By Anne Levin
Problems blamed on the pre-construction process for a new complex at Princeton University have sparked anxiety among some neighbors of Princeton Theological Seminary, where the demolition of buildings on the Tennent-Roberts-Whiteley (TRW) property on Stockton Street is planned.
“Nearby neighbors have had surprise visits from an employee of Princeton Theological Seminary, who is going door to door to schedule appointments to document roofs and foundations prior to the demolition of the TRW buildings,” reads an email from the Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development (PCRD), sent last week. “These unexpected visits have sparked anxious calls among neighbors who are appropriately worried about their property and also worried generally about the demolition process and environmental impacts.”
While the process for construction of Princeton University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science (ES & SEAS) involves blasting of bedrock, which neighbors of surrounding streets say has caused cracks and leaks, the demolition on the Seminary property does not.
“Indeed, there will be no blasting at the site,” wrote Beth DeMauro, interim director of communication and marketing for the school, in an email. “The Seminary is taking every step to ensure that this project has minimal impact to the surrounding homes and community. Individual meetings have been held with neighbors contiguous to the site to assess and address any concerns related to the demolition. The project has been thoughtfully planned and will be carefully executed to minimize disruption to the neighborhood.”
They were designed in part by prolific Princeton architect Rolf Bauhan, and members of the PCRD consider them worthy of preservation. The buildings are not protected under any historic designation. They have been used for Seminary housing and office space.
“The Seminary conducted an extensive study of the buildings on the site in 2018 as part of its proposed plans to build new student apartments, concluding that the adaptive reuse of the existing structures and upgrade to current standards was not viable,” DeMauro wrote in
an email. “After more than a year of site planning and engagement with the town and neighbors, the Seminary announced in 2019 that the increased cost estimates, due to additional requests that came out of the engagement process, made the project no longer financially viable and put the property on the market.”
The Seminary sold the property to Princeton-based Herring Properties, which is planning to build “a blend of much-needed market-rate housing for young professionals, empty nesters, and retirees, as well as affordable housing,” said developer Jamie Herring. The company is planning to hold a series of small focus groups, followed by meetings open to members of the community, led by the marketing firm Princeton Strategic Communications.
“We don’t officially have any set plans. We want to incorporate what we hear before we roll anything out,” Herring said this week. “We will reach out to neighbors, business people, and institutions around Princeton for these confidential focus groups to solicit feedback. And we will incorporate that into our planning stages.”
The process will begin in July, Herring said. “The focus groups are anonymous and I won’t know who is making what comment. These are about how this project might fit into the town. When we reach out to the community, then we’ll ask for specific details about what they’re interested in. This won’t be a presentation of plans, it will be to get information before we make the plans.”
In the recent email, PCRD said that the demolition permit obtained by the Seminary was fast-tracked through the regulatory process. “The town created a designation of Area in Need of Redevelopment (ANR) specifically for the Seminary to build student housing, a plan that has since been abandoned,” the email reads. “As a result of the original designation, the town carries a special responsibility to develop and approve a plan for the 10 properties covered under the ANR. It has failed to do this.”
The email asks those who share the PCRD’s concerns to contact members of Princeton Council and Mayor Mark Freda to let them know. Councilman David Cohen, who was involved in facilitating discussions between the Seminary and neighbors when the issue was initially raised two years ago, said the topic is likely to be discussed in an upcoming Council meeting.
“I think we’ll be having a discussion,” he said. “Several of us are interested in this, so it will likely happen in the next few weeks.”