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Parking Is Chief Concern With Planners As Town Topics Building Plan Hits Snag

Matthew Hersh

A building proposal to move the Town Topics newspaper offices to a single-family home on Witherspoon Street in Princeton Township is facing an uphill battle as local planners and a handful of residents worried that the building plans lack parking and pose potential logistical problems with traffic stemming from the nearby Community Park Elementary School.

The hearing for the plan to convert an existing 1,900-square-foot home at 305-307 Witherspoon Street into an office to house the weekly newspaper will conclude October 27, as the Regional Planning Board of Princeton will hear additional testimony from the applicant, Town Topics Realty Venture Group, L.L.C.

Plans for the building also include constructing a 750-square-foot, two-story front addition, and a 336-square-foot one-story rear addition.

A major point of concern for planners was the applicant’s request for a variance allowing for 10 parking spaces instead of the 15 as required by the Township’s B-1 zoning ordinance. However, a Township engineering report suggested that the parking number be reduced to nine, to create additional room to back out.

A Planning Board advisory panel endorsed the parking idea in July, on the condition that any approval would relate to the flow and volume of business conducted at Town Topics. However, the Planning Board report notes that the granting of parking variances relates to the land, and not the particular use.

Some members of the Planning Board also worried that the lack of visitor parking and the reliance on street parking for deliveries would cause a logjam on Witherspoon during Community Park's heavy morning and afternoon traffic periods on school days.

Attorney for the applicant, Chris Baker, said that the low-traffic volume of the paper, and the small staff, would enable the neighborhood to accommodate such an enterprise on that site, and that the building itself would have a "very diminutive presence" on the street, much like the appearance of the current building.

But Planning Board member Bill Enslin said that the lack of visitor parking was what concerned him most: "I’m not happy about on-street parking; you’re right across the street from the school," adding that the plan "just doesn’t work."

Ken Smith, a part owner of 305-307 Witherspoon, said business flow would not encroach upon Community Park traffic, pointing out that the school’s morning rush occurred before office hours began. Board member Phil Feig said that it would be hard to deter staffers or visitors from parking on the street during peak school hours.

"To say you’re going to do it is nice, but there’s no enforcement mechanism."
Residents from surrounding streets worried about both safety and the possibility that granting variances for the plan would set a precedent for future applications.

"It just doesn’t make sense to me," said Lance Liverman, a member of Township Committee who lives in a nearby Witherspoon Street residence. "If there were a way this could work, we’d be all for it."

In other business, the Planning Board approved a plan to construct a new school annex at the Princeton Friends School on Quaker Road. The 7,100 square-foot building will house the school’s science and art classrooms, offices, and other classrooms. The board approved, as well, the school’s plan to build a 6,500 square-foot recreation court adjacent to the annex building.

The Board has also permitted a plan for Verizon Wireless to install telecommunication equipment on the New South building, near the Dinky station, on the Princeton University campus. The antennae will not be visible from the ground, according to the plan.

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