November 2, 2016

Residents Pose Questions To Kean University President About Graves Property Plans


A driving rain didn’t keep residents of the neighborhood surrounding the Patton Avenue home of late architect Michael Graves from attending a meeting last Thursday evening about the future of the property. Dawood Farahi, president of Kean University, told neighbors that the three buildings, which Kean University purchased for $20 from the Graves estate, will remain much as they are.

Mr. Graves, who died in March 2015, had willed the property known as The Warehouse to Princeton University, where he taught for 39 years. But the school rejected the gift because of maintenance and preservation costs. Kean, where Mr. Graves spent time during his last years helping to create an architecture department, was deemed the next-best recipient.

“We will work with you in any way we can to ensure your neighborhood remains the same,” Mr. Farahi said. “We will do everything we can to maintain the beauty and privacy and anything else you’re used to in this beautiful neighborhood.”

The meeting was held in a tent outside The Warehouse, which Mr. Graves converted to his home and studio from a storage facility built by Italian stonemasons. Residents, who were offered hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and Kean tote bags, listened politely to Mr. Farahi and watched a promotional video about the Union, New-Jersey based school. But once the floor was opened, some pointed questions were asked about just how the property will be used.

“We’re thinking about 10 years down the road,” said Scott Sillars, who had originally organized a meeting of neighbors before the municipality invited Kean to participate. He asked Mr. Farahi if the University would comply with local land use ordinances. Mr. Farahi responded that the school already operates in eight municipalities and has not gone against any ordinances in those locations. Kean’s board of trustees will have “a no-change option,” he said. “We want to pass a resolution maintaining the beauty of this thing.”

Another resident questioned Mr. Farahi about parking and traffic. He responded that no more than 25 students will use the property at one time, and that they will be transported to and from the site by bus. Tim Quinn, who is running for a seat on Princeton Council, asked if Kean’s board of trustees would be willing to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the town. Mr. Farahi responded that it would not, because “the resolution is what becomes the law of the land for us. That resolution is enforceable for us.”

Mayor Liz Lempert, who also attended the meeting, said this week that bringing the school to the gathering was an effort to get initial questions answered and establish a relationship. “That’s so that moving forward, there can be dialogue. And it’s also important for Kean to understand the neighborhood they’re moving into and for them to hear directly from residents,” she said.

“One of the concerns is that, as a state entity, they’re not often bound by the same rules as everyone else,” she continued. “That’s why it’s important to have a good relationship of communication with them. From everything they said, it was certainly promising and heartening to hear they want to be good neighbors and would honor our local ordinances. It’s important that they do. They are setting up shop right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”

Mr. Sillars said this week, “I thought they came across as sincere, but didn’t allay all of our concerns. Our concern is long-term. The president has a vision that is kind of consistent with what you would hope somebody would have for the property. But he’s not going to be there forever. Kean is a long way away, and it’s kind of difficult to envision how [the property] fits in with a school 50 miles away.”

Following land use ordinances remains a concern. “I’m not willing to concede that they don’t have to follow them,” Mr. Sillars continued. “It’s based on case laws. He [Farahi] kind of implied that they don’t have to. But they don’t seem to be intending to do anything contrary to what the ordinance says.”