Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 15
 
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
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Following Delay, Borough Hall Revisits Merwick Rehab Site

Matthew Hersh

Nearly six months after spending substantive public time on the future use of the site currently occupied by the Merwick Care Center on Bayard Lane, Princeton Borough Council Tuesday night was slated to review zoning that would accommodate for future residential, recreation, institutional, and community use there.

The delay was due, in part, to the breadth of the zoning scheme, which proposes a “mixed use,” or MX overlay zone covering a combined 30 acres of land occupied by Princeton HealthCare System’s Merwick, Princeton University’s Stanworth Apartments, and the YM/YWCA. The four organizations have indicated that they would work together in redeveloping the entire site, but three of the parties, PU and the two Y’s, said in the past that they needed to give a closer look at the zoning plan.

Borough Council was slated to introduce an ordinance forming the MX zone Tuesday night, after Town Topics went to press. No public hearing has been set yet.

But with a contract purchaser in Princeton University set to buy Merwick’s nine acres from Princeton HealthCare System, the zoning there needs to be carefully crafted for development on one of the last swaths of developable land in downtown Princeton. Though the University has not specified what the Merwick lands would be used for, it appears likely that the school would want to increase its graduate and faculty housing stock.

Planning Director Lee Solow crafted the new ordinance upon receiving feedback from the stakeholders involved. After weighing stakeholder input, what had been listed as “philanthropic” uses in the MX overlay has been amended to not-for-profit community institutional use. Further, the proposed zoning’s -total 125,000-square-foot cap on all non-residential development now exempts 75,000 square feet for a nursing home — a change that permits the Y to expand and the Merwick Care Center to remain until its anticipated relocation to Plainsboro.

That allowance came after the Y had expressed reservations in October over the proposed zoning, in trying to avoid major obstacles in future expansion. The YW, in the midst of its own strategic plan, occupies Bramwell House on Bayard Lane, directly next to Merwick. The YW has indicated that it will stay on location, and that it and the YM would work together on a choreographed redevelopment of the entire site. In October, Dan Haggerty, attorney for the Y’s, said there were plans in the works, but that “no imminent plans” for the Y to redevelop directly on Paul Robeson Place, which runs perpendicular to Bayard Lane.

Other changes in the MX zone revision include language regarding affordable housing, with a 20 percent set-aside for any residential development there.

The proposal also encourages a 25 percent open space mandate. Open space could include streets, driveways, and parking areas, but could also be geared toward preserving a small, wooded tract, known as Merwick Woods, in the process.

The site currently lies in the Borough’s R-1 residential zone. If the MX is approved, the R-1 would remain in place as the underlying zoning there.

Princeton HealthCare System officials have said that they would like to see the zoning implemented as the corporate parent of the University Medical Center at Princeton and Merwick moves closer to breaking ground on the former FMC Corp. site on Plainsboro Road in Plainsboro. In October, Mark Solomon, an attorney for PHCS, expressed a desire to work with the neighborhoods and towns through the planning process, but called on Borough Council to get the zoning enacted: “We would love for this to move forward.”

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