Town-Wide Discussion Expected With Merwick Tract Development

Matthew Hersh

"Part II" of the redevelopment issue of areas left in the wake of Princeton HealthCare System's (PHCS) anticipated relocation of its University Medical Center at Princeton (UMCP) and Merwick Care Center to Plainsboro will continue this week with a discussion that is expected to encompass a wide array of possibilities concerning the development of one of Princeton Borough's last undeveloped tracts.

The future of the nine-acre site currently housing Merwick is the latest chapter in the ongoing issue of rezoning lands to be vacated by PHCS. However, unlike the 12-acre UMCP site, which was already built for condensed use, the Merwick site raises possibilities not seen in the Borough for some time, as a significant portion contains significant woodland and unused land.

The Regional Planning Board of Princeton will continue hearings tomorrow, April 20, at Township Hall at 7:30 p.m. in what will ultimately result in changes in the Princeton Community Master Plan that will dictate future zoning for that site. Some sort of residential use is expected to be implemented once Merwick is gone.

Princeton University, the owner of the Stanworth Apartments just north of Merwick off Bayard Lane, and the contract purchaser of the Merwick site, hopes to increase graduate student housing around the area, as well as revitalizing the 50-year-old Stanworth Apartments. Zoning changes will ultimately give the green light for the transfer of ownership from the PHCS to the University, making it possible for the three involved property owners, the YM/WCA, Princeton University, and PHCS, to look at the entire area as well as taking input from the historic neighborhoods that lie adjacent to the site.

At tomorrow's hearing, representatives of the Y, University, and PHCS, are all expected to make presentations on possible redevelopment of the property. In addition, three reports, one from the Borough's Historic Preservation Commission, one from the Environment Commission, and one from a landscaping consultant engaged by the Planning Board regarding tree removal, will be considered.

Representatives from the community group Princeton Future are also expected to present possible redevelopment paths. Earlier this month, the group, which has emerged as an influential force with in-town redevelopment, held a so-called charrette, where area architectural firms were invited to examine the Merwick/Stanworth/Y property and suggest possibilities that focused more on the philosophical issue, rather than offering specific plans.

The charrette produced an array of designs focusing on use, traffic circulation, and bicycle and pedestrian circulation.

Marvin Reed, who chairs the Planning Board's Master Plan Subcommittee, said Board members would try to digest that information with the hope of arriving at a philosophical guideline to redeveloping Merwick.

"We'll have a discussion based on all that and see how close we are to some basic principles that can be reflected in the Master Plan," he said, adding that "it won't be cutting the parcel up in a bunch of individual parts, the way you would do with a corn field."

At the end of the day, Mr. Reed said, the site will likely be developed in a residential manner, but the question is how new development will recognize adjacent neighborhoods. "I think everyone agrees there should be connections between the neighborhoods, although I think most people think of those connections as walking paths or bicycle paths, and not actual roadways," Mr. Reed said, but added that those specific concerns will not be addressed until the area is subjected to actual site plans.

At least two resident meetings encouraging neighborhood involvement in the redevelopment have taken place at the Witherspoon Presbyterian Church. Speakers at these meeting have included those from the University, PHCS, and Princeton Future.

Mr. Reed said that the ongoing state-conducted Route 206 study will also be addressed at tomorrow's hearing. A series of "off-site traffic and circulation concerns" should be reviewed, Mr. Reed said, among them Route 206 and the through-Princeton circulation issues related to access to the new hospital when it relocates to Plainsboro.

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