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Town Topics Gets Preliminary Okay In First Step Toward Relocation

Matthew Hersh

Town Topics newspaper was granted a preliminary nod last Wednesday to move its offices to 305-307 Witherspoon Street.

The recommendation by the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB) is the first step in converting a two-story, multi-family home into a newspaper office. Built in 1949 by the late Robert Sinkler, a long-time community member and Princeton University athletic trainer, the building was purchased by Town Topics Realty Venture Group, LLC, in 2004.

The preliminary approval clears the way for the application to be heard by the Regional Planning Board of Princeton at a fall date that has not yet been set. The applicant is seeking to convert the current 1,920 square-foot structure to 2,957 square feet by building a two-story addition at the rear. Building plans were designed by Hillier Architecture, the West Windsor-based firm whose principal, J. Robert Hillier, is a minority owner of Town Topics.

The applicant, Town Topics Realty, which is a separate entity from the newspaper, is also seeking a variance to reduce the required parking from 15 spaces to 10 spaces. Township ordinance requires 15 spaces for the size and breadth of the office, a requirement that doesn't take into account the relatively small number of staff at the newspaper – a maximum of about 14 on days approaching deadline, according to Ken Smith, general manager of Town Topics.

That aspect concerned some members of SPRAB who worried that granting a variance specifically for that building would eventually carry over to future uses for the site – uses that could demand more parking.

"That variance goes with that building and somebody else could come in and have the variance to protect them – that bothers me," said Harry Cooke, SPRAB vice chair.

SPRAB members ultimately agreed to support the parking variance provided that it is tied with the specific use and that any future owner of the building would have to return to the Township for parking approvals.

Another concern related to available street parking for visitors and staff during peak pick-up/drop-off times at Community Park Elementary School. SPRAB member Robert Cerutti said that parents were already "fighting for spaces" during peak times, and that allowing Town Topics staff or visitors to park on the street would exacerbate the situation. Ultimately, SPRAB conditioned its approval on the provision that employees are not permitted to use on-street spaces during the peak times of 8:15 to 9 a.m. and 2:30 to 3:15 p.m.

The applicant will meet with Township Engineer Robert Kiser to resolve the location of fencing and plantings between the property and a 10-foot-wide alley way at the rear of the site, and to prepare a site plan outlining any current and proposed fencing, including fence height.

In other business, the developer Barsky Brothers received a SPRAB recommendation to build a 10,641 square-foot, three-story office building on Harrison Street, across the street from Princeton Hook & Ladder. A major concern by SPRAB members was access to the site during rush hour. Specifically, board members worried that turning north on Harrison coming out of the site would cause problems during peak traffic times. The developer agreed to place a "no left turn" sign as drivers exit the site.


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