whether this would be an issue that would continue to pop up with other developments. Washington Oaks is one of the only developments in Princeton where sprinkler systems run individually from each unit – bearing the burden on the homeowner. Most other developments in Princeton function on a system that is the homeowner’s association’s responsibility, so individual payment and municipal loans would not be necessary.

Gregory expects to hear from a contractor this week in regard to a more specific price for sprinkler replacement. At this point, Town Administrator Marc Dashield expects each unit replacement to cost approximately $1,400. The most expensive estimate was $4,500 for some of the larger units. Residents who wish to take the loans, which will be provided through Princeton’s Affordable Trust Fund, will have 10 years to pay them off with a small interest rate.

Gregory will meet with the residents of Washington Oaks to explain the details of sprinkler replacement and formal letters will be distributed. The affordable housing committee has prepared a plan and is ready to move forward with offering loans.

In other news:

• Council introduced an ordinance to revise the current shade tree ordinance. Miller, liaison to the Shade Tree Commission, explained Princeton has been designated a “tree city” for 20 years and is, for that reason, required to uphold certain responsibilities.

The new ordinance modifies the replacement requirement when property owners take down a tree to make it more proportional – i.e., larger tree removal may require planting numerous trees in its place.

Individuals not willing or unable to plant new tree(s) will have the option to donate a tree to municipal property or make a contribution to the STC. If the ordinance is violated, an individual may ultimately be brought to court by the STC and fined.

• Council approved a power purchasing agreement for the solar farm to power the sewage treatment facility at the River Road site. Groundbreaking on the project is expected to happen sometime this fall.

About Erica Chayes Wida

Erica Chayes Wida is a writer, mom, and complete zealot when it comes to poetry, paella and globe collections. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology from UCLA, Erica moved to Italy where the seasons and old architecture inspired her journey back to the East Coast. Since then, she and her husband have created a nest egg locally and, over time, developed a rather grand love affair with the town of Princeton. Erica is senior editor at The Princeton Sun and enjoys fulfilling her Princeton affections on a daily basis. | View all posts by Erica Chayes Wida