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Tulane St. Project to Go Before Planning Board

Matthew Hersh

The second phase of Princeton Borough's downtown redevelopment project, which includes plans for a five-story, 78,867-square-foot mixed-use building on the current surface lot at Tulane and Spring streets, is set to appear before the Princeton Regional Planning Board this evening, May 12, at Township Hall.

The meeting, which begins at 7:30 p.m., will include public response as part of the entire application hearing.

Plans for "Phase II" were to be decided in a meeting originally scheduled for last Thursday, but with time constraints affecting other applications on the agenda, and the anticipated outpouring of public opinion, the Planning Board announced that it would reschedule the meeting for this evening.

A point of contention for the Borough is that the 78,867 square-foot structure is about 5,000 square-feet larger than what council had approved two years ago when Council adopted the redevelopment plan for the two-acre site. The new garage was built and designed to absorb an increase in auto traffic and to mitigate the loss of about 85 spaces on the Tulane Street metered lot.

While Council is expected to endorse the new plan, Councilman Roger Martindell said the extra space should have been sought through the same public channels as the initial structure.

"I don't think we proceeded in a legally sufficient fashion, because we had no public discussion of the issue," Mr. Martindell said. He added that the economics of the issue were also not mentioned in a public format.

The Council member raised some public policy issues, pointing out that as the owner of the land, the Borough should have ultimately decided what should be done with those 5,000 square-feet.

"We were not taking a position concerning what should happen to the Borough land [and] we're essentially punting the issue to the Planning Board," he said.

Despite a Borough statement released last week affirming that the Borough does not intend to withdraw its original endorsement of Building C, Mr. Martindell said he would like to see a public discussion granting "fair compensation" for an increase in size to the project.

"We are not in the business of giving away Borough land for free," he said.

In March, plans for "Building C," which would include 53 residential units with 10 affordable housing units, ground floor retail, and a supermarket, appeared before the Site Plan Review Advisory Board of the Planning Board (SPRAB). Although the plan ultimately received recommendation from the Board, certain logistical obstacles kept some members of SPRAB at odds with the developer.

A courtyard at the site's interior proved to be the major point of contention. William Wolfe, SPRAB chairman, 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.

Robert Powell, principal of Nassau HKT Associates, said that the courtyard was specifically designed as a private space for the residents of the units. He added that unlike the public plaza to be constructed adjacent to the new library, which is designated as a public space and maintained with public dollars, the courtyard is maintained privately by the developer.

This project is in conjunction with Phase I of the downtown redevelopment, which includes a 500-car parking garage and a mixed-use five-story building and plaza, otherwise known as Building A or Witherspoon House, located in the former Park and Shop lot. Building A will feature ground-level storefronts and 24 apartments. That project is expected to be completed this fall.

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.

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