March 22, 2023

Community Forum Held On Redevelopment of Seminary Property

By Anne Levin

At a meeting held last Saturday by the municipality to discuss the future of the Tennent/Roberts/Whiteley campus of Princeton Theological Seminary, residents of the neighborhood surrounding the Seminary gathered at the municipal building to hear about the redevelopment process and air some of their concerns.

The Seminary had originally considered building new student apartments at the site, which  was designated an area in need of redevelopment in October 2018. But the plans for student apartments were withdrawn by the Seminary in the fall of 2019. Last year, three early 20th century buildings considered beyond restoring were torn down. The Seminary still owns the property. Developer Jamie Herring of Herring Properties is the contract purchaser. Herring has said he envisions multi-family housing, including affordable units, on the site.

After being introduced by Princeton’s Planning Director Justin Lesko, Steven G. Mlenak of the law firm Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis, and planner James T. Kyle of Kyle + McManus Associates stressed that the meeting was to hear concerns, not to make any decisions.

Mlenak gave a brief legal overview of the redevelopment process, which provides greater opportunities for community participation and control over the site plan, as well as the ability for the town to negotiate benefits for the neighborhood, he said.

Several people took to the microphone to ask questions and air concerns. Elm Road resident Jennifer Widner was among those to ask if saving existing trees was part of the redevelopment plan. Lynn Durkee of Springdale Road asked about impervious coverage, and was assured by Kyle that stormwater management and control are priorities.

Jessica Vieira, who lives in a house on Stockton Street designed by noted 19th century builder Charles Steadman, said she worries about the aesthetics of what could be built. “I’m all for affordable and mixed-use and I think that’s all wonderful, but let’s remember what is in keeping” with the historic neighborhood, she said, adding that owners of historic homes pay more than those who own more contemporary homes to maintain them.

“That is why people are so heated about this, because we bear a lof that,” she said “We bear it willingly, but we bear it.”

Betsy Brown of Edgehill Street said that for those who live in historic homes, displaced groundwater is the biggest worry. Water is displaced when there is underground building like a swimming pool or underground garage, and that water gets displaced usually into other people’s foundations and basements, she said. “I know it’s too early, but the developer has been talking for a while about building an underground garage. That would be a death sentence for many of the older buildings on Edgehill and Mercer streets,” she said. “They just couldn’t take the displacement.  This should be out of the question. So please consider the impact of groundwater digging deep.”

Brad Middlekauff of Hibben Road thanked municipal officials for putting the meeting together and urged them to publicize future gatherings more broadly so that members of the surrounding community can participate. He also encouraged planners to reveal details of density and scale early in the process.

Mlenak said the meeting was the first of many. The next is on Saturday, May 6 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the municipal building.

“We will make a better effort to canvas the community a little bit more, to get more involvement,” he said. “We have to balance your concerns with community concerns, but the concerns we’ve heard today are of primary importance because you’re the ones that are going to be the most impacted potentially by the development of the site.”