May 3, 2023

Highlighting Concerns About Appropriate Density at Seminary Development Site

To the Editor:

With reference to the ‘Future of Seminary Site Is Topic of Second ‘Roundtable’” article in the April 26 issue [page 1], it would be helpful to flesh out more of what was commented on during the first Community Roundtable, as well as what was presented in the Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development (PCRD) public meeting of April 15.

In addition to public concerns about storm water management and the perceived implications of underground parking, other speakers at the March 18 roundtable noted concerns about preserving existing trees, and new building density that is a responsible fit for the neighborhood with regard to height, setbacks, massing, and aesthetics. The presentation at the PCRD meeting outlined the five lots currently owned by the Princeton Theological Seminary that are under contract to a private developer, along with an explanation of the current “as-of-right” R3 zoning. It was noted that the square footage of the former Whiteley Gymnasium was almost exactly what R3 zoning would allow for new building on those sites. Across the road, the sites of the former Tennent Hall and Roberts Hall would allow more than 18,000 additional square feet of new construction beyond the areas occupied by those now-demolished buildings. That is a full 34 percent increase in area beyond what has existed on that site for well before the memory of any living person in Princeton. That increase, while very significant, is also acknowledged by PCRD as an amount of new building that could reasonably and carefully be accommodated on the former Tennent Roberts site. A conceptual site plan presented at the April 15 meeting was just one example of an approach to place R3 zoning “as-of-right” new construction on those five lots.

Several attendees at that meeting expressed concerns about development on those properties that might exceed that currently-designated density, along with the well-documented issues of traffic, storm water, increased impermeable coverage, tree conservation, and historic preservation. So it is only fair to note that concerns about an appropriate density for these important sites in this historic neighborhood were expressed in both meetings.

Christopher Olsen
Alexander Street