New zoning plan for hospital site advances

Mix of stores, housing and offices would be permitted

By: Courtney Gross
   The Princeton Borough Council introduced three ordinances Tuesday that would revise the zoning for the current site of the University Medical Center at Princeton and allow a mix of retail, residential and office space when the hospital’s anticipated move to Plainsboro occurs in 2010.
   Although Councilman Roger Martindell questioned why the hospital is planning to leave Princeton — the main campus currently borders Witherspoon Street, Franklin Avenue and Henry Avenue — the governing body unanimously agreed to create standards for what could take its place.
   "I’m not 100-percent sure that in a perfect world the hospital should leave this town," Councilman Martindell said during Tuesday’s meeting. But, he added, "I will support the ordinance certainly on introduction."
   The ordinances are slated for a public hearing Oct. 24.
   A majority of the governing body agreed the medical center’s move will enhance its ability to give care to the community, and it appeared the public has been persuaded as well. Few questions were asked about the ordinances Tuesday evening.
   "The hospital has for two years explained to the citizens" the reasons for its planned relocation, Councilwoman Wendy Benchley said. "I think the Princeton community understands the hospital is not deserting us."
   Tuesday’s meeting was the fourth time the council discussed the three zoning ordinances — which will now go to the Princeton Regional Planning Board for review. The ordinances will then return to the governing body for final approval.
   The first ordinance revises zoning for 5.6 acres of the medical center’s main campus from medical use to mixed residential, retail and office space.
   It would permit up to 280 residential units on the site, with 20 percent set aside for affordable housing. A density bonus could also be included if one-bedroom age-restricted housing is included.
   As intended by council, the proposed ordinance mandates the 5.6-acre area be considered one entity, doing away with the possibility of subdivision, and the majority of the onsite parking must be provided in a parking garage.
   This ordinance would also allow the current buildings to remain, but new construction would not be permitted to exceed five stories.
   Nonresidential uses, including restaurants, banks or retail stores, must be on the first floor and are limited to 180 feet along Witherspoon Street, according to the ordinance.
   In addition to design standards already in place in the borough, the council introduced a second ordinance that would apply specific aesthetic guidelines to the medical center area.
   To address past concerns by the council, language was incorporated in the proposed ordinance that would ensure the open space in the area — which must account for 20 percent of the site — would be accessible by the public and surrounding neighborhoods.
   A new neighborhood street is also "envisioned" within the zone, the ordinance states, but not necessarily through the entire space.
   The third ordinance introduced Tuesday would create a new residential zone for 1.77 acres on Franklin Avenue, including the surface parking lot that serves the medical center.
   This zone also includes Franklin Terrace and Maple Terrace, an affordable-housing development on the corner of Witherspoon Street and Franklin Avenue, so the properties could possibly be developed together.
   After several residents raised concern over the density that could result from new construction, language was incorporated that would provide a 35-foot buffer where residential properties abut possible development, and also reduced the setback along the Princeton Cemetery to 8 feet.