Opinion: Princeton University’s proposed relocation of 91 Prospect is in the public interest

The Historic Preservation Commission has declined to endorse Princeton University's plans to tear down three Victorian houses on Prospect Avenue and to relocate the former Court Club building across the street to the land occupied by the three houses.

Princeton University’s plan to relocate 91 Prospect to create a gateway to its Schools of Environmental Studies and Engineering and Applied Science is in the Municipality of Princeton’s interest. The Municipal Planning Board should approve the minor site variance needed to accomplish it without further delay.

The post-pandemic shift toward hybrid work will exacerbate future regional growth pressures on Princeton’s infrastructure. We need to meet that challenge as a community, among other things, by taking steps to improve circulation and alleviate congestion.

Fostering multi-modal means for transportation throughout town, including bike mobility, pedestrian mobility and pathways friendly to all types of wheels, including carriages, strollers, wheelchairs and walkers, is a key component of that effort.

The university’s proposed plan to link Prospect to the south and north is consistent with the municipality’s Master Plan and should be lauded as a welcome contribution to furthering these objectives.

The university’s Prospect plan also perfectly reflects the municipality’s sustainability goals. The green infrastructure, native plantings, stormwater management and landscape architectural elements of the University plan will enhance the climate resilience of the Prospect Avenue streetscape.

In an era of hybrid work, we will also want and need more shared spaces for meaningful personal connections in our neighborhoods. The University’s plan serves this public interest with its proposed tree-lined plaza on Prospect.

The relocation of 91 Prospect to create a gateway also serves the community by serving its youth. Cycling, running or walking with sight lines to world-class academic and laboratory facilities opens apertures and invites imagination. There is an important public interest in inspiring future theorists, inventors, engineers, creators and entrepreneurs.

Since the first eating clubs were built on Prospect in the 19th century, the most constant story of Prospect Avenue has been change. The wooden structures that initially housed the clubs were replaced by grand houses. The former University Field is now a center for energy and environmental research. A multi-level parking garage addresses the practical problem of cars. Relocating 91 Prospect continues this tradition of evolution. As such, it is fully consistent with the historic and aesthetic context of the street.

Finally, with regard to the important value of historical preservation and cultural conservation, relocating 91 Prospect will allow for the integrity of its interior to be maintained. This, too, is in the public interest. Preserving a mere facade on the south side would shortchange our community.

Melanie Stein