Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 47
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
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Zoning Board Okays Hillier Development of Witherspoon Site

Dilshanie Perera

At last week’s meeting, the Borough’s Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved J. Robert Hillier’s application to redevelop his property at 190 to 198 Witherspoon Street.

The site will include a mixture of pedestrian, retail, and office space, as well as four apartments, two of which will be affordable housing. “Mr. Hillier is proposing to return this property to a higher use,” suggested attorney Mark Solomon from the law firm Pepper Hamilton.

Mr. Hillier, who is also a Town Topics shareholder, requested variances for floor-area-ratio, parking, signage, overhead awnings, building setbacks, and percent of the property that would be used for business.

The proposal involves a complete refurbishment of the three buildings, including the installment of a green roof with skylights on the warehouse structure. The current blue canvas awnings would be replaced by frosted glass, and the former Jefferson Plumbing space at 190 Witherspoon Street would house a retail business on the first floor. As per an earlier agreement with the Site Plan Review Advisory Board, the retail operation will not be a sit-down restaurant.

Mr. Hillier’s firm, J. Robert Hillier, has used the plumbing building as office space since August, with a special temporary approval from the Zoning Board, and will move to the warehouse upon renovation. “We could have two additional tenants beyond our space,” Mr. Hillier said of future warehouse occupants.

The second floor of 190 Witherspoon will accommodate two apartments, while the space above Jay’s Dry Cleaning at 198 Witherspoon will house two affordable units. Jay’s is expected to stay on the premises.

The space between three buildings forms a courtyard that will become a landscaped pedestrian area, in which locust trees and additional lighting will be installed. The entire location will have 190 Witherspoon Street as an address, and signage will involve a combination of zinc and stainless steel elements.

Under the current zoning laws, the changes require a total of 35 parking spaces at the location, where six at the site and five metered spaces on the street already exist. The proposal petitioned for shared parking in the lot at the Waxwood, an adjacent housing development and property also owned by Mr. Hillier.

The 51-space Waxwood parking lot is “essentially vacant all day,” with between 17 and 13 spaces free at night, according to Mr. Hillier, who added that shared parking between the two locations would meet the need and maximize the use of the lot at the Waxwood.

Zoning officer Derek Bridger noted that in the event that the Waxwood property is sold, some measure would have to be put in place to guard against a major change of the use of the property.

The final approvals will require a deed restriction for parking at the Waxwood, an annual report detailing parking dynamics, and the determination of the hours of operation for the retail space.

Reactions to the proposed changes were positive, with four community meetings held earlier in the year to incorporate residents’ input into the proposed designs.

Witherspoon neighbor Rosetta Bruce remarked that the increased lighting in the area would be an improvement. Kathleen Carroll of John Street said she would prefer not to see a large parking lot at the site, with Borough resident Pam Hersh agreeing that “we should encourage this type of flexibility in parking.”

Further discussion and final approvals are scheduled for the Zoning Board meeting on December 17 at 8 p.m. in Borough Hall.

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