Community forum set on development ideas for Merwick site

Princeton Future invites architects to present proposals

By: David Campbell
   Community planning group Princeton Future is inviting area architects to brainstorm design ideas for the 9-acre Merwick Rehab Hospital & Nursing Care facility off Bayard Lane, which Princeton HealthCare System is selling to Princeton University as part of its planned relocation to Plainsboro.
   Participants are expected to gather this evening beginning at 5 in Betts Auditorium of Princeton University’s School of Architecture on the university campus to discuss objectives and criteria. Then, on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Princeton Borough Hall, the designers are expected to reconvene to present their ideas to the public.
   The goals of the design exercise are to contribute independent ideas to the planning process — which is expected to culminate in Master Plan and zoning amendments by the Regional Planning Board of Princeton and Princeton Borough Council, respectively — and present a range of design and reuse options to the public.
   Princeton Future member Kevin Wilkes, director of design at Montgomery-based Princeton Design Guild and a Princeton Borough resident, said the public event Sunday is intended to demystify the planning process.
   He said the goal is "to present these initial ideas to the Princeton community at large so that the arena for discussions can be broadened from Planning Board meetings to a larger audience of all engaged citizens."
   Participating area architectural and design firms include HACBM Architects & Planners, Richardson Smith Architects, The Spiezle Group, Outerbridge Morgan Architects, Gittings Associates PC and others, Princeton Future said.
   Design proposals will be asked to address issues such as land use; housing types and density; vehicular, pedestrian, bicycle and public-transportation site circulation; open space and recreation; community facilities; historic preservation; and conservation, organizers said.
   In January, the Planning Board approved Master Plan amendments for PHCS’s 12-acre University Medical Center at Princeton campus on Witherspoon Street that allow the site to be rezoned for high-density mixed-use development, made up primarily of residential units.
   In February, the board began its discussion of reuse options for the Merwick site with possible rezoning similarly expected. Princeton Future contributed reuse options and suggested amending Master Plan language for the UMCP site, and now is poised to do something similar for Merwick.
   Merwick is located near the Princeton Family YMCA/YWCA Princeton facility off Paul Robeson Place and Princeton University’s 154-unit Stanworth Apartments. While the Planning Board’s discussions are considering all three sites, Mr. Wilkes said Princeton Future’s design exercise will focus largely on the Merwick site.
   PHCS is selling Merwick and the UMCP campus as part of its planned relocation to Plainsboro. The health-care system is buying 160 acres owned by FMC Corp. at Route 1 and Plainsboro Road to build a $350 million hospital campus to replace its Princeton facility.
   Princeton University has been named as the buyer of the Merwick facility, as well as the nearly 2-acre Franklin Avenue parking lot next to the UMCP site. The university has indicated those two parcels could be good locations for new faculty, staff and graduate-student housing, and possibly affordable housing for the community.