Senior administrative officials of Princeton University toured the latest version of the school's campus-wide master plan at Township Hall last Thursday, offering a clearer look at what a denser, less sprawling, more pedestrian-friendly campus could look like, and raised the definitive prospect that University-owned vacant land in West Windsor will remain as open space.
Citing new technologies, and new academic fields, administrators said that they were determined to develop a campus that "works well" and is suited for teaching, classrooms, housing, research, and athletics.
In an effort to diminish the impact of traffic in an often-gridlocked Princeton Borough, the school has repeatedly indicated that its shuttle system will need to expand to suit the needs of a campus that comprises various "academic neighborhoods" where automobile use is discouraged.
In fact, in municipal zoning changes made earlier this year in the Borough area that houses the school's Engineering Quadrangle, the campus shuttle system, P-Rides, figured in the language drafted in the zoning ordinance, a sign of planning to come as cars are discouraged on campus.
And while University officials have neither discounted nor endorsed the idea of expanding a shuttle system outside of campus, planners are nonetheless keeping the idea part of the general discourse. Wendy Benchley, a member of both the Princeton Borough Council and the Planning Board, as well as a long-time advocate of a jitney system, underlined her point Thursday, after Robert Durkee, University vice president and secretary, described the school's plans to revitalize and relocate, by about 500 feet, the New Jersey Transit station that serves the Princeton Shuttle, more commonly known as the Dinky.
"I feel now is the time to make this jitney happen," Ms. Benchley said, urging University officials to not "stop at the end of campus" when planning shuttle routes of the future.
The Dinky issue, which has been a recurring topic of discussion since the University received a $101 million gift that launched the redevelopment proposal of the Alexander Street/University Place vicinity, making way for an arts neighborhood, seems to be here to stay as the school has envisioned moving the station to the south as part of the area's redevelopment. Preliminary concepts indicate a straightening out of University Place that would connect it with Alexander Street further to the south, enabling redevelopment to occur in the area behind McCarter and Berlind theaters.
Mr. Durkee said that the ultimate goal behind planning for a denser campus would, in fact, be to shuttle faculty and staff from offsite parking areas, but, beyond that, to plan for a walking campus. "That's a more ideal situation than always using the shuttle," Mr. Durkee said.
The University first announced in 2004 that it had abandoned the once popular concept of creating a mirror campus on its West Windsor lands, in favor for this new plan. Early this year, the school contracted with the architectural and planning firm Beyer Blinder Belle toward developing the concept of academic neighborhoods and pedestrian orientation. The firm found that the Frist Campus Center off Washington Road was the logical pedestrian campus center, and that a goal would be to make most areas accessible to Frist, via foot, within 10 minutes.
Neil Kittridge, who has appeared on behalf of BBB as the University has moved through the planning process, identified five themes as central to the campus plan: transportation; parking and shuttles; wayfinding; landscape; and sustainability.
On the theme of sustainability, the University has fielded some concern from local planners as the school has received approval for new buildings. Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand, also a Planning Board member, was encouraged that the plan, as a whole, was a "really wonderful beginning," but emphasized that "a lot of problems could be solved" if issues regarding sustainability and wayfinding, through use of increased signage, were addressed sooner, rather than later.
Mr. Kittridge, said tactics increasing wayfinding was something his firm had examined early on, and is "probably one of the easiest things to implement."
On affordable housing, Mr. Durkee offered a guarded assessment of the school's obligation toward newly implemented state-stipulated housing requirements. Two years ago, when the state's Council on Affordable Housing introduced its concept of employing a housing formula based on mix of jobs created and square footage for developers, the University balked, saying that many of its spacious laboratories only increase staff by one or two, as opposed to a similarly-sized development housing a full office or department. Since then, the University has expressed interest in brokering an arrangement that would take exception to particular campus development.
"We recognize there will be obligations," Mr. Durkee said, adding that the school had maintained a dialogue with COAH to address future development and subsequent affordable housing obligations.
The University, as part of approval to build its department for Operations Research & Financial Engineering on Charlton Street in the Borough, will build five affordable units on Leigh Avenue. Additionally, Mr. Durkee said, there could be room for more units on a two-acre parking lot on Franklin Avenue and the planned rehabilitation of the Borough's nearby Franklin and Maple Terrace.
To view the entire master plan, visit www.campusplan.princeton.edu.
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