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Online petition opposes apartment house in Jugtown Historic District


More than 900 people have signed an online petition to prevent the development of a four-story apartment building that would be attached to an historic home in the Jugtown Historic District.

Developer RB Homes Inc. has proposed building a 20-unit rental apartment building at 344 Nassau St., on the corner of North Harrison Street and Nassau Street, utilizing the town’s Affordable Housing Overlay-2 zone. An overlay zone allows for development options in a zoning district.

RB Homes Inc.’s proposed development has been undergoing a concept review by Princeton officials. A formal application has not been filed for the apartment building, which would include four affordable housing units.

The Princeton Historic Preservation Commission reviewed the concept plan at its Feb. 27 meeting. The commission, which is an advisory board, was critical of the overall concept plan. It can offer comments and recommendations, but they are non-binding.

Meanwhile, the Change.org petition states that the Jugtown Historic District “is about to be changed with four-story additions swallowing two-story existing buildings.”

“Princeton has taken steps to expand housing around town and incorporated an Affordable Housing Overlay-2 zone in this neighborhood. While we have no problem with additional housing in our town, we don’t think treasured historic districts are the place to do it,” the petition states.

The petition urges Princeton officials to remove the Jugtown Historic District from the Affordable Housing Overlay-2 zone – specifically, the properties on the four corners of the Harrison Street and Nassau Street intersection.

The ordinance also should be amended to reduce the maximum allowable height, which is 45 feet. Buildings should be set further back from the street. Neighbors want officials to ensure that new housing in Jugtown is compatible with existing housing.

According to the Save Jugtown Historic District website, the proposed 45-foot-tall apartment building would “overwhelm the 29-foot-tall ‘pivotal’ historic building at 344 Nassau St. and the ‘historic crossroads’ intersection.”

Jugtown is named after the Horner family and their pottery business, according to website. The pottery business was located at the corner of Markham Road and Nassau Street.

The Horner family lived at 344 Nassau St. The original house was a story-and-a-half tall, and was built in 1760. It was enlarged to a full two stories. The larger wing was added in the early 1800s, according to the website.

The Horner family settled in the area in the 1690s and was given a land grant that ran from Vandeventer Avenue in Princeton all the way to Kingston, according to an oral history in The Princeton Recollector newspaper. The four buildings at the corner of Harrison Street and Nassau Street were built before the Revolutionary War.

The Jugtown Historic District was listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 1986 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

The state and national register designations cited the “cluster of historic buildings” surrounding the intersection of Harrison Street and Nassau Street. It described 344 Nassau St. as “the most pivotal and important building at the Jugtown crossroads,” according to Save Jugtown webste.

Several Jugtown neighborhood residents objected to RB Homes Inc.’s concept plan at the Historic Preservation Commission meeting in February. They suggested that affordable housing could be built on other properties in the Affordable Housing Overlay-2 zone.

The Affordable Housing Overlay-2 zone includes properties that have frontage on Nassau Street, and on North Harrison Street to the Princeton Department of Public Works garage. It also includes a couple of properties on the opposite side of North Harrison Street.

On the north side of Nassau Street, the overlay zone begins mid-block between Evelyn Place and North Harrison Street and ends at the Bank of America property. On the south side of Nassau Street, it includes the building on the southwest corner of Nassau Street and South Harrison Street. It extends east on Nassau Street to Markham Road.

At the Historic Preservation Commission meeting, chairman Julie Capozzoli said that a 45-foot-tall building at the intersection of North Harrison Street and Nassau Street would be overwhelming.

“I just don’t think it would be attractive or successful,” Capozzoli said.

Historic Preservation Commission member David Schure said that while he understood the concept of “as of right,” in this case, the density of development “just doesn’t work here.” “As of right” means an owner can develop a property if the plan complies with all aspects of the zoning ordinance.

“I feel like we have made (applicants) re-think their project over and over and over again to get it right. To get this one right, its size, height and bulk just doesn’t fit there,” Schure said.

Historic Preservation Commission member Elric Endersby said that “my sense all along” is that the developer has not taken the character of Princeton, the history of the town and the neighborhood into consideration.

The commission has discussed the scale and the materials for properties in the Witherspoon-Jackson Historic District and the Bank Street Historic District. But suddenly, it is confronted with “we can have this four-story building or that four-story building” in the Jugtown Historic District, he said.

“I think the thing (RB Homes Inc.) has taken into consideration more than anything else is greed. What bothers me to the core, it is blatantly greedy,” Endersby said.

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