March 20, 2019

Public Meetings on Seminary Continue to Draw Comments

By Anne Levin

Public sessions on Princeton Theological Seminary’s plan to redevelop portions of its campus continued last week at Witherspoon Hall. A series of charrettes, or interdisciplinary planning meetings, were held March 13-15, allowing consultants and members of the public to provide more input to the Planning Board subcommittee that has been studying the proposal.

The committee will meet this Friday, at 10 a.m., again at Witherspoon Hall, to have an in-depth conversation about last week’s events. While the meeting is open to the public, additional comments will not be taken at that time.

“During the charrettes we were mostly quiet, listening to what people had to say,” said David Cohen, who is on the committee and is also a member of Princeton Council. “This will be our chance to hear from each other what reactions are to the plan.”

The main question is whether the Seminary’s Tennent campus at the western edge of town should be declared an area in need of redevelopment. In previous public meetings, neighbors who live on Edgehill Street, Hibben Road, and the surrounding area expressed concerns about traffic, among other issues. The consultants LRK Inc. have been working on the plan for the town, and Ewing Cole Architects have been hired by the Seminary.

The school announced a proposal in January of 2017 to study the possibility of a comprehensive master plan that would consolidate activities on one campus in Princeton. Currently, there are residential buildings behind MarketFair in West Windsor. Plans would involve renovations of some buildings and construction of new apartments. The Seminary owns 30 homes in the neighborhood, which is part of the Mercer Hill Historic District. Mercer and Stockton streets, which border the campus, are considered important gateways to Princeton.

The three evening meetings last week included presentations and reports. Daytime work sessions were held Wednesday and Thursday. In all, five different plans were presented on Thursday night. “They were quite different from each other in the way they were characterized,” said Cohen. “One was mostly centered around the neighborhood input. Another was most inspired by the Seminary’s concerns. The third was mostly directed by comments of the Historic Preservation committee, and the fourth was a bit of an outlier, involving outside-the-box response to neighborhood concerns about traffic.” The fifth presentation was an independent one from architect Joel Schwartz.

Cohen said there were some negative comments from some neighbors, but it was in objection to aspects that had already been discarded. “For most of the neighbors and other members of the public, the direction we’re headed in is seen as responsive,” he said. “I think it’s sort of an optimal reconciliation of the different interests of the stakeholders — the Seminary, the town, the neighborhood, and the larger community.”

While it was originally hoped that the ad hoc committee would be able to make a recommendation to the Planning Board on moving forward with a design by this time, there is still some uncertainty on when that will happen. “The design team pulled elements of all the schemes together on Thursday night. We have to see if we want to see a variation on that, or just what we want to do,” Cohen said.