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Disputed Tulane Street Project Moves Forward

Matthew Hersh

"Phase II" of Princeton Borough's Downtown redevelopment project overcame a significant obstacle last week by receiving a recommendation to the Princeton Regional Planning Board by the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB).

The project, which consists of a five-story, 75,761 square-foot mixed use building featuring a grocery store on the first level, is to be built on the current surface lot at Tulane and Spring streets. The building, Building C, will have 5,546 square feet of public space available and 53 residential units.

The recommendation, however, was hardly a concrete convenant between the board and Nassau HKT, the developer of the project plan.

A courtyard at the interior of the site proved to be the major point of contention. Members of the Board said that installing better access and retail to the interior courtyard would create a "public space" much like the retail that can be found along Chambers Walk between Witherspoon Street and Palmer Square East, according to William Wolfe, SPRAB chairman.

However, Robert Powell, principal of Nassau HKT, said that while the courtyard will be available as a public space, it is designed as a courtyard for the apartments and maintained privately by the developer, unlike the $1.3 million plaza next to the new library, which will be designated as a public space and maintained with public dollars.

He likened the courtyard to the green in front of the Nassau Inn in Palmer Square: privately-owned, but publicly-used.

Mr. Wolfe, however, said that the space needs to be open to pedestrians, and retail should be established in the area around the courtyard.

"I personally think this is a dead-wrong plan," Mr. Wolfe said. "I would propose to remove [three contended] apartments and [create] public access."

"The plaza would effectively be a private yard for the apartments," he added.

Mr. Powell contended that the courtyard portion of Phase II was "never intended to expand the [Central Business District]." He added that he did not think pedestrians will be attracted to the closed-in courtyard, saying the brunt of activity in the refurbished downtown will be in the $1.3 million library plaza.

Carl Peters, the Borough engineer, said Borough Council had never discussed off-street retail space for Building C, but he did not rule out the possibility for an amendment to the site plan.

The project is in conjunction with Phase I, the 500-car parking garage and the mixed-use five-story building and plaza, otherwise known as Building A, located in the former Park and Shop lot.

Phase III, which the developer has said will not be directly addressed until Phases I and II are completed, will involve the public lot approached by the alleyway off Witherspoon Street between Community Liquors and J. McLaughlin

Another historic point of contention raised by this project is that several area merchants do not want to see the Tulane Street surface lot eliminated, believing that those spaces are instrumental to businesses in the area behind Nassau Street. Several merchants have also expressed worry that another five-story structure will create an urban environment forcing the area to lose its "village appeal."

Shade Without Trees

Members of SPRAB voiced a more muted concern regarding the lack of street trees in the developer's site plan. Don Hillenbrand of Nassau HKT said that a "hostile" environment due to constant shade would be created once Building C is built. He added that because two five-story structures will line either side of the street, the south side of Spring Street will be "entirely in shade."

However, the logistics of Building C, including the size, purpose, and effect, were all signed into a redevelopment agreement last year between the developer and the Borough, Nassau HKT's Mr. Powell said. He urged members of SPRAB to pass the application along to the Planning Board, where the plan will be subjected to a more "political" climate.

The Planning Board has yet to set a date for a review and public hearing for the application.

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