September 22, 2021

Planning Board Should Reject PU’s Variance Application for Prospect Avenue

To the Editor:

The fate of the historic western block of Prospect Avenue with its iconic row of eating clubs and related historic buildings is on the agenda at tomorrow night’s Planning Board meeting. Will the town of Princeton grant the University a variance that will violate National Park Service guidelines for historic districts and historic preservation provisions and recommendations of the town Master Plan by 1) moving the former Court Club out of the New Jersey and National Register Princeton Historic District, 2) destroying three viable historic houses that are part of Prospect Avenue’s unique history, and 3) erecting a building and landscape that will be glaringly discordant with the historic Prospect streetscape?

The University’s proposed incursion onto Prospect Avenue is less than 2 percent of its proposed 666,000-square-foot ES+SEAS science and engineering complex along Ivy Lane to the south. Despite months of questions and appeals by concerned residents, the University has not identified a single reason why it needs to violate federal, state, and town preservation policy by denigrating Prospect Avenue.

The University has adequate land to meet its needs, and the Save Prospect Coalition has offered multiple compromises to maintain the historic character of Prospect Avenue, but the University has so far rejected them. What kind of message does this send to the town, to its own students? Forget about public preservation policy, forget about community concerns, forget about compromise when your actions will impinge on others. What kind of precedent will approval of the University’s plan establish for Prospect Avenue and for other historic neighborhoods adjacent to the campus? They will all be potentially in play as the University inevitably continues to expand in the future, and as other developers eye historic properties. 

The Planning Board should reject the University’s variance application for Prospect Avenue. As planner David Kinsey iterated at the June 17 Planning Board hearing, a variance approval will violate five provisions of the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law, and its detriment to the public interest will considerably outweigh any benefits, which alone would accrue to the University. For more information on this, see

Granting the variance will also allow the University to remove three properties from the local tax rolls to the detriment of the public purse, as it is doing with the demolition of the Ferris Thompson Apartments on Ivy Lane, and as it previously did with multiple properties on Alexander Street.

Everyone in town admires the University and wishes it only great success. But there comes a time when the town has to stand up for itself, defend its Master Plan, support its community, and protect its history. Now is that time. And we respectfully ask the University to work towards a compromise solution.     

Clifford Zink
Aiken Avenue