June 30, 2021

Urging Planning Board to Deny Variance Sought By PU for Prospect Avenue Plan

To the Editor:

If people in Princeton think that parking, truck traffic, and noise are a problem in town now, they should be very concerned about Princeton University’s plans for Prospect Avenue. The University intends to insert a truck access to the 666,000-square-foot complex into the otherwise residential street where the eating clubs are located, moving one of them and destroying three Victorian homes for good measure. This ES+SEAS complex replaces dozens of residences, including the Ferris Thompson Apts, with a sprawling structure that will be home to hundreds of employees, displacing many families who will need to commute from further afield. The labs will need to be supplied with chemical and biological engineering equipment and supplies, bringing more truck traffic to the neighborhood. All of this is part of the University’s long-term plan to “evolve” the town into a “city” in the words of Ron McCoy, University architect. In the past 13 years, the University has pushed a plan that expands the campus out at its residential edges; displacing the Dinky, destroying 19th-century homes on Alexander, destroying the Victorians at Olden and Williams, destroying historic 86 Olden Street, and soon demolishing the remaining Gothic Revival portion of Princeton Museum.

When he was hired in 2008, Mr. McCoy was quoted in a PU interview, “In my discussions with the University it became clear that the qualities of the Princeton campus would not endure without a singularly focused commitment from the leaders of the University to preserving the historic beauty of the campus while creating innovative new facilities for today’s students and faculty.” He seems to have forgotten his original mission. In 2010, McCoy was quoted in the Princeton Alumni Weekly regarding the demolition of 86 Olden Street, which was important to the desegregation of the Ivy League in the 1960s, “[Tearing down the clubhouse] is not the beginning of a trend,” asserting that the University has been a leader in reusing older buildings. We know now that this was a misrepresentation of the University plan, and was indeed the beginning of the destructive trend continuing today.

In an April 2021 article in the New York Times, the headline points to why our town is desirable, “Princeton, N.J.: Historic Homes and Cultural Riches.” These historic homes are precisely what the University wants to destroy. We moved here 11 years ago, as the Times article suggests, for the historic architecture, walkable town, good schools, and access to transit to our places of employment. Princeton University’s plans aim to take half of that away. The vast majority of the residents of Princeton do not work at the University, and will never see the inside of the massive glass box being planned for Prospect, but we will have to live with the increased traffic, supply trucks, and aesthetic disharmony of its exterior. I urge the Planning Board on July 8 to deny the variance sought for the proposed Prospect Avenue intrusion, and keep Princeton a town for the whole community, not just the researchers.

Lydia G. Hamilton, VMD
Murray Place