The Princeton Council has awarded a $12,000 contract to a planning consultant to help determine whether the Princeton Shopping Center and adjacent properties should be declared an area in need of redevelopment.
The council awarded the contract to professional planner Carlos Rodrigues to conduct a preliminary investigation of the North Harrison Study Area at its Jan. 19 meeting. He is a principal of Design Solutions for a Crowded Planet LLC.
The properties to be studied are the Princeton Shopping Center at 301 N. Harrison St.; the former Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad headquarters on the corner of North Harrison Street and Clearview Avenue; 8 Clearview Ave. and 14 Clearview Ave., which are owned by the Municipality of Princeton; and 351 Terhune Road, which is a vacant parcel on the corner of North Harrison Street and Terhune Road.
Rodrigues will contact the property owners, managers and contract purchasers to collect any relevant information they may possess. He will visit the properties and document the existing conditions, both inside and outside of the buildings.
Rodrigues also will review the Princeton Master Plan, as well as the current zoning and land use regulations as they apply to the North Harrison Study Area. He will prepare a report and present it to the Princeton Council and the Princeton Planning Board.
The process was set in motion when the Princeton Council approved a resolution in December 2020 to ask the Princeton Planning Board to study the area. The Princeton Planning Board, in turn, considered the matter at its Jan. 7 meeting.
Designation of the study area as “an area in need of redevelopment” would give the property owners maximum flexibility and design options for future development, Princeton Planning Director Michael LaPlace told the Planning Board at the Jan. 7 meeting.
There is no need to consider condemnation of the properties because the property owners, including the Municipality of Princeton, are in agreement about the redevelopment area planning process, LaPlace said.
The Princeton Shopping Center is at the heart of the study area, LaPlace said. The shopping center was developed in the 1950s and it is functionally and economically obsolete, he said. It also has a “very high” vacancy rate, he said.
The Princeton Shopping Center is anchored by McCaffrey’s Supermarket at the north end and by the Walgreens drug store at the south end. Of the approximately 50 storefronts, more than a half-dozen are vacant.
Several stores and businesses have closed or vacated in the past few months, including New York Sports Club, Bon Appetit and the One-Of-A-Kind Consignment shop. The Papery is holding a going-out-of-business sale.
“This is probably one of the most troubling times for retail that we have faced in many decades. It seems like an appropriate time to re-think the use of the largely retail development,” LaPlace said of the Princeton Shopping Center.
Princeton Councilwoman Mia Sacks, who sits on the Planning Board, agreed that the Princeton Shopping Center is “massively underutilized.” She emphasized that there is no movement to demolish the shopping center.
Sacks said two of the town’s largest proposed affordable housing sites are included within the North Harrison Study Area – including one site in the parking lot on the south side of the shopping center, near the Walgreens.
The second site is the undeveloped land at 351 Terhune Road, on the north side of the Princeton Shopping Center. It is on the corner of North Harrison Street and Terhune Road.