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Planning Board hearing for Prospect Avenue application will continue in September

LEA KAHN/STAFF

Princeton University representatives will return to the Princeton Planning Board in September to complete a public hearing on a proposal to demolish three Victorian houses at 110-116 Prospect Ave. and to move the former Court Club building at 91 Prospect Ave. across the street to those lots.

The Princeton Planning Board started its public hearing on the university’s application for minor site plan approval – with a variance for a buffer zone – at its June 17 meeting and continued the public hearing at a special meeting July 8.

The proposal is key to Princeton University’s planned development of the Environmental Studies and School of Engineering and Applied Science complex – about 3% of which would sit on land occupied by the former Court Club building. It was one of several “eating clubs” that provided meals and social activities for Princeton undergraduate students.

The Planning Board spent nearly two hours at the July 8 special meeting listening to public comment on the minor site plan application. The university needs a variance to permit a 105-foot buffer between the Court Club building in its proposed location and the adjacent Prospect Apartments on the north side of Prospect Avenue. The minimum buffer is 250 feet.

Princeton University representatives were not pleased at the prospect of having to wait until the Planning Board’s Sept. 23 meeting to complete the public hearing on the minor site plan application.

Princeton University Architect Ron McCoy said the two-month delay is “significant” and that it is holding up the proposed Environmental Studies and School of Engineering and Applied Science project. The complex would be located on the south side of Prospect Avenue, partially on the lot occupied by the former Court Club building.

Planning Director Michael LaPlace said that while he understands Princeton University’s frustration, the Planning Board has held several special meetings in the past 18 months to accommodate other applications related to the university’s East Campus expansion.

LaPlace said the minor site plan application must be resolved before the Planning Board can hear the application for the proposed Environmental Studies and School of Engineering and Applied Science complex.

McCoy and attorney Christopher DeGrezia, who represents Princeton University, agreed to wait until the Planning Board’s Sept. 23 meeting.

Meanwhile, several residents expressed their objections to the proposal to tear down the three houses at 110-116 Prospect Ave. and to move the former Court Club building across the street to the vacant lots.

Resident John Heilner said that after carefully weighing the pros and cons of the minor site plan application and the variance being requested, he concluded that “the public detriments far outweigh any public benefits.”

“This is exactly the opposite of what the Municipal Land Use Law requires. In fact, the only party benefiting is Princeton University. It could derive the same benefit from any number of alternative plans,” Heilner said.

Heilner, who graduated from Princeton University in 1963 and belonged to the Court Club, said he can “only imagine (the older alumni’s) horror when they see the Court Club set apart from the other clubhouses” at Princeton University’s annual class reunions.

Lewis Hamilton, who also lives in Princeton, said Princeton University chose to design and plan for the new complex without regard for the town’s Master Plan and zoning ordinance, which led to the request for a buffer variance.

Princeton University’s position is clear, Hamilton said. It claims that the town does not have the authority to prevent it from demolishing the three houses and moving the Court Club building across the street, and the community is “powerless” to stop it, he said.

Hamilton said Princeton University is offering a “stark choice.”

The town can uphold its Master Plan and zoning ordinance, in which case the university will destroy the Court Club and leave the Victorian houses intact for now, or it can allow the university to save the Court Club building and destroy the houses, he said.

Resident James Bash agreed, and said that Princeton University “is saying to (the Planning Board and the community), ‘I will do harm, but if you resist, I will do greater harm.’ ”

“If this is what things have come to in Princeton, the university has lost its way,” Bash said. He urged the Planning Board to deny the variance and “hope town and gown can work together for a better solution, as we have done in the past.”

Melanie Stein, who lives in Princeton and who is a Princeton University graduate, said she was concerned about the process. She had expressed support for the project at the Historic Preservation Commission’s June 7 meeting to review the application.

Stein questioned whether there is a misunderstanding of the Princeton Planning Board’s role, and that it was her understanding that the university does not need permission to demolish the three houses.

LaPlace, the town’s Planning Director, said the Victorian houses are not protected by a local historic designation. The university could demolish them and the Court Club as well, he said.

 

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