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Letter to the Editor of PP re ANR and TRW

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

To the Editor:

On Thursday, April 1, the Princeton Planning Board will consider the designation of yet

another Area in Need of Redevelopment (ANR), the third such designation for Princeton

in fewer than five years. This time it is for properties comprising over 40 acres on or

near the Princeton Shopping Center.

As the Planning Board considers this option, we would like to offer a cautionary tale to

our friends and neighbors throughout town. The Area in Need of Redevelopment

designation will impact all of Princeton, so we would like to encourage all Princetonians

to pay close attention.

Almost any neighborhood could be shoehorned into meeting the definition of an Area in

Need of Redevelopment, although such a designation is not in the spirit of the statewide

law that established this redevelopment framework. Imagine how different the future

would be if the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood had been declared an Area in Need

of Redevelopment rather than designated our 20th historic district.

The Princeton Council should give careful consideration as to whether they intend to

continue to use this ANR designation, a designation not intended for a town like

Princeton, as the proper tool to redevelop many parts of Princeton.

In 2018, the Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) approached the town with their

strategic plan, which involved moving all of their student housing onto their Princeton

campus. To do so, they would need to redevelop the Tennent-Roberts Campus and the

Whiteley Gymnasium (TRW) parcels, located at the intersections of Stockton Street with

Hibben Road and Edgehill Street. Officials from the town advised PTS to consider using

the ANR pathway for their proposed redevelopment and PTS agreed to do so. PTS then

approached the neighbors about their plan, most of which seemed reasonable, and so the

neighbors didn’t object. A promised benefit to the neighborhood included addressing

issues such as stormwater runoff, traffic and parking in a holistic way. In addition to the

TRW properties, the final ANR designation included three historic single-family homes

on Stockton, Edgehill and Library Place, the open field on Mercer at Hibben, the Erdman

Center and the Adams House.

One of the expected benefits of the ANR designation is the ability for more input by the

public – a partnership among the residents, the town and the developer, if you will. Our

public meetings, held in 2018-19, were tightly controlled, and the greatest benefit seemed

to be the opportunity for the elected officials to understand our neighborhood. They

learned we have traffic and storm water issues. They learned that we are a historic

neighborhood bordering an educational institution, the type of neighborhood that the

Princeton Master Plan says requires special attention. They learned we are a gateway to

Princeton, and that the neighbors care deeply about the contribution of open space to the

gateway. What we didn’t learn, until it was too late, was that many large buildings would

be required to meet the needs of PTS, well over two times the underlying zoning – a

fundamental change to the entire neighborhood.

Many of us now regret not objecting to the ANR designation, and here is why.

The ANR designation allows the town and the property owner to dispense with current

zoning. Once the ANR designation for a neighborhood is approved by Council, it isn’t

going away. Regardless of whether a redevelopment plan is ever filed and regardless of

who ultimately owns the property, the designation remains. In our neighborhood, we had

a lengthy process in which the key element – the actual plan for the buildings – was not

disclosed to neighbors until far into the process – at which point the process derailed.

PTS had telegraphed earlier in the process that, if a suitable redevelopment plan was not

approved, PTS would look to sell the TRW campus. Thus, it was no surprise that PTS

offered the TRW campus portion of the ANR for sale last year; it is now under contract

to a private developer. Had the ANR originally been proposed by a private developer,

rather than a venerable education institution, we would have had serious objections, and

we would have encouraged the developer to rely upon the underlying zoning. The ANR

designation, in whole or in part, remains with the property. The town conferred

considerable value to PTS and any subsequent private developer while leaving our

neighborhood in limbo, a situation that threatens the character of one of Princeton’s

oldest historic neighborhoods.

We encourage all of Princeton to pay attention now – this could happen in your

neighborhood, too. Learn the facts about ANR and the impact it can have in your

neighborhood or other locations throughout our town. Once the Planning Board makes a

recommendation in support of an ANR, decision-making authority shifts to the Council.

Please understand that the town always has the potential to create new zoning without an

ANR, and the public would have safeguards and the opportunity for input. One of the

reasons that towns use the ANR is to move quickly by circumventing the established

zoning process. In Princeton, we need to ask if this is really necessary to achieve our

town-wide redevelopment goals.

Jo Butler

Tom Chapman

David DeMuth

Jack Kerr

Nora Kerr

Jane MacLennan

Brad Middlekauff

Karen O’Connell

Christopher Olsen

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