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PU Campus Plan Looks 10 Years Ahead, but Some Worry It Exceeds Town Goals

Matthew Hersh

Princeton University’s bold 10-year campus plan, recently distributed town-wide, outlines a comprehensive look at planned physical changes on campus, as well as changes in University policy, landscaping, architecture, and environment. The plan represents a set of goals first advanced in 2004 when top University administrators said the school would abandon the idea of a mirror campus in West Windsor, favoring a more walkable campus that would impact about one-third of the school’s 380-acre main campus.

The school has hosted open houses and with the recent mailing has now summarized the thinking that formed the nucleus of the two-and-a-half-year campus plan effort while delineating the relevant campus “neighborhoods.” However, as Princeton Borough and Township officials begin to digest the full scope of the plan and think about potential changes in zoning that would be necessary to accommodate the University’s vision, concerns continue to surface.

Last month, Marvin Reed, the former Borough mayor who chairs the Master Plan Subcommittee of the Regional Planning Board of Princeton, raised specific issues about the campus plan, particularly concerning the school’s proposed arts neighborhood and a planned parking garage near Ivy Lane and Western Way. In a more general sense, Mr. Reed echoed the doubts he had last year when the Planning Board was carrying out a routine update of the Princeton Community Master Plan.

At that time Mr. Reed encouraged PU to coordinate its planning with the municipal master plan, which has yet to be updated in line with the school’s current thinking.

The campus plan, Mr. Reed said, “is inconsistent with the Community Master Plan. If the municipal governing bodies are to consider changes in existing zoning to accommodate the new University Campus Plan, the Community Master Plan should be revised.”

While the campus master plan has not explicitly ruled out the prospect of a mirror campus across Lake Carnegie, any significant development there in the next several decades appears unlikely. “Such a significant move was determined to be premature,” the plan reads, adding that expansive development, particularly new infrastructure further than a 10-minute walk from the Frist Campus center —  central to the school’s campus plan —  would “dilute the intimate character and collaborative spirit fostered by Princeton’s historically compact, walkable campus.”

No timetable has been set as to when University officials will meet again with the Planning Board, but it appears that campus and municipal planning will require extensive joint choreographing, particularly concerning areas around the Dinky station and Western Way. To further complicate matters, the Dinky area, the site of the University’s planned arts and transit neighborhood and slated to be home to the new Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts, straddles the Princeton Borough and Township municipal line. The Princetons will likely have to work in tandem while examining any changes there, similar to the rezoning of the University Medical Center at Princeton, in anticipation of residential development there once the hospital relocates.

A key component to fulfilling the University’s needs for its proposed arts neighborhood is relocating the Dinky terminus about 470 feet south from its current location. Mr. Reed worried that relocating the station “not only proposes a longer walk, it makes the station far less viable as a community asset.” He suggested a renovation of the existing buildings that make up the Dinky station there.

However, the University has maintained that relocating the Dinky is pivotal to redeveloping the entire area, which would include a transit plaza, with access to the Dinky, campus shuttles, buses, a community jitney, and taxis. The campus plan envisions new retail space “and other passenger amenities,” as well as a relocated, 24-hour Wawa.

Robert Durkee, Princeton University vice president and secretary, said in an e-mail that now that an architect has been identified for the design of some of the preliminary buildings in an arts and transit neighborhood, a community open house is scheduled for February 19. Further details are expected in the next week.

Steven Holl Architects was chosen to design those initial academic buildings for Princeton University’s new arts and transit neighborhood. Specifically, the firm will be responsible for designing several buildings to house the Program in Theater and Dance, components of the Department of Music, the Lewis Center for the Arts and the Society of Fellows in the Creative and Performing Arts. Encompassing an estimated 135,000 gross square feet, the preliminary plans include a black box theatre, a large dance studio, an orchestral rehearsal studio, several smaller acting studios, dance studios, music practice rooms, classrooms, support spaces, a café, and offices.

Mr. Durkee observed that Mr. Reed “has asked excellent questions, and I think we have good answers.

“We look forward to answering the questions — and others that the Planning Board may have —  in writing, at a meeting, or both. At this point I don’t know how the Planning Board wants to proceed, although we’re certainly eager to continue the dialogue.”

Mr. Durkee added that the distributed brochure is basically a summary and that the full plan “should be off the press in another few weeks.” The current plan can be viewed at

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