Opinion: Development trends should be through ‘lens of the residents of Princeton’s beautiful and desirable neighborhoods’

LEA KAHN/STAFF

The Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development (PCRD) is a non-profit organization that was formed recently to advocate for and enable a more effective and collaborative approach to land use development and redevelopment in Princeton.

We are not opposed to new development and redevelopment in our town; that said, we do believe in smart, eco-friendly development and redevelopment that will respect and build upon Princeton’s unique character and reflect the voices of its residents. Such development is best accomplished through open, transparent, inclusive deliberations that heed the input of developers, our elected officials and, importantly, those of us who live in town.

Regrettably, there are too many recent examples of situations where the town residents’ views are either discounted or not being heard at all. Most recently in the headlines has been the effort by Princeton University to destroy three buildings that form part of the historic Prospect Avenue streetscape.

PCRD supports the effort to protect the historic former Court Club in its current location and to protect the three homes on Prospect Avenue from demolition by Princeton University for its ambitious ES+SEAS project. More broadly, PCRD is concerned about the disregard for key provisions of the Princeton Community Master Plan and the diminished prospect for the suggested evaluation of Club Row as a local historic district that Princeton University’s plan represents. Each degradation of this lovely part of town becomes yet another step toward further undesirable changes throughout Princeton in the future, thus diminishing, building by building and lot by lot, what makes Princeton so attractive to those who live here.

Recently, the town has witnessed financially capable property owners neglect buildings and facilities, only to turn to the municipality for relief by pointing to the poor state of buildings they own and that they have let deteriorate. Rewarding such bad behavior isn’t something that is good for the town in the short run or the long run.

Our historic buildings are important and deserve protection.

Additionally, the environmental impact of demolition and its associated release of embodied carbon isn’t consistent with sustainable development.

As we are seeing throughout the country and, indeed, the world, adaptive reuse is vastly preferred, and should be the standard in our historic districts and throughout town.

Princeton University is undertaking a major endeavor, and we support the ES+SEAS project generally. PCRD asks that, with the town’s encouragement, Princeton University uses its considerable talent and resources to find a solution that protects the historic streetscape and community and is consistent with both the Master Plan and sound environmental practices.

Although the focus of headlines in recent days has been on the Prospect Avenue situation, PCRD believes that town officials should in all cases consider development and redevelopment holistically and through the lens of the residents of Princeton’s many beautiful and desirable neighborhoods.

In that vein, we note that there has been considerable resident concern about a number of recently proposed development projects in town, in addition to Prospect Avenue. Just since the beginning of 2021, this list includes: the outsized new Graduate Hotel to be built near Bank Street; the declaration of the Princeton Shopping Center and adjoining properties as an Area in Need of Redevelopment; and the poorly-thought out plan to add considerable parking to our neighborhood streets.

Each of these projects engendered strong reactions from neighbors and other concerned Princeton residents. Each of these projects has felt rushed to accommodate the desires of the developing party, without sufficient public input.

We urge all the players in these dramas to take a collective deep breath, listen to each other, seek common ground and areas for compromise (including through an updated Master Plan), and ultimately reach decisions that can be supported by all parties involved.

With the wealth of talent and creativity that courses through town, we can do better than our current practices.

The Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development

Chair Jo Butler
Vice Chair Karen O’Connell
Treasurer David DeMuth
Secretary Brad Middlekauff
Executive Committee Chair Jack Kerr

Princeton