If you were thinking about renting one of the 15 proposed apartments envisioned as part of a plan to redevelop the Crossfit gym at 255 Nassau Street, it’s time to start making other plans. On Wednesday night, the Princeton Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously voted to deny the use variance required for the plan to move forward.
The site has special zoning, which had been negotiated following extensive discussion among neighbors, and was approved controversially as one of the last acts of the former Princeton Borough Council. Nonetheless, the developer sought further modifications to the zoning, which they claimed were necessary to allow redevelopment.
The Zoning Board disagreed. Chairman Richard Kahn spoke first, and stated that the developer could develop the site in many ways without the variance, and that there was no compelling case to change the existing zoning. Several board members expressed concern about changing the zoning so soon after the last bespoke zoning had been agreed. Others expressed concern that a new curbcut onto Nassau Street, as proposed by the plan would impede pedestrian movement in the area.
Keeping a parking lot in front of the building and adding a new curbcut bugged many local residents. Current access to the site is through a side driveway, which is owned by Princeton University. The University attorney testified that they were prepared to offer the developer a license to use the driveway for up to 60 years, with potential extensions, but would never grant a permanent easement. The developer claimed that this was not satisfactory because the property could potentially be cut off from the street at some point in the future. In support of this idea, the developer’s attorney, Rosalind Westlake pointed out that the property had previously had its own curbcut access onto Nassau Street, which had been cut off some time in the past.
Board member Michael Floyd said that the testimony from the Princeton University attorney had convinced him that there was no hardship that justified granting the developer a variance. Most members of the public present were jubilant that the application was denied. The proposal, like the AvalonBay proposal at the former Princeton hospital site, was controversial, with competing claims about what the true wishes of neighbors were.
For now, the owner is stuck with a site they can’t develop, because the site plan approval was contingent on the zoning being changed. That’s good news if you like Crossfit, but bad news if you were hoping to see new apartments in Princeton to satisfy intense market demand and offer a new potential housing option for some of the 22,000 people who drive into Princeton every day to work. Ironically, at the same meeting, the Zoning Board approved a variance at 276 Mount Lucas Drive which neighbors fear will become a McMansion. The approval of this variance and denial of 255 Nassau shows that Princeton zoning is far more favorable to big, expensive single-family homes than it is to multi-family units which moderate-income people might be able to afford.
Optimistically, the developer will come back with a new improved, more pedestrian-friendly plan that still offers 15 apartments. On the other hand, they may try to get a bastardized version of their current site plan through the Planning Board without variances, while at the same time applying to NJDOT for the curbcut that nobody wants. The worst case scenario is a legal battle like what kicked off at the hospital site earlier this year, and continues now, months later. Time will tell if the Zoning Board’s decision was a good call for Princeton or not.
Are you pleased that the Zoning Board tossed out the 255 Nassau Street application? Or do you think they missed a golden opportunity to add walkable, affordable housing? Leave your comments using the box below!
Zoning Board decision