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Vol. LXI, No. 44
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
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As Hospital Seeks New Zoning, Borough Hall Wants More Time

Matthew Hersh

With the clock ticking on the Princeton HealthCare System’s self-imposed year-end deadline seeking zoning that would facilitate new development on its nine-acre Bayard Lane property housing the Merwick Care Center, Borough Hall flagged a potential rezoning ordinance, calling for more time to review the proposal.

The delay was largely due to the breadth of the zoning plan, which proposes a “mixed use,” or MX overlay zone covering a combined 30 acres of land occupied by Merwick, Princeton University’s Stanworth Apartments, and the YM/YWCA. The four organizations have indicated that they would work together in redeveloping the entire site, but three of the parties, PU and the two Y’s, said they needed to give a closer look at the zoning plan.

“We still need some time,” said Kristin Appelget, director of PU’s office of Community and Regional Affairs. “We’re trying to tie loose ends together and we want a good document.”

Princeton University is slated to purchase the nine-acre Merwick site from Princeton HealthCare System, but that purchase is contingent on the zoning being changed from the current residential designation to a higher density allowance permitting residential, institutional, and community uses. Though the University has not specified what the Merwick lands would be used for, it appears likely that the school would want to increase its graduate and faculty housing stock.

In the midst of its own strategic plan, the YW occupies Bramwell House on Bayard Lane, directly adjacent to Merwick. The YW has indicated that it will maintain its facilities on site, and that it and the YM would work together on a choreographed redevelopment of the entire site. There are plans in the works, said Dan Haggerty, attorney for the Y’s, but “no imminent plans” for the Y to redevelop directly on Paul Robeson Place, which runs perpendicular to Bayard Lane.

Mr. Haggerty also pointed to the proposed zoning’s total 125,000-square-foot cap on all non-residential development in the new zone. He suggested that the Merwick mansion and facility, currently an estimated 80,000 square feet, be excluded from that square foot tally, as the facility, which will likely remain standing in some form, would take up a sizable portion of that allowed developable space. Lee Solow, director of Princeton’s planning department, said the ordinance could be finessed as the property’s stakeholders further review the proposal.

The proposed MX zone factors in 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, as well as the potential for a parking garage. The proposal also encourages a 25 percent open space mandate. Open space could include streets, driveways, and parking areas, but could also be geared toward preserving a small, wooded tract, known as Merwick Woods, in the process.

Borough Hall has weighed zoning prospects of this land for nearly two years, and this is the first time a proposed ordinance is up for Council review. Princeton HealthCare System, however, signaled that it would like to see new zoning approved in the near-term, citing costs associated with extensive approval delays. Mark Solomon, attorney for Princeton HealthCare System, said “while we have to be respectful of our neighbors and friends, I cannot understate our urgency.”

While some members of Council indicated they wanted more specificity out of the proposed zoning, Marvin Reed, a former Borough mayor and member of the Regional Planning Board of Princeton, urged Council to entertain the ordinance in its current form, citing the complexity of the site, and the multiple property owners involved. “From Day 1, the Merwick site was very problematic, but don’t be too specific. We need to let everyone work together.”

Council has yet to set a date to revisit the ordinance, though hospital representatives asked that the Borough schedule the ordinance for discussion in early January.

Princeton Borough and Princeton Township approved zoning last year that would enable residential, commercial, and office development on the 12-acre University Medical Center at Princeton, also a subsidiary of Princeton HealthCare System.

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