February 17, 2021

Bank Street Resident Argues New Hotel Building Will Steal Light, Views, Privacy

To the Editor:

Bank Street residents were violated by the Zoning Board of Adjustment as they unanimously approved the massive new hotel on Chambers Street, allowing variances for insufficient parking, approving a building with a Floor Area Ratio nearly three times over allowed, only a 4-foot average setback from the residential historic district at the ground level, and a massive 65-foot-high blank brick wall facing Bank Street, most of it only 6 inches from the property line. The building steals light, air, views, and privacy.  The western facade looks like a massive windowless warehouse from the southern end of Bank Street.  What the Bank Street residents got in return for their hours of meeting, testimony, and exhibits was one small tree, and for the next 100 years a blank wall and additional traffic searching for the entrance to the hotel.   

Princeton got what it wanted, a tax ratable, promoted by the ex-mayor and other Council members.   Princeton must have financial problem, even with our very high property taxes. Design and sensitivity to a few neighbors is no concern, room tax is!  The result is an oversized, neo-federalist, decorated box on narrow Chambers Street with a fake mansard façade circa 1890s. Undoubtedly, Princeton needs one or more hotels downtown, therefore the developers packed this site with as many rooms as possible. 

The residents of Bank Street never opposed the hotel, only the gross insensitivity of its design. They had multiple meetings, with each other and a few with the hotel, to determine what they could live with. Pollution remediation was made to the western façade to appease the neighbors, but the design lacked basic sensitivity to the urban context. At the end, all the residents’ conditions, except for the replacement of a tree, were ignored after hours of testimony. At the critical end of the hearing, residents were held to 10 minutes while the applicant enjoyed unlimited time. Unbelievably, most of the conditions in the Municipal Land Use Law were dismissed. Much to our shock, the applicant was fully engaged in the Executive Session with the board members, to justify the variances while the public could only watch in disbelief as it was approved. At the end it was totally unclear what conditions had been approved!

Clearly, the negative impacts on Bank Street are of no consequence to Princeton or to the hotel owners whose PR emphasizes the importance of being good neighbors.

The one positive thing is that now the standard has been established for all the older one-, two-, or three-story buildings in the downtown which do need a serious rezoning and a makeover. Owners can redevelop, tear down old buildings, build up to 65 feet with a FAR of up to 4, and have to provide minimum or no parking. If you want to go above these limits it appears that the Board of Adjustment will be happy to approve if it has financial benefits to the town. But we must establish good town design standards.

Tony Nelessen
Bank Street