October 18, 2023

Plans for Development of Seminary Site are Topic of Forum

By Anne Levin

At a community forum Tuesday evening, October 17 on development of the Tennent/Roberts/Whiteley campus of Princeton Theological Seminary, contract purchaser James P. Herring was to present concept plans for the apartment project he hopes to build at the site.

The forum at Witherspoon Hall, the third on the subject, was to be held after press time. Herring, owner of Herring Properties, shared some details of his plans in advance of the meeting.

The five-acre site is to have 238 units, including 48 affordable apartments integrated throughout the complex. Buildings are to be three-to-four stories, with stone and stucco exteriors. Underground parking and open space are part of the plan. The main entrance is off Stockton Street. The core of the development, the four-story part, is the most internal.

“There is no mass building along the streetscapes,” Herring said. “We’ve tried to be respectful of the architecture of Edgehill Street, which has old, traditional, narrow houses tight to the road, and Hibben Road, which has bigger lots and bigger houses. All along the neighbors’ properties, we’ve tried to be very respectful. So we went way beyond the existing setbacks against abutting properties. Then, we stepped back.”

Lead architects for the project are Marchetto Higgins Stieve (MHS) Architecture of Hoboken. Princeton-based architect Marina Rubina is strategic architectural consultant. There are 49 units per acre, “about the same as all of the most recent projects that have been approved in Princeton, and in the middle range of those,” said Herring. “We’re fortunate to be in a location that is walkable to town and the train station, and with the ability to have green space around it. We think that’s good for the community and the town.”

Empty nesters, young professionals, and retirees are the target market for the market-rate apartments, which may run from one-bedroom units “in the high twos and low threes” to two-bedroom units with dens “in the low fours,” Herring said. Rates for apartments classified as affordable will be determined after consulting with organizations that specialize in that segment of the market.

Since the last community forum in May, when certain goals for the property were established, the municipality’s redevelopment team has evaluated Herring’s concept plan.

“The purpose of this forum is for Herring Properties to present to the public its concepts that have been vetted by the Princeton redevelopment team,” Princeton Council President Mia Sacks wrote in an email. “There will be numerous public meetings and hearings in front of both the Council and Planning Board before any official action is taken.”

Herring said he has attended numerous meetings with neighbors of the property over the past two years, and his team has incorporated the majority of what people want into the concept. But he was expecting pushback on the number of units.

Some of the neighbors, members of the Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development (PCRD), have criticized the town’s redevelopment process and offered a plan for a lower-density development that would be 100 percent affordable. Herring said that the site’s status as an area in need of redevelopment is key to his plan. He pointed out that while the nonprofit Seminary has been tax-exempt, the development would provide a substantial tax revenue.

“We did examine a slightly smaller project, but it knocked out all of the ability for us to make this project a feature in Princeton,” he said in the opening remarks he was to give at the meeting. “We would have gone to a surface parking lot around the buildings, a more modern linear façade. Retention basins instead of landscaped public parks and less affordable housing. None of these features were desired in all of our community research. And most importantly, our design does not make these units noticeable. Most developers will target financial returns over quality. I want a sustainable project I can be proud of.”

Herring was raised in Princeton, and lives here with his family. “Hopefully, we’re heading more towards a smart-growth policy. If you just obstruct things, you either get litigious, big national developers in here who don’t care about the quality of the town, or you get a disjointed approval. I live here, and I do care.”

The community forum was to be recorded and is available on princetonnj.gov.