Borough takes a pass on ‘Future’ plan

Mayor Reed: ‘We haven’t made any headway with Palmer Square, so if you can, then more power to you.’

By: Jennifer Potash
   The Princeton Borough Council congratulated Princeton Future on Tuesday for developing an ambitious plan to realign Paul Robeson Place and bring more affordable housing to the downtown, but did not offer to get involved in the project.
   "We haven’t made any headway with Palmer Square, so if you can, then more power to you," Princeton Borough Mayor Marvin Reed said.
   Princeton Future, the nonprofit organization that promotes a holistic approach to planning for downtown development, presented its plans for the future of Paul Robeson Place and the surrounding area to the Borough Council. The organization intends to draft a downtown master plan by October for consideration by the Princeton Regional Planning Board.
   Robert Brown, an architect and urban planner from Philadelphia, developed the plans based on comments from the residents and ideas from Princeton Future’s Planning and Design Task Force.
   Called "Zone Two" by Princeton Future, the block is sandwiched between Paul Robeson Place and Hulfish Street and includes two parking garages, multiple-use buildings and a parcel of land fronting Paul Robeson Place slated for 97 upscale townhouses, all owned by Palmer Square Management.
   Palmer Square filed a building permit application with Princeton Borough Thursday to develop the units. Palmer Square and Princeton Borough are mired in a dispute over the amount of affordable housing to be included in the plans.
   Residents have long complained about the unfinished Hulfish North project, now a piece of land bounded by a chain-link fence.
   Paul Robeson Place, which supplanted residential Jackson Street, a center of Princeton’s black community a century ago, has become a speedway for vehicular traffic seeking to avoid congested Nassau Street, residents and Princeton Future members said.
   Mayor Reed said that in the late 1950s, the owners of Palmer Square and the Princeton Borough Council wanted to link Wiggins Street with Hodge Road to create an alternative route to Nassau Street.
   The removal of Jackson Street caused a wound in that community that never fully healed, said Robert Geddes, co-chairman of Princeton Future. This proposal is intended to heal that wound, he said.
   Council members expressed concern that the plan called for the elimination of a portion of the Hulfish North parking garage.
   "It’s truly fantastic," said Councilwoman Wendy Benchley. "But I urge you to go back and look at the south side and not eliminate the garage." Councilman David Goldfarb questioned whether there were more immediate steps, short of the major changes Princeton Future suggested, to improve Paul Robeson Place.
   In the proposed design, Paul Robeson Place would be narrowed to make room for roughly 10 new houses on the north side backing onto the existing Green Street residences between The Arts Council of Princeton building and the First Baptist Church. In addition, 150 units of housing of various types would be built on the Hulfish North property in an eight-story building. The proposal on the Palmer Square side of Paul Robeson Place mixes a variety of housing types and income levels — from luxury condominiums replete with a doorman to apartments for service workers earning up to $25,000.
   Mayor Reed questioned whether the affordable apartments could be earmarked for low-income residents as downtown apartments tend to go at premium prices.
   The Paul Robeson Place side of the development plan includes tree-lined sidewalks and a small green space with some residential units.
   Paul Robeson Place bends slightly to the north past the intersection of Witherspoon Street. The new street would go straight through to Chambers Street, creating extra room for the new homes on the north side and slicing through property owned by Palmer Square. Access from Paul Robeson Place to Route 206 past the Princeton Family YMCA and the YWCA of Princeton is preserved in the plan.