September 12, 2012

Historic Commission Votes To Recommend Designation After Consolidation Occurs

At its meeting on September 5, Princeton Borough’s Historic Preservation Review Committee (HPRC) voted to recommend to Borough Council that a portion of Princeton’s western section, known as the Morven Tract, be designated a historic district. But the committee also opted to advise Council to hold off on acting on the recommendation until after consolidation takes effect.

“It was a judicious compromise,” said committee member Cecelia Tazelaar in a conversation this week. “We voted in favor of the historic designation report, saying it met the criteria for designation as a local historic district. But, given the fact that consolidation is only a few months away, we thought it would be advisable for Council to delay acting on it, because the two commissions will be merged and the ordinances are being merged. We felt it would be unfair to the public to push through something without their knowledge of the new ordinance.”

Currently, the HPRC represents the interests of Princeton Borough, while the Historic Preservation Comission covers preservation issues in the Township. Once consolidation takes effect January 1, a combined commission will be formed with a new ordinance in place. The new ordinance, which is based on New Jersey municipal land use law, won’t be much different from the existing two, according to Ms. Tazelaar. “But it seems fair to let everybody see what the new ordinance is before continuing with a discussion,” she said.

The Friends of the Western District have been actively lobbying since 2006 to establish a new historic district in an area roughly bounded by portions of Library Place, Hodge Road, and Bayard Lane, while encompassing Morven Place and Boudinot Street. The proposed district directly abuts the Mercer Hill historic district, which is one of four in Princeton. The others are Jugtown, Bank Street, and the Central historic districts.

Those in favor of the designation say it will help maintain the area’s unique architectural character and prevent tear-downs. Those opposed say designation would create too many restrictions, which could in turn affect property values.

In 2009, the Friends group engaged Hunter Research to prepare a document entitled Morven Trust Historic District Historical and Architectural Documentation. The report says of the proposed district, “It is significant in American history and architecture and possesses integrity of design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. It is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of Princeton’s past and embodies the distinctive characteristics of a period.”

At the September 5 meeting, the HPRC also recommended to Council that residents of the proposed district be polled on the divisive issue.