Princeton Shopping Center designated area in need of redevelopment, will be revitalized

Princeton Shopping Center pic

The Princeton Council has designated the Princeton Shopping Center and adjacent properties as an area in need of redevelopment.

The Princeton Council unanimously approved a resolution designating the area, known informally as the North Harrison Street Study Area, as an area in need of redevelopment, at its April 28 meeting.

While an area in need of redevelopment may include an option for condemnation and a “taking” of the land by government, it does not apply in this case because all property owners are in agreement. The study area has been declared a non-condemnation area.

Princeton officials were quick to squash rumors that the Princeton Shopping Center would be demolished and that something else would be built in its place, as a result of the designation. There are no plans to remove, destroy or eliminate the 1950s-era shopping center.

The Princeton Council’s action follows on the heels of the Princeton Planning Board’s recommendation at its April 22 meeting that the properties should be declared a “non-condemnation” area in need of redevelopment.

The Princeton Planning Board reviewed a report prepared by planning consultant Carlos Rodrigues to determine whether those properties should be declared an area in need of redevelopment.

State law provides for a locally designated area to be declared an area in need of redevelopment if it meets any of the eight conditions listed in the New Jersey Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.

Rodrigues’ report concluded that the North Harrison Street Study Area met several of those conditions, including the general obsolescence of the structures and the prevailing stagnant condition of the area in terms of productivity and viability.

The process was set in motion when the Princeton Council approved a resolution in December 2020 to ask the Planning Board to study the area. It also includes two of the town’s largest proposed affordable housing sites, which have been mandated by a lawsuit settlement between the town and the Fair Share Housing Center.

In addition to the Princeton Shopping Center, the properties include 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 town; and 351 Terhune Road, which is a vacant lot on the corner of North Harrison Street and Terhune Road.

At the Princeton Council’s April 28 meeting, Councilman David Cohen said the designation provides the town with more flexibility and control over development in the area than it would have under the town’s zoning ordinance, which restricts what the town could ask of a developer.

Councilwoman Mia Sacks was adamant that there is no plan to remove, destroy or eliminate the Princeton Shopping Center. She said that whoever has been circulating those rumors “should be ashamed.”

The Princeton Shopping Center, which is at the center of the redevelopment area, was the heart and soul of the former Princeton Township, just as Nassau Street is the heart and soul of the former Princeton Borough, Sacks said.

The designation is an attempt to revitalize the shopping center – to fill the empty storefronts and perhaps to add some new things, she said.

Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros said there is a financial aspect to the redevelopment. New development would increase the assessment and add to the property tax base. The additional revenue may help to offset the property tax burden on residents, she said.

Designation as an area in need of redevelopment is a tool to make improvements to the area, Councilwoman Eve Niedergang said. How that would be used will be determined “down the road,” she said.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Dale Meade criticized the planning consultant’s report for presenting an “overly negative” view of the Princeton Shopping Center. The vacancy rate is about 20%, according to the report.

Meade told the Princeton Council that it had not “defined” the project.

“We need to slow this whole thing down,” Meade said.

But other residents favored the designation and the proposed redevelopment.

David Newton said that locating housing on part of the Princeton Shopping Center property – in the parking lot on the south side of the shopping center, near Walgreens – and at 351 Terhune Road would provide an economic boost to the shopping center.

“Princeton doesn’t like change, but change is sometimes necessary. Whatever you do, don’t go slow. Insist on speed,” Newton said.