March 8, 2023

Current Jugtown Proposal Will Create Traffic, Pedestrian Nightmare

To the Editor:

I am writing to echo the concerns highlighted by Donald Denny’s letter [Mailbox, February 22]. As a longtime homeowner in Princeton’s Jugtown Historic District, I take great pride in my home and ensuring that alterations I’ve made over the years respect the integrity of our historic community. The added burden of seeking the Historical Preservation Commission’s (HPC) approval to these improvements is not insignificant, but a burden I understood when purchasing my home. One I viewed positively, as a form of protection, ensuring the historic character of the neighborhood I fell in love with would be maintained. My neighbors and I view ourselves not simply as homeowners, but rather caretakers of these properties, so that future generations have glimpses into Princeton’s past.

That is why I am confused as to why the ordinance passed by Princeton in July 2020 (#2020-17) included five designated Jugtown Historic District lots at the Nassau-Harrison intersection within the AHO-2 overlay. Eased zoning restrictions afforded to the overlay allow for 45-foot-high structures, with no side yard setback requirements, and reduced parking needs. The concept design reviews held recently at both the Planning Board and at HPC for 344 Nassau, by RB Homes, proposed a massive four-story rear addition, with miniscule side setback. The sheer size and scale of this proposal will overpower the streetscape of the Jugtown Historic District, a notably intact streetscape that retains unique historic significance in Princeton.

As concerning, the traffic congestion and pedestrian safety that this development will undoubtedly create is frightening. As a mother to three elementary school-aged children, I dread the thought of them, and their Riverside classmates, traveling down Harrison to get to the middle school. The intersection is treacherous already. Vehicles regularly jump the curbs. 344 Nassau doesn’t have a grass separation between Harrison Street and the sidewalk. In the last several years, trucks have hit the traffic light, knocking the pole into the street. The idea that the proposed parking configuration by RB Homes, which includes 18 substandard spaces jammed into a covered lot, amidst what I imagine would be significant concrete piles needed to support the three stories above, will meet the needs of 20 residential units and an office, is completely unrealistic. Where do customers and guests park? What happens when the delivery driver pulls in and realizes there is no room to turn around? Do they back out onto Harrison amidst limited sightlines?

Finally, this isn’t about affordable housing. This is about maintaining the integrity of this neighborhood and property, one that dates to 1760, which was characterized in the 1982 National Historic Register Nomination as “the single most pivotal and important building at the Jugtown crossroads.” I welcome affordable housing at this site, and others, in Jugtown, but I urge the HPC and the Planning Board to ensure this proposal is not approved, nor granted variances, until its scale and setback are adjusted to be harmonious with the historic neighborhood, and not create the traffic and pedestrian nightmare the current proposal undoubtedly will.

Maggie Depenbrock
Nassau Street