October 27, 2021

A Better Outcome on Prospect Avenue Achieved Through Civic Engagement

To the Editor:

Thanks to the community’s efforts, the expertise of municipal staff, the Historic Preservation Commission’s resolve, and the Planning Board’s openness to community input, the iconic western section of Prospect Avenue will have a better future balancing its historic significance with appropriate changes.

The Princeton Prospect Foundation, dedicated to the preservation of the Princeton Eating Clubs, and the ad hoc Save Prospect Coalition sought a balance of the University’s goals with sustaining the historic streetscape. The Save Prospect Petition that now has over 1,700 signatories, expert and impassioned testimony from local residents, eloquent letters to local media, and the press coverage were all key to convincing the University to alter its plans.

The Memorandum of Agreement we negotiated with the University will have lasting impact. Instead of demolishing the three historic houses on the north side, the University agreed to rehabilitate them following the secretary of the interior’s Standards for the Treatment for Historic Properties. To protect Prospect Avenue from governmental encroachment, six months after moving Court Clubhouse and the house at 110 Prospect, the University will apply to the N.J. State Office of Historic Preservation and the National Park Service to extend the boundary of the State and National Register Princeton Historic District to the north side of Prospect to include the three houses, the relocated Court Clubhouse, and the 1911 Ferris Thompson Gateway and Wall designed by McKim, Mead, and White.

At the rehabilitated Queen Anne Style house at 114 Prospect Avenue, the University agreed to consider marking the building as the first residence in America of Erwin Panofsky, whose work on iconography changed the study of art history. Regarding the landscaping in front of the future Theorist Pavilion, the University agreed to work collaboratively on a design that is compatible with the historic streetscape.      

And most importantly, the University agreed to support the municipal designation of the Prospect Avenue Historic District, first proposed in 1992 and recommended in the 2012 Princeton Master Plan, and which we restarted in presentations to HPC this past August. The goal is not to freeze Prospect Avenue in time, but to ensure that future changes respect its unique historic character and significance.

We thank the University for its new openness to community dialogue and hope that it continues. We thank the municipal staff and the volunteer members of the HPC and Planning Board for their efforts in seeking the best results for the community. And we especially thank all the people who signed the petition, wrote letters, testified at the public hearings, and worked behind the scenes to promote a viable compromise.

Civic engagement works both ways — when a developer reaches out to the community to understand and act on its concerns, and when the community reaches out to a developer with its knowledge of Princeton and its goal of maintaining it as a fine place to live. This combination has worked successfully in the past, and is surely the way towards a better future.

Clifford W. Zink
Aiken Avenue