Morven Master Plan Proposal Opposed by Historic Site Council

Matthew Hersh

A master plan proposal for Historic Morven Museum and Gardens on Stockton Street has received a no-go from the state's Historic Site Council, that, if it stands, could preclude a planned makeover of the former governor's mansion and surrounding grounds.

In June, representatives of Morven appeared before the Regional Plannning Board as part of a "courtesy review" to present the plans. But, while the Morven estate lies in Princeton Borough, it is owned and operated by the state, leaving the 4.5-acre plot out of the Planning Board's jurisdiction.

Though the Historic Sites Council rejected the Morven plan, the final say will come from Commissioner Bradley Campbell of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

There is no indication, however, as to when that decision will be made.

"The commissioner is taking very seriously the comments made by the office; however, a final decision has not been made," said Elaine Makatura, spokesperson for Mr. Campbell's office. "He always considers the comments of the Historic Preservation Office because they have the expertise," she added.

An early conceptual view of Morven's plan was first introduced to the -Princeton Task Force on Community Resources in May 2004 when Morven Executive Director Martha Wolf was called on to outline what some of the museum's long-term goals were. At the time, Morven was getting ready to open its newly refurbished main house.

At the 2005 Planning Board hearing, it was made known that the project would employ noted architect Raphael Vignoly to design a visitors center that could house between 75 and 100 people, accommodating about six events a year. The center would also include an exhibition space.

In the Morven plan, the visitors center and administrative building would connect into Morven through enclosed glass walkways.

Ms. Wolf said Tuesday that she hoped Morven "would be given adequate time to answer everybody's questions."

The master plan review with the state, Ms. Wolf added, was cut short due to the length of the hearing and the fact that it was "dark and sleeting." She said it looked as though the board voted without hearing the entire plan.

"It wasn't a thoughtful turn-down because we had no time," Ms. Wolf said.

No further action would take place until a decision is reached by Mr. Campbell's office, she said. "We'll see what his office does -- we made a good faith effort to give all the information people could digest and if they want more, we'll provide more.

"We ought to be given the opportunity to do that."

Ms. Wolf expressed concern that Morven representatives were questioned on specific design plans when they were seeking changes to their master plan, which serves as more of a philosophical guideline.

"A master plan does not require you to have a designed building, and if we had gone in there with designed buildings and asked people to approve it in one setting, they would not have been able to," Ms. Wolf said, adding that Morven was looking for the approval to go forth with designing the buildings.

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