Wednesday, January 27, Wednesday, February 17 the Princeton Zoning Board will have a hearing on a proposal to bring 10 new apartments to the old Masonic Hall at John Street and MacLean Street. The new apartments would potentially allow a creative new use for the building, and would provide some much-needed walkable homes (including 2 affordable units) within a 5-minute walk of downtown Princeton – assuming the Zoning Board grants the necessary variances.
The former Aaron Lodge #9 Masonic Temple was part of the ‘Prince Hall‘ branch of Freemasonry, which has traditionally had predominately African-American members, but it fell out of use several years ago. As part of the proposed conversion to residential use, the existing external features of the building would be restored, ensuring that the historic structure is thoughtfully maintained and preserved. Although the project involves remodeling the interior space, there would be no change to the existing building’s height or scale.
The proposed apartments would be arranged over three floors, and would include a mixture of studios, one-bedroom units and two-bedroom duplexes. Two of the apartments would be income-restricted, designated-affordable units. To provide access and make the best use of space, a new addition would be included on the east side of the building, with steps to the upper levels, a mailroom, and bike storage. The project is designed by the firm of the highly-respected Princeton architect, Joshua Zinder.
The adaptive reuse of the building promises to create something very special, but another massive advantage is that the proposed apartments will be within easy walking distance of hundreds of Princeton businesses and workplaces. As seen in the ‘walkshed’ map below, Palmer Square and the central business district are a 5-minute walk away, and many parts of the University campus and Theological Seminary are just 10-minutes away by foot. The Dinky station is just a 17-minute walk away, and there are bus-stops literally at the end of the block. This is about as good as it gets for people who want to live car-free.
However, the proposed apartments will not be built without variances from the Zoning Board. For example, current zoning calls for 1.5 parking spaces for each apartment unit, but the proposal only includes 10 parking spaces for the 10 apartments. Given the highly walkable and transit-accessible location, it is likely that 10 parking spots is sufficient for the building. Census data shows that just 25% of people who live in Princeton and work in Princeton use a car as their primary mode of commuting. The rest walk, cycle, take transit, or work from home, and it is likely that quite a few potential residents of this building would do the same. The proposed reuse of the building is creative, respects the appearance of the existing building, and would provide new homes in a ‘smart growth’ approach, so hopefully the Zoning Board will be happy to give it the go-ahead.
The hearing on the 30 MacLean Street project is scheduled for the Zoning Board meeting at the Princeton Municipal Building, 400 Witherspoon Street,
on 1/27/2016, starting at 7.30 p.m. on 2.17.16 starting at 7.30 p.m. Members of the public are encouraged to attend and provide comments.