Palmer Square Management LLC has received final approval from the Princeton Planning Board to develop a 24-space metered parking lot into a mixed-use building.
The parking lot on the corner of Witherspoon Street and Hulfish Street would be developed as a three-story, mixed-use building. Final site plan approval was granted by the board on April 8.
Planning Board Chair Wanda Gunning, Vice Chair Louise Wilson, and Planning Board members Julie Capozzoli, Councilman David Cohen, Alvin McGowen, Jeffrey Oakman, Councilwoman Mia Sacks, Zenon Tech-Czarny and Phil Chao voted “yes” to approve the project, which would be constructed opposite the Princeton Public Library.
The application returned to the Planning Board after Palmer Square Management had withdrawn the application in 2020.
“You may recall that we began a presentation of an application for a mixed-use building on the site to the board last July,” said Attorney Thomas Letizia, who represents Palmer Square Management LLC. “After that hearing we were notified by Zoning Officer Derek Bridger of Section 17A-383 of the Land Use Code, which requires a minimum setback distance between buildings that none of us were aware of at the time, for it had not been previously enforced.
He added that since the 2020 plan did not comply with that ordinance they withdrew that application and worked on revisions to the site plan in consultation with the board’s staff that would make it fully conforming.
The new building would consist of 21,244 square feet in gross building area, 4,681 square feet of basement commercial or retail space, 5,417 square feet of first floor retail and eight dwelling units (three flats and five duplexes), five one-bedroom units and three two-bedroom units.
“We effectively narrowed the building along the diagonal line starting at the corner of Hulfish and Witherspoon flipping the trash enclosure and alleyway,” project architect Joshua Zinder said. “Now the alleyway lands on the Palmer Square development and the trash aligns along the Mistral property building. The building occupies the southern part of the site along Hulfish Street. Trash is within a fenced and screened enclosure in a decorative gate off of Witherspoon.”
The building from the Mistral building property line is back 12 feet in the new proposal to conform with the land use code.
“By building the space here (near the Mistral building and off of Witherspoon Street) it made more sense to place the loading dock in that zone,” Zinder added. “If we were to have the loading dock on the other side (near Hulfish Street) and have the space (where the loading and dumpster area is currently in the proposal) the usable area for the building really did not work. It reduced the courtyard and was really problematic.”
There will be no onsite, off-street parking. Parking will be provided in the Hulfish Street Parking Garage and Chambers Street Garage. There are 32 parking spaces allocated for the project with resident parking and monthly employees on the second level of the Hulfish Street Garage; and retail/service transient parking will be on the first level of the Hulfish Street Garage and all levels of the Chambers Street Garage, according to application documents.
There are no variance or design waivers requested for the project.
Since 1992, the property for the project has been a parking lot. Prior to 1992, the property was the site of the Imperial Restaurant operated by the Burnett Griggs and his family. After the restaurant closed and the building was demolished in 1963, it became a gasoline service station in 1983 and was demolished in 1987, according to the application presentation.
There will be a plaque mounted from the Witherspoon Jackson Community Heritage Tour on the corner of the building, which would commemorate the former location of Griggs Imperial Restaurant.
When public comment arose during the hearing resident Leighton Newlin spoke to Griggs and the African American history of project site and asked of representatives of Palmer Square Management, “Is there any appetite for them to consider the 20% affordability to give someone a chance to live in two of those units who would not necessarily be able to live there?”
Letizia, who represented the applicant, said in response to Newlin, “The fact of the matter is Palmer Square does provide affordable housing throughout its projects. There are current units within the square that are not occupied or having or having a hard time getting them filled so I do not know if Princeton is aware of that.”
Councilwoman Mia Sacks said in her response to Letizia, “That it is absolute shameful that they are not filled, because the credit level required is incredibly high and something where there is legislation pending that would make that illegal. It is appalling that those units have been empty for so long. To bring that up in this context is definitely not the right thing to bring up. You are not helping the applicant by raising that at all.”
She added, “For rental units, when Palmer Square built the townhouses they refused to include the affordable housing units in the townhouses. They insisted on having them in a separate place, so those in the affordable units would not be housed together with the main residents. I do not know if anyone has ever lived in those affordable housing units.”
Lori Rabon, a vice president of Palmer Square Management LLC, stated that they have 10 afforable housing units currently in Palmer Square and two units that are vacant.
“One is a two-bedroom and has been vacant for almost three years. We also have a studio unit that has been vacant since 2019,” she said. “While we do have credit criteria that was cleared through the past developer agreements I cannot speak to because I was not part of that submission. I weigh everything when it comes to trying to get those units filled. While the applications have gotten better and we have started to receive some more there was a very long time we were getting few applicants from Princeton Community Housing (PCH). Not only do they have to meet our approval levels, but the approvals of the PCH levels.”
The project is complying with affordable housing developers fee requirement, according to Letizia.
He added, “The town as a whole is providing a significant number of affordable units in the coming months and years. So looking at it from a total perspective Princeton is providing a significant amount of affordable units for the community as a whole, that obviously include the downtown.”