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Borough Residents Band Together To Prevent Razing of "Jane's House"

Matthew Hersh

Nearly a dozen residents of the Jugtown section of Princeton Borough gathered last week before Borough Council to keep a private developer from tearing down a South Harrison Street home that they feel is essential to the character of the neighborhood.

The grassroots campaign, loosely titled "Save Jane's House," refers to the home of Jane Taylor, a 40-year resident of 60 South Harrison Street whose home was sold to the developer, Barsky Brothers, for an estimated $700,000, according to Harrison Street resident Charlie Douglas, who is one of the residents spearheading the campaign.

Roman and Igor Barsky have put their stamp on Princeton, buying up pieces of property throughout the Borough and Township, tearing down existing homes to make way for new ones — all within the confines of both municipalities' zoning codes.

But when Mr. Douglas and his wife, Kathleen Abplanalp, got wind that Thomas Cook, Ms. Taylor's son, had sold the property to Barsky Brothers, they swiftly launched a campaign to raise awareness of an issue that has increasingly caused worry for residents who find homes being built near theirs that they feel are not in keeping with the rest of the neighborhood.

The Barskys intend to build two single-family homes on the double lot at the northeast corner of Harrison and Patton Avenue.

According to Ms. Abplanalp, the Barskys have expressed a willingness to discuss building plans with the neighbors, but as of now, keeping Ms. Taylor's 90-year-old Colonial revival home is not one of the options.

"I feel that losing this house would be a great loss to the community," Ms. Abplanalp said before the members of Borough Council at a September 6 session. "It's a wonderful piece of architecture and I think tearing it down would greatly damage the integrity of our neighborhood and of Princeton as a whole."

Ms. Abplanalp suggested placing a moratorium on tear-downs until the Borough resolves its current struggle to come up with a residential standards code targeting so-called "McMansions."

However, even with the proposed maximum building size for the R-3 zoning district, in which Ms. Taylor's home lies, the Barskys would still be within their right to build two homes on that lot. The proposed changes cap the building size potential on single-family units at 3,500 square-feet.

Those changes, still under review by the Regional Planning Board's Zoning Amendment Review Committee (ZARC), are expected to be deferred back to Borough Council this fall for review.

In the meantime, Ms. Abplanalp called for a review time with developers to weed out differences between them and the residents.

"There's no question we're from different planets," said George Fagan, who has also joined the effort to save Ms. Taylor's home. The Barskys, Mr. Fagan said, are "neither good nor bad — but business people."

While residents called for a hold on tear-downs, Borough Attorney Michael Herbert said the Borough cannot prevent such maneuvers, in line with stipulations in the state's municipal land use law.

"We have a controlling state statute that does not allow any kind of moratoria except in extraordinary circumstances," he said, adding that those circumstances include issues of health and safety.

Councilman Andrew Koontz said it was "time" for the ZARC ordinance to come back to Council for full review but that in the meantime, "it's a shame, because we're losing a very valuable home."

Councilwoman Wendy Benchley, however, said that the rights of property owners need to be protected as well: "When people own land, you can't deny their right to build on that land."

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