Merwick Tract On Deck as Borough Council Looks Toward Rezoning

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Borough Council last night was slated to get its first taste of what could end up being a thorough development of some 30 acres of fertile land along Princeton Borough's Bayard Lane and Paul Robeson Place, currently comprising Princeton HealthCare System's Merwick Care Center, Princeton University's Stanworth Apartments, and the YM/WCA.

The discussion, which ended too late for reporting in this edition of Town Topics, is the beginning of process that could result in rezoning that area for future development, as Princeton HealthCare System looks to relocate Merwick and the University Medical Center at Princeton, also a subsidiary of PHCS, to Plainsboro.

"We want to focus on some issues so we can begin to write up some potential zoning language," said municipal Planning Director Lee Solow, identifying density, building height, open space access and buffers, traffic circulation, and mixed-use design as some of the key issues involved in the process.

Last fall, the Regional Planning Board of Princeton implemented some changes to the Community Master Plan that addressed the future uses of the Merwick-Stanworth site. It is likely that once Princeton University, the contract purchaser for Merwick, completes its purchase of the site, it will conduct some type of redevelopment at Stanworth, and transform the existing Merwick center into graduate housing.

Last fall's Planning Board talks, which grew out of a series of public meetings, did not suggest specific designs, but did set new parameters for future development. Elements outlined in the changes included encouraging 20 percent of any new housing to qualify as affordable, building a variety of housing types, promoting pedestrian and bicycle connections, and designing through streets that would discourage short cuts from, for example, Bayard Lane to Paul Robeson Place.

The Planning Board also agreed that a portion of Merwick's current wooded area should remain, and that any new development should not intrude on the Y playing field along Paul Robeson and should provide public access to any open space created as the result of redevelopment.

Mr. Solow also said he would address the role of Princeton University as contract purchaser of the Merwick site. Princeton HealthCare System has requested that the zoning discussion get underway, but the University has not offered any concrete indication as to how its redevelopment for that site would play out. For its part, the University is currently involved in a multi-year campus redesign effort, and redeveloping the nine-acre Merwick and the 17-acre Stanworth sites could factor into that plan.

The process is similar to the rezoning of the hospital's Witherspoon campus, when PHCS was hesitant to sell off the property before it was rezoned. The hospital would rely, in part, on the sale of the Merwick land to help finance an estimated $350 million campus on the FMC Corp. site in Plainsboro.

Currently, the Stanworth site falls in the Borough's R-4 zone, similar to the adjacent John-Witherspoon neighborhood. Merwick and the YWCA are zoned R-1, characteristic of the Borough's abutting western section.

However, any changes in zoning, Mr. Solow said, are not imminent. "We need to come up with zoning that sets general parameters, he said, adding: "This is the first meeting, and there are sure to be other issues."

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