February 17, 2021

Wondering if Too Much is Being Conceded to Hotel Company to Detriment of Town

To the Editor:

My wife and I have lived in Princeton for seven years and feel privileged to make our home here. We appreciate much about the history of the area and Princeton especially, and greatly respect the old buildings in town and on campus. The community quality represented by the historic architecture here is an immeasurable resource that deserves to be respected and protected. Adaptive re-use of the office buildings at 20 Nassau Street as a hotel is a generally commendable idea, but the details of the plan by Graduate Hotels outlined in Town Topics [“Zoning Board Approves Plan for New Hotel,” page 1, February 10] are very troubling to read.

I am not so naive as to believe that Princeton should be “preserved in amber,” but in what universe is it appropriate to demolish a three-story building within a historic block and replace it with a five-story addition? In this specific case, such an increase in the street wall of Chambers Street would do irreparable harm to the scale of this narrow street and is totally incompatible with the narrow sidewalks. Further to this point, why should the project entrance not more appropriately be on Nassau Street, with its much deeper sidewalk?

I was not persuaded by the article that it was reasonably explained in the meeting why a 180-room hotel is the ONLY way to make this project work financially, most notably when this same developer has reportedly created successful hotels with lesser numbers of rooms in larger cities. I would argue that the building mass of the current properties that comprise 20 Nassau Street is appropriate “as is” and that a crucial aspect of the proposed hotel’s attraction and value as a project is the center-of-town location, with both retail and campus proximity; these virtues alone should make a smaller hotel viable. 

It is no secret that development projects routinely request approval for plans that overreach in scale (often asking for relief from zoning and height precedents), while falsely claiming that (a Zoning Board) agreement to these terms is the only way the project can “keep afloat,” all in pursuit of ever greater profit. Is that the case with this proposal by Graduate Hotels and is too much about to be conceded to this company, to the general detriment of Princeton, and most acutely, the immediate residential neighborhood?

Christopher Olsen
Alexander Street