January 15, 2020

Planning Board Gets Update On East Campus Projects

By Anne Levin

Princeton’s Planning Board heard a concept presentation on January 9 about the projects that are part of Princeton University’s East Campus development. A new parking garage, soccer stadium, soccer practice field, and a geo-exchange utility facility known as  “T.I.G.E.R.” are the key elements of the plan.

The concept review was for an area of the University covered in its 2026 Campus Plan, which was unveiled in June 2017. The area is at the eastern end of the campus, bordered by Western Way, Princeton University Stadium, Faculty Road, and Broadmead. It affects the athletic fields and parking lots, FitzRandolph Observatory, and academic support buildings. New athletic fields and a structured parking garage are proposed.

Prior to the presentation, the University held two open house meetings with residents who live near the area. Several of those neighbors attended the Planning Board meeting to offer their comments and concerns, with the flow of traffic and the height of storage tanks chief among them.

University Architect Ronald McCoy said that sustainability is a guiding principle of the plan. He also stressed that nothing is set in stone. “This is a primary step forward,” he said. “It is a planning framework, but it is not a master plan.”

Princeton’s Planning Director Michael LaPlace told members of the Planning Board that the municipal staff had some concerns about what would happen to the observatory, the size and location of the storage tanks, and traffic circulation. According to McCoy, a new soccer stadium would be installed at the site of the existing FitzRandolph Observatory, which was built in 1934 to replace the Halsted Observatory.

“This is the third observatory the University has had, built using stone from the previous one,” he said. “It hasn’t been used since the mid-‘90s. We are exploring using stonework from it. We are very attentive to the history and we want to use it.”

Some of the University’s existing athletic facilities would remain where they are, including Jadwin Gym, Caldwell Fieldhouse, and the DiNunzio pool. Along with the soccer stadium, the soccer practice fields would move. So will the surface parking lot. A five-level parking structure would be built, and would accommodate the number of cars that currently use the lot, and more. The garage would be solar-ready, McCoy said.

One resident of the neighborhood near the development said there are concerns that Faculty Road and Hartley Avenue will experience increased traffic during certain hours. Those who live on Murray Place also said there are worries about an increase in traffic due to the parking changes.

A resident asked if the retention basin behind the two water tanks could be moved north, and the 80-foot towers could be shorter and wider. McCoy said the basin can’t be moved because a child care facility is planned for that site. “My sense is that it would be challenging, but we’ll look at that,” he said.

Others suggested that the towers be moved to a lower-lying area on the site, which would lower their height. “It’s a good plan, but I believe they’ve lost their way, in particular, on the tanks,” one resident said. “Those tanks are huge.” He asked the University to consider coming up with a way to mitigate the height of the towers by either lowering them, moving them, or encasing them in some way.

Responding to the University’s claim that it would be too costly to drill down and place part of the tanks into the ground, a resident of Broadmead noted that Jadwin Gym goes down six stories. “There is plenty of room on the other side of the gym where these tanks might be located,” he said. “So I’d definitely urge the University to look at other opportunities.”

While no firm date was mentioned on when the University will return to the Planning Board with a formal application, representatives said the parking component and results of a traffic study will likely be considered first, hopefully sometime this year.