Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 21
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
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Princeton Future Convenes Firehouse Meeting as Neighbors Envision Plans for Olive May Site

Dilshanie Perera

The second installment of a neighborhood meeting about the future of the Olive May/West Coast Video site along Nassau Street convened on Monday evening, with about 30 residents in attendance at the Chestnut Street Firehouse.

Neighbors and members of Princeton Future considered the results of a professional survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates about what area residents would like to see happen at the site that is currently standing vacant, with the former grocery and video stores having long since gone out of business.

Larry Hugick of the survey firm reported that of the approximately 622 residents polled, 224 of them responded. “The neighbors have spoken through the survey,” he remarked, noting that there were clear favorites and clear unpopular options among those living in the area immediately surrounding the Olive May site.

Most respondents would like to see some kind of food-related establishment as a tenant at the space, with 70 percent supporting a market in the style of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market, 59 percent approving of a supermarket, and 47 percent interested in a sit-down restaurant.

Clear dislikes include fast food restaurants with 83 percent opposed, and a bank with 68 percent saying no. A laundromat, office, hotel or a WaWa-style market were also met with disapproval, Mr. Hugick noted.

Residents seemed to be neither expressly for — nor explicitly against — a mixed use structure involving retail, residential, and office space on the lot.

Overall, the meeting marked a unique event, with neighbors gathering together to consolidate their opinions about the site and achieve some consensus prior to an application being filed by the owners to the planning or zoning offices. One goal is to approach the landlords to determine whether both community and business needs could be met. Other goals include establishing a potential zoning overlay to prevent certain businesses, like drive-through fast food vendors, from taking up residence on site.

At the May 15 Princeton Future open meeting students from Rutgers Urban Design Studio presented their semester’s work in re-imagining certain locations in Princeton to see how the spaces could be differently configured. Students Katherine Lawrence, Stephanie Hom, Charles Heydt, and Steven Simone made suggestions regarding the Olive May/West Coast Video location and their findings were explained by architect and Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes during Monday’s neighborhood meeting.

The design ideas proposed by the students for improvements to the site that incorporate neighborhood needs include shifting Princeton University’s driveway, which currently bisects the property, so that it is at the far west end of the property, almost directly across the roadway from Pine Street. An open green space at the center of the site is another key feature, as are two buildings that could incorporate all the retail elements desired by the neighbors, in addition to residential and office space. A parking lot would be located behind the buildings at the part of the property farthest way from Nassau Street.

Neighbor Ryan Lilienthal commended Princeton Future for “creating a space for creative thinking,” noting that the residents are all “very much affected by what happens [at the Olive May site].

“We have an opportunity to be more affirmative and assertive there,” he added.

Potential next steps include a meeting with the Master Plan Subcommittee of the Princeton Regional Planning Board to present findings, as well as analyzing the financial aspects of such a plan to assess viability. Communications with the site landlords are also on the docket.

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