Town of Princeton Unleashes New Zoning Map With Fifty-Four Distinct Zones

On January 1, 2023, the town of Princeton, NJ quietly marked its 10th birthday. Ten years have now passed since the consolidation of the former Princeton Borough and Princeton Township. Over the years, the sense of identity of the two former Princetons has gradually merged into one unified community, and in December, the town Council passed an ordinance to further seal the marriage. The zoning maps of the former Borough and Township, which show what kind of buildings can be built in every part of town, were finally merged into one document (see image above, and higher-resolution version at this link). In practice, there has been no change or streamlining of zoning since consolidiation, the new map serves mainly to show zoning for the entire town in just one document.

Council representative David Cohen praised the new map, saying “it’s not just a combination of the old Borough and Township maps, this one is also fully in color!” Council representative Eve Niedergang called the new map “a work of art”. If so, it may be one inspired by Jackson Pollock. Fifty-four distinct zones, with swirling shades of green and yellow, mark the numerous carve-outs and enclaves that constitute Princeton’s designated pattern of land use.

Speaking at the Planning Board in December, Justin Lesko, who recently became the town’s new Planning Director, suggested that simplifying zoning might be a medium-term goal arising from the town’s new Master Plan. It’s hard to say how many zoning districts are right for a town of 30,000 people like Princeton, but excessive zoning regulations were identified by a recent White House report as a potential cause of exclusion and segregation. Zoning regulations were also discussed in a recent Princeton Public Library forum as a potential obstacle to production of affordable housing.

As part of its recent court settlement on fair housing, Princeton actually created new ‘zoning overlays’ to enable construction of affordable housing in several parts of town. These overlays are now represented, for the first time, on the new zoning map, although the twenty-one local historic districts are not indicated. Earlier this month, Council introduced an ordinance to create another affordable housing overlay. If approved, the town will have twenty-nine different residential zones, plus seven affordable housing overlays, and the newly-created zoning map will already be out of date.

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