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Princeton University Offers Scaled Down Development Plans in West Windsor

Matthew Hersh

In a stark departure from its plan to someday build a "mirror campus" in West Windsor, Princeton University said it plans to pursue limited development along Alexander Road and along the perimeter of 400 acres of University-owned land between Route 1 and Lake Carnegie.

The plan, which was discussed before the circulation subcommittee of the Princeton Regional Planning Board last week, represents the re-thinking of a master plan that reflects the University's desire to keep its core academic facilities more concentrated.

Robert Durkee, the University's vice president and secretary, said that up until recently, the University had intended those lands to be more developed.

"We had assumed that when we developed those lands that we would develop them over time so they would come to look very much like the lands on [the Princeton] side of the lake," he said.

But he said the idea of building a second campus is no longer in concert with the thinking of the future of the University's master plan.

"One of the things that makes Princeton distinctive is the concept of a single, unified campus," he said.

Mr. Durkee said a better strategy would be to include on-campus amenities such as athletic fields and facilities on the Princeton side of the lake, and possibly move some surface parking to the West Windsor lands with shuttles transporting people to the main campus.

"People would not have to drive all the way in to Princeton to get [to the University]," he said. He added that the success of the University's P-Rides jitney system has solidified the thinking that the brunt of University activity can remain more concentrated, while shuttling people in from satellite parts of campus.

The land could also be the future site of faculty and graduate student housing, he said, but that the core academic facilities would remain in Princeton.

The difficulty of building an equally effective campus would also be difficult, Mr. Durkee said, citing limited success in similar projects with other universities.

The second concept the University presented was that if there were to be development on that land, it would be done to preserve as much green space in the interior as possible and to only build along the periphery, namely along Alexander Road and Route 1, Mr. Durkee said.

"What is now essentially green space will remain essentially green space," he said, indicating some of that space could be used for athletic purposes. "That's not where you would see construction."

However, Mr. Durkee said that the only definitive plans are to not build to the extent that the University had once intended, and that there are currently no immediate plans.

A major factor in the University's future use of its West Windsor land, the University vice president said, depends on what will become of the Dinky line that cuts directly through those lands.

"It would be terrific if we could make better use of the Dinky line," Mr. Durkee said. He indicated that "better use" could mean adding a stop on the University lands, or encouraging more frequent use.

He also made reference to the New Jersey Department of Transportation study exploring the possibility of a Bus Rapid Transit or light rail corridor and making the Dinky Line part of such an infrastructural change.

The general plan for a BRT system would be to designate a special lane for buses and emergency vehicles along congested corridors. Currently, the Federal Transit Administration is sponsoring the initiative encouraging local agencies to study the system and evaluate its potential success.

Campus Evolution

Mr. Durkee said the change in vision for the future of the physical layout of the University has slowly come into focus over the past few years.

He said the change simply indicates how the University thinks of its lands over time, adding that thinking was influenced by periodic consultation from outside architects to advise how the University should appear over time.

He said similar architectural consultation led to the decision to create an on-campus southern boundary along the northern border of Poe and Pardee fields.

Ultimately, Mr. Durkee said the West Windsor lands, which were purchased by the University nearly a century ago, have not yet been needed, but will be used as the campus grows.

"With every passing year we are closer to developing those lands," he said. But the administrator was not able to put a timeline on development.

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