April 6, 2016

Planning Board Should Recommend That Council Grant No Exclusions to HPC’s Boundaries of W-J HD

To the Editor:

When the Planning Board meets Thursday to consider Princeton Council’s ordinance proposing that the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood be established as an Historic District (HD), it should honor the authoritative report prepared by Wise Preservation Planning Group LLC and the reports subsequently presented to Princeton Council by the Historic Presentation Commission (HPC).

The Planning Board should make every effort to keep intact the firm boundaries set by both Wise and the HPC: no exceptions. It should challenge seriously any individual who wants an exemption and ask for detailed explanations for the request for exemption. A Historic District represents the common good of Princeton as a whole, so the reasons anyone gives for wanting an exemption should really be tested by the Planning Board, as well as Princeton Council.

The integrity of the neighborhood must be maintained for this historic district to represent the true history and culture of the African-American, Irish, Italian, and now Latino lived experience in Princeton. This is particularly true for Witherspoon Street itself, which has always been the backbone of the neighborhood, an area where businesses thrived despite segregation and where we figured out how to manage in the face of segregation elsewhere.

Some individuals fear the supposed constraints of HD designation. But the HPC has stated time and again that because of the simpler, small scale style of houses in this proposed historic district, it will be flexible in reviews of any proposed small changes. Normal maintenance does not even require a review. In addition, creation of an historic district has nothing to do with the normal zoning regulations already in place. Princeton Council has already placed review of these other zoning regulations on its list of high priority items for 2016.

Other individuals want to chip away at Witherspoon Street for financial gain. That’s just a little repetition of what happened when Palmer Square was created and Jackson Street was destroyed.

Princeton can’t let this happen again. The Planning Board should recommend to Princeton Council that Council grant no exclusions to the boundaries of the proposed HD set by the HPC.

Henry F. Pannell 

Clay Street