Borough Revisits 'McMansions' Code; Responds to University Master Plan

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Borough Council implemented recommendations from the Regional Planning Board and passed an amendment to stem oversized homes, using a standard formula based on floor area ratio (FAR). The amendment will effectively safeguard building applications already received by the Borough's building department.

The ordinance, two years in the making, originated amid resident concerns that houses out of character with surrounding homes would be built, or that property owners would build to a lot's previously allowed capacity. In the Borough's R-1 zoning district, which makes up its western section, a property owner had been allowed to build a 15,000-square-foot home on a 20,000-square-foot lot. Now that limit has been reduced to 5,000 square-feet — a 25 percent FAR.

Single-family dwellings in the Borough's R-2 district are limited to a 30 percent FAR, and those in the R-3 and R-4 districts are limited to 40 percent FAR.

Council was willing, however, to revisit an amendment recommended by the Planning Board that would call on neighboring property owners to discuss height to setback ratios with respect to any sideyard. Council members, with Councilwoman Barbara Trelstad abstaining, passed the measure, but said the amendment would be subject to further consideration.

In other news, representatives of Princeton University continued to tour a new, pedestrian-friendly master plan for long-term planning of its campus. In addition to addressing specific parts of the campus, such as the Engineering Quadrangle, the area around 185 Nassau Street, and the future of the area near University Place and Alexander Street, the master plan promotes a general increase in density as well, rather than perpetuating a so-called sprawl campus.

The overall planning project, which has already been through public review by Princeton Township Committee and the Planning Board, "is still in the very early stages," University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee said, but the overall project is receiving "high-level" attention, including that of University President Shirley Tilghman.

Neil Kittridge of Beyer Blinder Belle, the architect and planning firm contracted by the University in the planning effort, delivered the bulk of the presentation, focusing on pedestrian and vehicular mobility, a restoration to landscaping in keeping with some of the oldest parts of campus, while raising the possibility of expanding P-Rides, the University's campus-wide jitney.

As expected, the presentation was a lead-in for some ongoing Council concerns in regard to campus development. Coming on the heels of Council's resolution of a zoning ordinance that allows for more developable space on the Engineering Quadrangle between Olden Street and Murray Place, Councilwoman Wendy Benchley said the new master plan could serve as a platform for "cross-fertilization" between the University and municipal relations. Councilman Roger Martindell echoed that sentiment, calling for institutionalized and regularly occurring discussions between University and municipal representatives.

Ms. Benchley also encouraged increased signage toward campus from Route 1 and other main throughways, adding that enhanced "way-finding would add vitality to both town and University." She also repeated her calls for a Central Park-type area, possibly on the vacant University lands in West Windsor.

Responding to Mr. Kittridge's suggestion that the Dinky shuttle could one day serve as a Bus Rapid Transit leading to areas other than to the Princeton Junction at West Windsor station and back, Councilman Andrew Koontz, a rail commuter, said to proceed with caution:

"Replacing the Dinky with a bus would cause a lot of red flags," he said, adding, "People might be less inclined to use it."

Council President Peggy Karcher said increased development would eventually lead to an increased obligation to provide affordable housing per requirements put forth by the state's Council on Affordable Housing (COAH).

Mr. Durkee said that while increased development would have to include an obligation to provide housing, "We don't have a specific location to point to right now." He added that Mr. Kittridge's firm was consulting the University on that end.

"We know that we'll have this obligation and we know that it has to be part of our planning process," Mr. Durkee said.

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