Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 33
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
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Development Proposed for Former Olive May Site But Neighbors’ Concerns Call for Revisions

Anne Levin

A proposal to develop the vacant site most recently occupied by Olive May grocery is currently being re-evaluated due to strong objections from neighborhood residents about its size and scope. The plan was submitted to the Regional Planning Board on July 19 by the owners, the Carnevale family, represented by Linda Fahmie, principal and founder at ROI Renovations and leasing agent for the property.

Ms. Fahmie spoke at a meeting of Princeton Future last Wednesday evening, held at the Chestnut Street Firehouse and attended by more than 70 people. The program also included a presentation of a document about preferences and concerns for the site, prepared by a committee of neighbors; and ideas about design guidelines from architect and Princeton Future member Jim Constantine. The property, bisected by a driveway owned by Princeton University, is also the site of the former West Coast Video store, which is owned by the Bratman family.

The proposal for the Olive May (formerly Wild Oats and, previous to that, Davidson’s Market) site was for a 37,500-square-foot development of a two-story building with about 22,500 square feet of retail on the first floor, and 15,000 square feet of residential units on the second level. Parking was to be located both in the basement level and on the surface.

“We submitted the plan as a result of a year and a half of meetings with the community and trying to identify where the consensus was,” Ms. Fahmie said on Thursday. “We had several plans. The one we submitted was the one we felt was the highest and best configuration of the property to meet the economic goals of the owners as well as the needs of the community.”

The initial plan, which would have required variances, was for a three-story structure of retail, office, and residential space. A number of Murray Place residents who live within 200 feet of the site did not want a three-story building there, Ms. Fahmie said. “We decided to move to a concept we knew we could justify in terms of our economic performance,” she said. “Our switch to the residential was also a result of meetings. Our owners originally did not want residential. I urged them to include it because the master plan wanted it.”

The office element was taken out to reduce the amount of variances needed. “It was all based on the feedback we got directly from the community. I had numerous calls from individuals who said they weren’t interested in speaking up in a public meeting because they had to live with their neighbors, but they felt strongly.”

Under the submitted plan, the residential section would be made up of 14 condominium units, which would be a mix of studios, one and two-bedroom units. A total of 97 parking spaces would include 30 on the surface and 67 underground. The front of the building would be a community plaza of approximately 125 feet by 15 feet.

Among those expressing concern about the plan was architect and neighborhood resident Joshua Zinder. “I thought that in general the scheme was an improvement from previous schemes,” he said on Thursday. “But to base a building that’s going to be fairly predominant in our community on what is allowable by the ordinances has led to a building that lacks formal character and misses out on the great potential and opportunity the site has to offer.”

Mr. Zinder said he believed Ms. Fahmie was saying that the plan was the only one that made economic sense for the owners. “I say it doesn’t make economic sense. A three-story building probably makes more sense,” he said.

The proposal would call for demolition of the existing building and filling out the width of the block. “I happen to be one of those people who really like the building that’s there now,” Mr. Zinder said. “There are so many things that can be done to it. It could be added on to, or subdivided. I think it would just be too bad to tear it down. I applaud them for trying to develop something in town. But I wish that it was a better plan.”

Ms. Fahmie said a revised plan will be submitted within the next few weeks. “I left saying we have a very short window where we still can consider design ideas,” she said. “We asked people to give us photos, sketch out an idea, give us material examples you’d like to see.”

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