October 3, 2018

Planners Recommend Redevelopment Zone For Seminary Properties

By Anne Levin

In the second step of a process that would allow Princeton Theological Seminary to redevelop portions of its campus, the Princeton Planning Board voted unanimously Thursday, September 27 to recommend designating it as a redevelopment zone.

This tool would allow the town to be more proactive in planning, in turn giving the public a greater ability to provide input and be more involved in the process, according to Jim Constantine and Chris Cosenza of the company LRK Inc., consultants on the project. Princeton Council voted last June to direct the Planning Board to study whether the campus should be designated as an area in need of redevelopment.

The seminary’s Tennant-Roberts campus on Stockton Street and the Erdman Center on Library Place were studied by the consultants, who described several of the nine sites as outdated and in need of improvements, prone to flooding, and other problems. Half of the properties are within the Mercer Hill historic district. Some of them front on Stockton Street, while others front on Edgehill Street, Library Place, and Mercer Street.

Princeton used the redevelopment statute in the past for the construction of Hinds Plaza. It has also been utilized when the former FMC campus on Route 1 was turned into the location of Princeton HealthCare System, as well as in locations including Princeton Junction, West Windsor, Hopewell Borough, Hopewell Township, Ewing and Hamilton Townships, and elsewhere, said Constantine.

“It allows a different process than traditional rezoning,” he said. “You can have proactive public participation. You can include non-contiguous properties. You can do a very site-specific conceptual plan. That’s where it’s different from zoning. It gives great control over design. You can engage a qualified developer, which you can’t in traditional zoning. There is a great protection of community interests.”

As she did at the Council meeting last June, Edgehill Street resident Elizabeth Brown expressed concern about the three Charles Steadman houses and other historic buildings in the area recommended for the redevelopment zone. She has been told by representatives of the Seminary that they intend to preserve those houses, but still wanted to register her concern. Former Councilwoman Jo Butler, who lives on Hibben Road, said she likes the way the residential neighborhood and the campus currently “weave together” and hoped it wouldn’t become too strict with the redevelopment plan.

The issue now goes back to Council, which would be required to hold public hearings on the plan before issuing final approval. “The public will be involved at every step,” said Gail Ullman, who presided over the Planning Board meeting.