The Princeton Planning Board has approved an application for the construction of a three-story building, which will contain a restaurant, a bakery and three apartments, on Witherspoon Street.
The board’s approval of CRX Associates LLC’s application at its Oct. 20 meeting clears the way for the demolition of the 19th-century building at 70-74 Witherspoon St. Currently, it houses the Terra Momo Bread Co. and A Little Taste of Cuba cigar store.
The building is in what officials call a “historic preservation no-man’s land.” It is sandwiched between the Central Historic District, which encompasses the Central Business District, and the Witherspoon-Jackson Historic District. It is not included in either of the two historic districts.
Carlo Momo, who is a partner in CRX Associates LLC with his brother, Raoul Momo, outlined the plans for the new building, which will require the demolition of the current building.
Momo told the Planning Board that the building is “functionally obsolete.” There are issues with handicapped accessibility because parts of the building are on different levels, and many ramps would be needed, he said. There are also issues with the building’s foundation.
“The building is in really bad, bad shape,” Carlo Momo said.
Carlo Momo said there has been redevelopment in the immediate area, pointing to the Princeton Public Library across the street and to the building that houses the Mistral restaurant, next door to CRX Associates LLC’s building.
Architect Leslie Dowling said the new building would be about 7,300 square feet. There would be an artisanal bakery and a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating on the first floor, she said.
There would be two one-bedroom apartments on the second floor and one two-bedroom apartment on the third floor. The apartments would have nine-foot-tall ceilings and outdoor terraces. The apartments will be all-electric, she said.
Acknowledging the building’s history, Dowling said CRX Associates LLC is considering how to incorporate elements of the 19th century building into the new one. The decorative trim around the front door may be removed and relocated inside the building. Historic photos are also a possibility, she said.
Traffic engineer Georges Jacquemart told the Planning Board that the traffic impact would be negligible. There is no room on the property for the required 11 parking spaces, but parking is available in nearby public parking garages, he said.
Bicycle parking will be provided onsite, Jacquemart said. There will be six bicycle parking spaces along the side of the building for employees, and six bicycle parking spaces in front for visitors and patrons. In the basement, there will be four bicycle parking spaces for tenants, he said.
As part of the approval, the Planning Board granted a variance for the required 11 parking spaces.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, resident Lauren Seem said she believed granting the parking variance would be detrimental. She said she does not object to the application, but she is concerned that it may push parking onto residential streets.
Princeton Council members David Cohen and Mia Sacks, who also sit on the Planning Board, said the town is attempting to balance the parking needs of employees, residents and visitors. A task force has been working on the issue of permit parking for several years, they said.
Sacks said the parking issue should not hold up CRX Associates LLC’s application. It should not be a “litmus test” on parking, because that would not be fair, she said. This area of town was developed before there were zoning regulations, she said.
Planning Board member Zenon Tech-Czarny said the application is “bittersweet.” He said he liked the historic building, but the new building is a nice project. He said he was happy about the sustainability aspects of the new building.
Princeton Historic Preservation Officer Elizabeth Kim said the Princeton Historic Preservation Commission, which gave the project a courtesy review in July, understood that there was development all around the building at 70-74 Witherspoon St. There was much conversation about the building’s history, she said.
The courtesy review was suggested by the Planning Board in April because of the building’s ties to Princeton’s Black community. It was part of the historically Black Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.
The building was the site of Virginia Mills’ beauty salon, which was a Black-owned business that was in operation from 1931 to 1976, according to the town’s website. The building was owned by Flory and Lucy Toto, who bought it in 1924.
Prior, the building was the home of Thomas Sullivan Grocery in 1887, according to the Historical Society of Princeton. It became Dennis Sullivan Grocery in 1896, and Murray’s Meats and Grocery in 1910.
After they purchased the building in 1924, the Toto’s relocated their business – Toto’s Market – to the building, according to the Historical Society of Princeton. Toto’s Market was established in 1912 and was also operated in other locations.
The Witherspoon Bread Co. opened in the space formerly occupied by Toto’s Market. It was followed by the present-day Terra Momo Bread Co., officials said.