Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 43
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
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Borough Considers Merwick Zoning Revision; New Zone Could Harbor Development

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Borough Council Tuesday reviewed proposed zoning for an area of the Borough that, if approved, could spell significant developmental changes in an area that currently houses four separate institutional property owners.

The area, an expanse along Bayard Lane in Princeton Borough, is currently home to Princeton HealthCare System’s Merwick Care Center, the YM/YWCA, and Princeton University’s 153-unit Stanworth faculty apartments. The Borough, faced with the prospect of Merwick leaving that site when Princeton HealthCare System builds its new facility in Plainsboro, has weighed zoning prospects of the land for nearly two years, but this is the first time a proposed ordinance has come up for Council review.

Princeton University is the contract purchaser for the nine-acre Merwick site, and would likely place faculty and graduate housing there, but the rezoning process could take months, as the site directly abuts residential properties to the east and west.

In June, Borough Hall got its first taste of what the 30-acre site could look like once it had been redeveloped while embarking on its own series of meetings to explore the possibilities on that site, as well as the type of density desired there. Lee Solow, the municipal planning director, spoke of existing zoning, what is allowed under law, and of what could be allowed under changed zoning.

Those talks have evolved into the latest proposal, with Mr. Solow expected to present a plan to create an overlay zone, the Mixed Use or MX zone, permitting mostly residential development, at 14-units per acre, as well as some non-residential use.

The John-Witherspoon residential neighborhood to the east, according to a memorandum issued to Borough administrator Robert Bruschi, is developed at 20 units per acre, while the existing R-4 zone allows for the proposed 14 units per acre.

Nonresidential development zoning is proposed for areas facing Bayard Lane and Paul Robeson Place. The MX zone also factors into the Borough standard of a 20 percent set-aside for affordable housing, as well as requirements for open space, lot size requirements, and landscaping buffers for surrounding neighborhoods.

Mr. Solow was scheduled to present the proposal to Borough Council last night, after Town Topics press time.

The proposal is expected to be the latest component of an ongoing conversation about that site, rather than an end-all. The YWCA, which is expected to produce the findings of its own strategic plan in the coming months, has yet to describe how it will upgrade its facilities, though it has been stated that the YW will remain onsite. Kristin Appelget, director of the University’s Department of Community and Regional Affairs, said the overlay was “complicated” because of the involvement of the four property owners. “The University hasn’t had much time to consult with our advisors, and we’re going to ask for a little more time to consider what’s on the table.”

For a full report on Tuesday’s discussion, see the October 31 issue of Town Topics.

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