May 5, 2021

Council Approves Recommendation For Shopping Center Area Redevelopment

By Anne Levin

Last week, Princeton Council approved a resolution designating the North Harrison Redevelopment Study Area, which includes Princeton Shopping Center, as an area in need of redevelopment.

Council’s unanimous vote on April 27 followed a recommendation the previous week from the Planning Board. The authorization by the governing body begins a multi-step process that includes several public meetings before a final determination is made.

Council approved a resolution last December asking the Planning Board to study the area for possible designation. Consultant Carlos Rodrigues was hired to prepare a report, in which he said the area meets the criteria and should be declared a “non-condemnation” area in need of redevelopment.

The option for condemnation by the government does not apply in this case, because all of the property owners are in agreement about the designation. In addition to the shopping center, the properties include Grover Park, the three buildings that were formerly owned by Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad (PFARS) and are now owned by the town, and a vacant lot at 351 Terhune Road.

Comments from some members of the public who are opposed to the redevelopment proposal included some who said they value the shopping center as is, and worry that the designation would mean it would be demolished. Councilwoman Mia Sacks was quick to say that that no such plans exist.

Councilman David Cohen commented that the redevelopment designation affords the town with more control and flexibility than traditional zoning, which limits what can be asked of developers.

Built in 1954 and now owned by the Edens company, the center has a vacancy of around 20 percent. Rodrigues said that its aging infrastructure and under-utilized courtyard contribute to its obsolescence. Some residents disagreed, saying they value the courtyard and visit the center on a regular basis.

“We need to slow this thing down,” said resident Dale Meade, who thought the report by Rodrigues was too vague and too negative.

Others spoke in favor of the designation, including Council candidate Leighton Newlin and resident David Newton, former head of Palmer Square Management. “Princeton doesn’t like change,” Newton said. “But change is sometimes necessary. Whatever you do, don’t go slow. Insist on speed.”