December 12, 2018

Neighbors Stress Traffic Concerns At Meetings on Seminary Project

KEEPING THE NEIGHBORS IN MIND: Princeton Theological Seminary’s plan to redevelop portions of its Princeton campus is being explored in a series of neighborhood meetings, two of which were held December 8 and 10. The school wants to add more housing to its Tennent campus.

By Anne Levin

Residents of the neighborhood bordering Princeton Theological Seminary attended two recent meetings regarding the school’s proposal to redevelop sections of the campus located on Stockton Street, Library Place, Hibben Road, and Edgehill Street. Organized by an ad hoc committee of Princeton’s Planning Board studying whether the Seminary’s Tennent campus should be declared an area in need of redevelopment, the gatherings were designed to hear input from neighbors as well as to provide information.

At the second meeting held on Monday night at the Seminary’s Erdman Center, residents of Edgehill Street and Hibben Road seemed especially concerned about traffic issues that already exist.

“There is a lot of cut-through traffic,” said one resident of Edgehill. “I think it’s very dangerous to drive there. The street is too narrow and I have narrowly avoided head-on collisions more than once.”

Traffic was among several issues raised, but it seemed the most pressing. “What surprised me and became clear is that one of their major concerns isn’t necessarily the Seminary’s plans,” said Gail Ullman, chair of the committee and vice chairman of the Planning Board. “It’s the traffic on both of those streets and the way people use them to cut through between Mercer Street and Stockton Street.”

About 50 people in total attended the meetings, which were led by Jim Constantine of the consultants LRK Inc. After the first gathering on Saturday, residents went on a walking tour of the buildings and areas in question. Asked whether they would rather that a ball field on Hibben Road remain as open space instead of being used for new homes, which is permitted in the current zoning, residents stressed that the field should remain open.

Shane Berg, executive vice president of the Seminary, said that was the school’s plan. “We see it as important open space,” he said. “We have no intention of doing anything with that other than preserving it, maybe putting in a rain garden and also a connection to Marquand Park.”

The Seminary owns 30 homes in the neighborhood, which is part of the Mercer Hill Historic District. “So it’s important to us to respect the residential scale,” Berg said.

Constantine said Stockton and Mercer streets, which border the campus, are important gateways to the town. Ullman said on Tuesday, “This area is both beautiful and historically preserved to some extent. It’s very important. There is probably no one in town who doesn’t think it is a place of value, or who would disagree that the Seminary and its historical posture is not a valuable part of the town.”

The Seminary announced a proposal in January of 2017 to study the possibility of a comprehensive master plan that would consolidate the school on one campus in Princeton. Currently, there are residential buildings behind MarketFair in West Windsor.

Among the key items in the proposal are reducing the size of the student body by 30 or 40 percent for eight to 10 years, building apartments for married and single students, renovating Hodge Hall and Brown Hall to include private bathrooms, replacing or renovating the Mackay Center, and renovating Alexander Hall with office space for the entire faculty and some of the administration.

Residents also expressed concerns about the size of the buildings that might replace existing ones, the number of students, the number of cars that would be on the campus, and where parking would be located. “They also wanted to know how they can keep participating in the process,” said Ullman. “What are the mechanisms for ongoing involvement? We want to provide that. There are several different entities involved, and our intention is to figure out as many ways we can to get people involved. It’s just a matter of absorbing all of the concerns of the neighbors and working out a plan that responds appropriately.”

A set of meetings will be held in January at dates to be determined. Following those, the ad hoc committee will work with the consultants on the next steps for coming up with a recommendation to the Planning Board before a final vote by Princeton Council.

—Anne Levin