April 26, 2023

Future of Seminary Site Is Topic of Second “Roundtable”

By Anne Levin

On Saturday, May, 6 at 10 a.m., the municipality will hold its second Community Roundtable devoted to the future development of the Tennent-Roberts-Whiteley sites at Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS). The gathering will be at Witherspoon Hall and run through 12 p.m.

Municipal staff held its first Community Roundtable on the subject March 18. Residents of the neighborhood surrounding the campus were able to ask questions and offer feedback about the site, which was designated an area in need of redevelopment (ANR) four years ago. The contract purchaser is local developer Jamie Herring.

“This will be a continuation of that conversation,” Princeton’s Planning Director Justin Lesko said of the upcoming meeting. “We’ll take what we heard at the first roundtable and begin to formulate whatever sort of redevelopment plan might emerge. We can now say, okay, we heard you want stormwater management and no below-ground parking. Now, let’s dig into that. I anticipate at least another meeting, or multiple ones, before a plan comes out.”

On April 15, the Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development (PCRD) held its own meeting on the subject at the Johnson Education Center on Preservation Place. The agenda covered a recent history of the site, current zoning laws, results of public surveys by PCRD about development, and a vision for the future of the site.

“We’ve been at this for five years,” said Jo Butler, a resident of the neighborhood and a member of the PCRD. “It’s really complicated. We want to educate people so that they’re not hearing this stuff for the first time when they go to these [Community Roundtable] meetings. We just want people to understand.”

PCRD is not opposed to redevelopment. “What we want is responsible development,” Butler said. At the April 15 meeting, architect Christopher Olsen, who lives on Alexander Street, presented one vision for the properties “that would meet the community’s needs, be sensitive to the environment, the history, and the neighbors,” Butler wrote in an email. “It would be as-of-right and it would still meet the governing body’s objectives of increased density and affordable housing.”

PCRD has met with Herring several times, Butler said, including taking a tour of the neighborhood with him. The “elephant in the room” is density. “We’ve had meetings and people talk in generalities, but we’re not seeing what they have planned.”

PTS first announced plans to develop graduate housing at the site in 2018. Those plans were abandoned a year later. In 2021, PTS announced it was selling 5 of the 10 lots included in the ANR. Two of those lots are the site of the former Whiteley Gymnasium; the three others are 92, 100, and 108 Stockton Street. The change in ownership from an educational institution to a private developer has implications for the zoning, changing it to R3 from E4.

Butler said PCRD encourages people to attend the Community Roundtable on May 6. “They did a nice job at the first meeting, listening to what people had to say. We’re not competing with the town. We’re really trying to augment what they’re trying to do.”

Lesko said the process of forming a final redevelopment plan for the site involves going before Council, the Planning Board, and back to Council, “at least a couple of months.”