November 14, 2012

Historical Designation Ordinance Moved Forward by Planning Board

Determining that an ordinance to designate Princeton Borough’s Morven Tract neighborhood a historic district is in compliance with Princeton’s master plan, the Regional Planning Board Monday made passage of the controversial measure look increasingly likely. The ordinance now returns to Borough Council to be considered for a final public hearing and vote.

The proposal has been a source of contention among residents of the stately western section neighborhood for more than six years. Those in favor of the designation say it will protect the neighborhood’s architectural and historical significance. Those opposed contend it will place unnecessary restrictions on making certain alterations and repairs. A group of 51 properties, bounded by Bayard Lane, Hodge Road and Library Place, would be affected by the designation.

Some members of the Planning Board urged that acting on the proposal be delayed until after consolidation goes into effect, which is what the Historical Preservation Review Committee (HPRC) recommended earlier this year. The Borough and Township have different ordinances, and a new, merged entity will be created after January 1. “It’s only fair to property owners to know how restrictive it will be,” said Marvin Reed. “We don’t know what the details will be.”

Board member Gail Ullman said the Board should think about the measure as it benefits the whole town and the master plan, not just the neighborhood. “What we’re considering is a designation that will long outlast any of the residents,” she said. “How will such a designation play out over the years in the whole town? Will it keep that neighborhood beautiful? Will it inform future residents?”

Mr. Reed and Board member Julie Nachamkin were the only ones to vote against the ordinance’s consistency with the master plan. Ms. Nachamkin proposed advising Borough Council to delay acting on the measure until after January 1, but that suggestion was rejected by a 5-4 vote.

As has been the case at most every meeting on the subject, several residents of the neighborhood expressed their views on the designation. There will be more opportunity for public input when the matter comes before Borough Council, at a date that has yet to be announced.

The Board also recommended that the Borough survey neighborhood residents to determine the amount of support for the designation, since both sides of the issue continue to challenge each other’s figures on the question.