Merwick site up next for Master Plan review

Thursday Planning Board session to address reuse options

By: David Campbell
   With community Master Plan changes for the University Medical Center at Princeton campus now approved, the Regional Planning Board of Princeton on Thursday evening will turn its attention to the Merwick Rehab Hospital & Nursing Care facility off Bayard Lane.
   On Jan. 19, following lengthy deliberations and public review, the Planning Board approved Master Plan amendments for Princeton HealthCare System’s 12-acre hospital campus on Witherspoon Street that open the way for the site to be rezoned for high-density mixed-use development, made up primarily of residential units.
   On Thursday night, the board will begin discussions of reuse options for another property that PHCS plans to sell — the nine-acre Merwick site near the Princeton Family YMCA/YWCA Princeton facility off Paul Robeson Place and Princeton University’s 154-unit Stanworth Apartments. The Planning Board meeting is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. in the main meeting room of the Princeton Township Hall.
   PHCS is negotiating to buy 160 acres owned by FMC Corp. at Route 1 and Plainsboro Road in Plainsboro for a new, $350 million hospital campus to replace its UMCP campus in Princeton.
   The university has been named as the likely buyer of the Merwick facility along with the nearly two-acre Franklin Avenue parking lot next to the UMCP site. The Ivy League school has said those two parcels could be good locations for new faculty, staff and graduate-student housing, and possibly affordable housing for the community.
   Planning Board member Marvin Reed, who is chairman of the board’s Master Plan Subcommittee that has reviewed site issues related to reuse of the Merwick property, said that Thursday night’s work session by the board will begin deliberations that will lead to further amendments to the Master Plan and possibly new zoning, as well.
   Merwick and the YM-YWCA properties are in Princeton Borough’s R-1 zone, under which Mr. Reed said the Merwick site could be redeveloped with 16 large houses on half-acre lots.
   "The question is, do you tear everything down and simply divide it up, or do you come up with a much more imaginative development plan, one that includes the Y and Stanworth, as well?" he said.
   Stanworth is in the borough’s R-4 zone, which permits a greater variety of housing options than the R-1, including smaller lot sizes with higher densities.
   At a subcommittee meeting last summer, the planners discussed the possibility of rezoning the Merwick and YM-YWCA properties as R-4 with some underlying institutional zoning for greater flexibility and planning options for both sites.
   Mr. Reed said potential new zoning similar to R-4, but which also meets new state affordable-housing regulations, is one of the items up for discussion by the board. He said PHCS, the YM-YWCA and the university have expressed a willingness to consider planning options for the whole area their properties comprise, not just Merwick.
   He said the board is also expected to weigh a recommendation by Princeton Future for a new roadway off Paul Robeson Place that would parallel John Street.
   Other issues up for discussion include a possible land swap involving the Y’s playground on Paul Robeson Place and Merwick frontage along Bayard Lane; possible upgrades for Stanworth; and the possible future uses of the main Merwick house, the Merwick gardens and a wooded area behind.
   Philadelphia-based firm Lubert-Adler Management Inc. has been named as developer for the Witherspoon Street hospital site. Lubert-Adler has said it plans to redevelop the property in accordance with the amended Master Plan and whatever new zoning arises from it.
   PHCS has said it plans to break ground in Plainsboro in 2007 and open in 2010, when redevelopment of the Witherspoon Street campus could begin. PHCS has sought a certificate of need for the new campus from state health officials, which still is pending.