In its first formal attempt to brainstorm future redevelopment designs of the nine-acre site that houses the Merwick Care Center on Bayard Lane, the Regional Planning Board agreed last Thursday that this particular project could benefit from tapping into a local architectural pool that seems more than eager to help.
Members of the Board, responding to calls for a so-called "charette," or an intense planning session involving an assortment of players, seemed open to the possibility of regarding the site with a more intense level of community input.
"We should look at this collective problem with collective solutions," said Kevin Wilkes, a MacLean Street resident and an architect who was a primary collaborator in the Writers Block literary Garden in 2004.
Princeton HealthCare System, the parent company of Merwick and the University Medical Center at Princeton (UMCP), has contracted Princeton University as the potential purchaser of the land and the facility, which will likely be made into graduate housing. The University has indicated that it could integrate the site with the Stanworth Apartments, which lie directly to the north on a tract approximately double that of Merwick's nine acres.
Mr. Wilkes, who is also involved with Princeton Future, a community group that examines in-town development, offered the assistance of the group as steps are taken to amend the Princeton Community Master Plan to guide any future development. Princeton Future spearheaded its own "Witherspoon Street Corridor Study" that examined, among other aspects of the roadway, the future of the UMCP site.
Planners are finding themselves with what appears to be a tricky planning endeavor since the site also abuts the John-Witherspoon neighborhood and features a heavily wooded area, arguably the last significant piece of undeveloped land in the Borough. The Merwick site is wedged between the YM/YWCA campus and the Stanworth Apartments.
With discussions of its long-range capital improvement plans underway, the Y has signalled that it might be willing to undergo some sort of land-swap with the University to facilitate any new development or site alignment. PHCS representatives have suggested that the front area of the Merwick property along Bayard Lane might be a better, and larger, site for the Y playing fields currently located along Paul Robeson, across from Chambers Street.
Mr. Reed, a member of the Planning Board who also chairs the Board's Master Plan Subcommittee, said that "a serious effort needs to be made" when it comes to improving circulation in that area, pointing to an idea that has been brewing for about year that outlines a new street, ostensibly an extension of Chambers, that would run through the current Y playing fields as far down as Birch Avenue. However, Mr. Reed added, a new street ending at the Stanworth Apartments was the more probable scenario.
"There are several things you can anticipate, maybe not immediately, but over time," he said.
New homes would be built along the so-called "Chambers Street Extension" that would resemble the diverse housing style of John Street.
The tract of land that comprises the Y, Merwick, and Stanworth, is substantial, and with any new development, could directly impact traffic, both in-town and in surrounding neighborhoods, including John-Witherspoon and the Borough's western section.
Currently, Merwick opens up on Bayard Lane with little fanfare, with the original Merwick mansion directly to the north, and the Y facilities immediately to the south. However, upon entering the site, the space yields itself not only to the Merwick building, but to two parking areas, one paved and one gravel in the rear, easternmost portion of the site; the Merwick Gardens; and the aforementioned woods, which are sprinkled with landscaping equipment, dumpsters, and other debris.
The Merwick Gardens, a relatively small area, features a fountain, stone benches surrounding a courtyard, and a gazebo. In the spring and summer months, the area is fully landscaped.
During its discussions the Planning Board made it clear that whatever the University ends up doing with the site, the mansion should be preserved as a focal point in any new development. Also discussed was the possibility of removing more recent additions including the nursing home wings that face Bayard Lane.
John Matthews, a resident of Poor Farm Road in the Township who spoke at the Planning Board hearing, recalled growing up in the Merwick mansion when it was still a private residence and outlined some of the building's details: a small chapel or "oratory" built by Mr. Matthews's grandfather, a bishop; and a small third-floor theater space. In fact, in the library area on Merwick's first floor, there is a plaque commemorating Elsie Procter Matthews, Mr. Matthews's grandmother, "who lived and died in this house."
Mr. Matthews also mentioned the history of the neighborhood, pointing out that the mansion effectively served as the dividing line between historically poor and wealthy neighborhoods:
"It seems to me now, that we really have an opportunity to have some kind of merging action," he said.
Return to Top | Go to Next Story