September 8, 2021

Town Must Defend Master Plan, Deny PU’s Variance Request for Prospect

To the Editor:

This past April, Princeton University’s Environmental Studies Department hosted a thoughtful seminar, entitled “Environmental Justice Symposium: Meaningful Engagement between Communities and Institutions of Higher Education.” Anyone committed to sustainability knows that community engagement and support are essential to create positive environmental change. But meaningful engagement with the community is not a model that Princeton University seems interested in following in Princeton, as they seek to destroy three historic homes and impose their 666,000-square-foot engineering and environmental studies complex on the neighbors of Fitzrandolph, Murray, and Prospect. They have not heard the community’s pleas to save the homes by modifying a tiny fraction (2 percent) of a proposed complex that dwarfs most projects on Route 1.

At the June meeting of the Princeton Planning Board, the University’s representatives alleged they had done everything right, and that, at the last hour, the rules were being changed on them. This is false and disingenuous. From the outset, the University chose to design without regard for national historic district guidelines or for the town’s zoning and master plan. That is why the University needs a variance from the town. Rather than follow the zoning, or engaging the community, the University has preferred to lawyer up and force their will on their neighbors. They are only shocked that someone dares to say “no.”

The University’s position is clear: they allege there is “no controlling authority” to stop them from demolishing all four historic buildings, and the community is powerless. The University is offering a stark choice. Either the town can uphold its zoning and master plan, in which case the University says they’ll destroy the historic Court Clubhouse and leave the three historic Victorians (for now); or the town can let the University violate the zoning and master plan, and the University will save (for now) but displace the Court Clubhouse and destroy the three Victorians. It is a horrible choice, reflecting a gross disregard for the community’s desires and the town’s master plan. All so that a “theorists’ pavilion” can have more “natural light,” and, I suppose, host conferences on justice and meaningful community engagement in 666,000-square-feet of splendor, and not an inch less.

Given this Hobson’s choice, where the only option offered is submission to the will of the University and destruction of the community’s history, the town must defend its master plan and its governing authority to zone and plan. The only hope the town has of convincing the University to meaningfully engage is to deny their variance request. If the town compromises its zoning for a compromised neighborhood, the precedent is set, and the gates open for the University to disregard the community and master plan again and again.

Please attend the Zoom meeting ( on September 23 at 7 p.m. and urge the Planning Board to (1) deny the University’s variance application, and (2) approve their overall site plan only on condition that these historic buildings be preserved.

Louis Hamilton
Murray Place