June 30, 2021

Noting Grassroots Community Opposition To University’s Prospect Avenue Plans

To the Editor:

Last week’s lead article “PU Prospect Ave. Plans Remain Unresolved” [Page 1, June 23] comprehensively covered the Planning Board (PB) meeting on June 17 and the current public controversy over the University’s intentions to remove the former Court Clubhouse from the Princeton Historic District and to demolish three historically-significant Victorian-era houses as part of its planned ES+SEAS complex to be located adjacent to the University’s iconic eating clubs. However, as board chair of the nonprofit charitable organization Princeton Prospect Foundation (PPF), which for months has objected to this small aspect of the project, I would like to clarify a misstatement in the article. The community petition opposing the plan, which has garnered over 1,100 signatures, is not sponsored by PPF, as the article states. Rather, town residents created the petition without any prior interactions with PPF, although PPF now strongly supports it, and a Save Prospect Coalition comprised of town residents, University alumni, and PPF has since emerged.

The proposed 666,000-square-foot ES+SEAS project will benefit the University’s educational and research mission, but at issue is a mere 3 percent of the development which the substantial majority of the public did not learn about until late May at the University’s presentations to neighbors and the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB), notably with the latter precluding public comments. The plan to unnecessarily and irrevocably damage Prospect Avenue has stunned and dismayed town residents because, among other things, it violates National Park Service Guidelines for Historic Districts, as described in detail by historic preservation consultant Clifford Zink at the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) meeting on June 7 and again at the PB meeting on June 17. The HPC recommended that the PB deny the University’s variance application for moving the Court Clubhouse, and expert testimony at the PB meeting demonstrated that the variance would not meet State requirements. The University’s threat to simply demolish Court Clubhouse if the variance is denied sends a particularly negative educational message to students and citizens that disregarding national and local preservation policy and community concerns is perfectly acceptable.

On June 24, the Council of Princeton Future, a highly-regarded neutral party, offered to facilitate a transparent dialogue and cooperative resolution of the current controversy. While the Save Prospect Coalition embraces this proposal, the University officially has declined it as “inappropriate” by asserting that “since last fall we have held virtual neighborhood meetings” about the project. This statement is misleading because, whereas the University presented the ES+SEAS plans and discussed them with small groups of citizens at various times since last fall, each highly-controlled case involved targeted audiences of limited size. Since the full public first became aware of the plans related to the Court Clubhouse in late May, there has been no actual dialogue with the community. Town residents who feel strongly about this historic preservation issue are encouraged to make public comments at the continued PB meeting on Thursday, July 8 at 7:30 p.m.

Sandy Harrison ‘74
Board Chair, Princeton Prospect Foundation