Planners Eye Seminary, Princeton Shopping Center As Sites For New Housing

Tennent Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary (click to expand)

Princeton’s Planning Board last week passed a Reexamination Report for the Community Masterplan. The report, which must be prepared regularly according to state law, contains a list of problems facing the community and what planning remedies will be used to address those problems. As could be expected, affordable housing and traffic are mentioned as issues facing the town of Princeton, and the report gives some insight into where planners are considering as potential sites for new housing.

The Reexamination Report argues that Princeton lacks build-able land, but highlights four sites as potentially ‘in play’ for housing development. These are:

  1. East side of Alexander Street, south of the rail station (currently a ‘service zone’ for certain businesses),
  2. Princeton Shopping Center on North Harrison Street,
  3. Princeton YM/YWCA site, on Paul Robeson Place,
  4. Parts of Princeton Theological Seminary, including Tennent Hall (pictured above) at Hibben Road and Stockton Street.

Rumors have been circulating that the Seminary might offer some of its lands for redevelopment for a couple of years. Last year, the ‘Princeton Packet’ reported that developers were sniffing around the Tennent Hall campus, but town officials played coy. Earlier this year, ‘Town Topics’ reported that the Seminary was in acute financial distress, and was planning to cut student numbers by 30-40%. The newly-adopted Reexamination Report is our first official indication that planners are seriously considering Tennent Hall as an area for potential redevelopment. Located just half a mile west of Palmer Square in downtown Princeton, the site would offer excellent opportunities for walkable housing. Even if Tennent Hall was preserved, the large undeveloped space in front, adjoining Stockton Street, could potentially be a site for new housing:

Grassy area in front of Tennent Hall, off Stockton Street in Princeton. (click to expand)

The other sites identified by the report also offer significant advantages for new housing, being close to stores and transit. If all of these sites were built on, it would go some way to addressing the shortage of affordable housing in Princeton. Town planners recently came close to agreeing to build 888 new affordable housing units, potentially as part of mixed-income housing that would require construction of thousands of new homes. The Reexamination Report does not mention this number, and instead refers to the ongoing litigation in which the town of Princeton is embroiled as “the various interest groups arguing over affordable housing obligations”. As the public was not seriously consulted for the Reexamination Report, and housing discussions continued to be held by Council in closed session, it’s not clear when or if a community dialog on housing will happen.

The Reexamination Report also discussed the ever-growing impact of traffic in Princeton, but offers little in the way of solutions. The Reexamination Report notably makes no mention of the US-1 Regional Growth Strategy Report, a major study published by New Jersey Department of Transportation in 2010, which was supposed to limit growth in traffic through changes in local zoning and transit. Princeton’s Planning Department is apparently either unaware of this report, or not interested in trying to implement it. Notably, the US-1 Regional Growth Strategy Report anticipates that rush hour congestion will increase from 13% of local roads to 36% of local roads by 2025 without serious local action.

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Read the whole 2017 Princeton Master Plan Reexamination Report at the town website here (or archived here). A ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ document, made by the town, about the Reexamination Report can be read at the town website here (or archived here).

 

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