November 6, 2019

Theological Seminary Cancels Plans To Build Student Apartments

By Anne Levin

After more than a year of planning, proposals, and meetings with residents of the surrounding neighborhood, Princeton Theological Seminary has announced it will no longer proceed with a project that would build new student apartments on the campus.

A release from the Seminary last week said that instead of the construction of new student housing on its Tennent Roberts campus along Hibben Road and Stockton Street, it would focus on restoring existing buildings at the campus. The school cited “increased cost estimates for the project” as the primary reason for the decision.

Key elements of the plan included new apartments on the main campus for single and married students, the renovation of Hodge and Brown halls to include private bathrooms, renovation of Alexander Hall, and renovation or replacement of the Mackay Center.

As part of the plan, the campus would have been designated a redevelopment zone, which proponents said provides for more control over design specifics than the traditional zoning process. But during neighborhood meetings, there was pushback from some residents who were concerned about density and increased traffic.

Abandoning the plan means that some students will continue to be housed at the Charlotte Rachel Wilson apartments in West Windsor, near Princeton MarketFair, “for the foreseeable future,” according to the statement.

Princeton Councilman David Cohen, who chaired the ad hoc committee exploring the proposal, said this week that he was disappointed, but not surprised, by the decision.

“We knew that they were taking a long time to get back to us after their summer break, so I figured something was not completely to their liking,” he said. “I wish we had been better able to convey the benefits of the project to the community, because I do think it was a real smart growth project. In fact, it’s the easiest kind of smart growth, because in addition to the benefits of being more walkable, more sustainable, and less congested, it would also have shrunk the footprint of the Seminary overall. And they are shrinking their student body, faculty, and staff.”

Not all of the neighborhood residents were against the project. “Some of them were really in favor of it, because it would have provided for traffic calming, and some setbacks,” Cohen said. “Others felt benefits to the community were debatable.”

A statement from Mayor Liz Lempert about the Seminary’s decision thanked those involved in the process over the past year. “We continue to believe in the value of redevelopment as a creative planning tool to deliver community benefits, even though it didn’t bear immediate fruit in this instance,” the statement read.

Seminary President Craig M. Barnes said in a letter to the community, “We remain committed to providing the campus facilities that enhance our life together and foster spaces where a sense of community can flourish.”