Jugtown Residents Air Concerns Over Development
By Anne Levin
As of Monday afternoon, a petition on change.org titled “Save Jugtown Historic District” had collected 537 signatures. Residents of the neighborhood and others who have signed the petition are concerned about a project that would add a four-story addition behind two, two-story buildings at 344 Nassau Street, on the corner of a busy intersection with North Harrison Street.
Part of the Affordable Housing Overlay Zone 2, which addresses a mandate for Princeton to expand housing around town, the site includes five buildings in the Jugtown Historic District. The owner, RB Homes, would create an apartment building with 20 units, four of which would be designated affordable.
A zoning overlay is a zoning district that is applied over one or more previously established zoning districts to establish additional zoning standards, such as affordable housing. The project was given a concept review before the Planning Board on February 2, and the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) on February 27. No applications have been filed by the developer.
Residents say they are not opposed to affordable housing. “That’s not the issue,” said Clifford Zink, who lives in the neighborhood. “Almost everybody in town is in favor of affordable housing. It’s about balance. When you have a historic area, how do you balance that with bringing in affordable housing?”
“We don’t have a problem with affordable housing in our neighborhood,” said Catherine Knight, who started the petition and lives on Nassau Street. “We’re not trying to come out and say we’re against the whole idea. We’re just trying to protect this one intersection.”
The existing building facing Nassau Street, which the developer would leave intact, was built in 1760 and is believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, according to the petition. Princeton
designated Jugtown as a local historic district in the 1990s.
“The Harrison Street crossroads is a gateway into town,” said Zink. “It used
to be a separate village, mostly called Queenston. Every time I come into Princeton from that area, you ride along Carnegie Lake, which has kind of a suburban feel. But as soon as you get up to the Jugtown area, it’s the entrance into Princeton. You suddenly realize you’re in a special place.”
History is one part of the story; safety is another. The corner is already a dangerous intersection, and adding more traffic would make it worse, residents say.
“We’ve seen the lights knocked over. The sidewalks outside the Michael Graves [architecture] office have truck tire tracks. Buses roll over the curbs,” said Knight. “The idea of people pulling in and out, moving vans, deliveries and trash, with no place to turn, is just scary.”
Residents have cited other locations in Jugtown that would be better suited to affordable housing development, specifically mentioning the Bank of America parking lot, the Princeton Hook & Ladder Company on North Harrison Street, and the Whole Earth Center parking lot.
“There are some great opportunities to do this,” said Zink. At those locations, “we wouldn’t have to diminish the significance of the historical district.”
The proposed addition is 45 feet tall, which “will overwhelm the existing building and neighborhood,” reads the petition. “The existing two-story building is 29 feet to the peak of the pitched roof. Along Nassau Street between Kingston and Witherspoon Street there are no four- story buildings, and in our opinion this addition will look totally out of scale. If this project goes through, the possibility of similar projects on all four corner lots at the historic intersection is truly concerning, and would forever change this key entrance to our town.”
The recently approved Affordable Housing Overlay-7 zone in the Witherspoon-Jackson historic district allows a maximum of 3.5 stories, with the attic floor no more than 50 percent of the floor below. Residents who signed the Jugtown petition are hoping the HPC will recommend a reduction in building height to 3.5 stories at most, and no installation of rooftop equipment.
“In summary, we support affordable housing and development in some great locations in Jugtown,” the petition reads. “But we believe development in the historic district should follow provisions of the Princeton Historic Preservation ordinance and National Park Service guidelines for the treatment of historic properties.”