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Princeton Future Gets Head Start On Potential Use of Hospital Site

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Future, a group that sponsors public discussion on in-town development, has speedily moved forward with possible development scenarios at the 12-acre site currently occupied by the University Medical Center at Princeton.

Last Saturday at the Princeton Public Library the group presented findings and preliminary sketches based on a series of Saturday morning discussions centered around its Witherspoon Street Corridor Study.

While past discussions had examined the whole of Witherspoon Street, including the commercial zone at the southern end and the residential area between Paul Robeson Place and Birch Avenue, this most recent session concerned schematics, or a "series of hypotheses," according Princeton Future architect Michael Mostoller.

"The design is the vehicle that you use as a step toward the final plan, and there are many decisions that have to be made" he pointed out.

That said, this "food for thought" was aimed at a "very valuable" residential zone, Mr. Mostoller said added. The likely development of some sort of residential housing in that location once the hospital relocates to a nearby site is the foundation on which Princeton Future built its sketches. Those development possibilities, which ranged from townhouses to an "urban village," steered clear of so-called "super blocks" that would constitute one, uniform development, much like Palmer Square.

One schematic called for an extension of Leigh Avenue to stretch across the hospital site with housing alongside it.

Mr. Mostoller did, however, addressed of the cost of tearing down the hospital's buildings and replacing them with new development. He said, if possible, some of the structures could remain and be transformed to residential or mixed commercial use.

"The way to affordability and diversity is through a density that allows us to include different kinds of uses," he said, adding that the Princeton Future scenarios envisioned a density of 10 to 20 units per acre. Currently, the estimated density of the adjacent John-Witherspoon neighborhood is about 22 per acre, but, according to Yina Moore, Princeton Future architect and member of the Princeton Regional Planning Board, that area is typically zoned for 10 to 12 units per acre.

Mr. Mostoller also said the hospital's main building could be used for either a Continuing Care Retirement Communities, senior housing, assisted living, or an apartment building.

Garden apartments and "Vandeventer-style" apartments were also part of the schematics, with reference to the type of housing on Vandeventer Avenue, where large homes are split into several apartments.

Every scenario, Mr. Mostoller said, "depends upon the 'parcelization' of one site," adding that there is the choice to have a kind of Queenston Commons Part II or a large city block composed of different types of housing.

Some residents, however, worried about the density height of some of the proposals. Jamie Laliberte said any new development should largely be consistent with the rest of the neighborhood. "I think a huge block of nothing but apartments and townhouses is counter to the entire area we're trying to restore.

"Having huge buildings encompassing the entire block is not what I would like to see," she said. Mr. Mostoller said the aim of their planning was to "up the density and reduce the impact" and keep the scale of the buildings low.

Princeton Future was a major player in the downtown development project that is underway in the form of the Spring Street municipal garage, Witherspoon House, and soon-to-be-opened public space that lies adjacent to the library. The group, along with Princeton Borough, Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce, Princeton University, and developer Nassau HKT & Associates, were recently awarded with New Jersey Future's annual Smart Growth Award, for turning two former surface lots into comprehensive, in-town development. The garage is located on the site of the former Park & Shop Lot, and the Tulane Street surface lot will soon be destroyed to make way for a five-story, 53-unit apartment building with a grocery store on the street level.

The groups will be honored May 4 at a ceremony at the Newark Club in Newark.

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