Princeton University will hold a meeting about the future of the Butler Tract tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Lewis Library.
Residents who live near the University property have expressed concerns about the demolition process, environmental issues, and how the land will be used by the school in the future.
University and town officials will update residents on the demolition process and answer questions.
The Butler Tract is a former housing development for graduate students that is located off Harrison Street. Build in 1947, the houses were originally part of the Reconversion Housing Project for Veterans and provided returning veterans with what was to be temporary, barrack-style housing. In 1988, an additional 56 modular units were added to the development.
Lakeside, a new University development along Faculty Road, has replaced Butler. Princeton University is preparing to begin demolishing the 304 single-level, bungalow housing units at Butler, a process school officials said will take several months.
University officials announced this summer that the site will be used for event parking, at least in the short-term. At the time, school officials said the University does not have plans for the site. Plans will be developed as part of the school’s campus planning process for 2026, officials said. Previously the school announced that a reconstruction plan for Butler would include about 220 new units to be allocated for rental and purchase by faculty and staff. The proposed plans for the Butler Site included more than 110 stacked flat units, about 70 townhouses, and a mix of about 40 single family dwellings.
The Riverside Neighborhood Association has raised concerns about asbestos, lead paint, and other environmental hazards at the site. Many residents who live in the neighborhood say they don’t want to see the tract turned into a parking lot, and worry it could hurt their quality of life and their property values. Residents also have asked whether the community will have any input about the future plans for the site.
At a previous neighborhood meeting about the tract on July 30, residents were concerned about lead contamination because a school web page about gardening in Butler informed students they shouldn’t grow food-bearing plants near their apartments because of the possibility of lead contamination. Princeton Councilwoman Jo Butler has asked town employees to look into the lead issue and report back, but so far there has been no discussion of the lead issue at Princeton Council meetings.
Following are notes sent to Planet Princeton by a resident who attended the first neighborhood meeting about the Butler Tract on July 30. The press was not invited to attend the meeting:
July 30 Meeting Notes
There are 113 structures on the Butler property, and 570 trees. Plans for demolition have been mapped out and were shared at Thursday night’s meeting; display boards from the meeting are posted here. Neighbors asked that a list of the active subcontractors also be posted on the site, so that when the time comes we can know whether a truck we see is connected to the demolition project.
A pre-project sIte assessment has determined that there is asbestos is in the vinyl flooring and on some panels, mostly in attics and on exteriors of some buildings (concrete slab “skirts” at the bottom of the units). A demolition permit will only be issued by the town once the mandated asbestos abatement has concluded and the site is certified by a qualified third party consultant as safe for demolition.
The entire site will not be fenced in all at once; rather demolition will proceed in “pods,” with temporarily fenced-in areas proceeding from east to west across the site. This should be from about November 2015 through March of 2016. Throughout this transitional period, the buildings will remain locked, and Princeton University’s Campus Security will continue to make periodic rounds of the site.
The pavement, sidewalks, and streetlights will remain in place, as well as some accesses to water for construction and watering of post-construction plantings.
The stockade-style fence along Sycamore will remain up during demolition as a sight and sound barrier, and will be re-evaluated after demolition.
Of the 570 trees, 78 have been determined (by both the town’s arborist and University staff) to be either in decline or otherwise in need of removal. (One of the display boards shows the location of the trees scheduled for removal.)
The University’s goal is for 95% of the materials generated by the demolition to be recycled. Sorting of materials will occur on site prior to removal. All construction parking will be in the interior of the Butler tract. After each section of construction has been demolished, the site will be rough-graded (smoothed out), and meadow grass will be planted. The University intends for these areas of grass to be mowed regularly where they border the sidewalks, and on a more intermittent basis in the interior spaces.
The current University campus plan is the 2016 Plan; there is no current plan for new construction on the Butler site. After demolition is complete, the streets of the site may be used for intermittent overflow event parking (e.g. if it rains for three days prior to the PU-Harvard football game, rendering the Broadmead fields unsuitable for overflow parking). If this happens, University staff will manage the parking as they have done in other similar circumstances (e.g. the fireworks during Reunions).
The land is currently zoned as “E1” – which is an “educational use” zoning designation, not limited to residential use.
Questions raised by residents (with responses in parentheses to follow) included but were not limited to:
1) Why leave the roads? (The University recently made use of an existing road plan in its redevelopment of the Stanworth tract; they are firm in their decision to NOT tear up the roads and sidewalks at this time. During demolition, as well as If and when new construction comes to Butler, trucks will need roads.)
2) Will the roads be maintained? (Yes.)
3) What about the fence? It is basically falling down in spots. (Ms. Appelget said that she would alert Grounds and Facilities folks about this.)
4) There’s a University-hosted website about gardening in Butler that says that you shouldn’t grow food-bearing plants near your apartment because of the possibility of lead contamination. What are you doing about the possibility of lead contamination in the soil? (This is the first we’re hearing of this; we’ll look into it.)
5) If this is supposed to be a two-way conversation, why is no one from the University taking notes on this meeting? Why should we believe you when, for example, you say that you’ll revisit the idea of leaving up the stockade fence. (Kristin Appelget: There’s an element of trust here. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t trust me.)
6) You really don’t know what the long-term plan is for this site? You have no idea at this point? (No, we really don’t. If you look at the 2016 Campus Plan, you’ll see that there was a thought that we might be putting new residential housing on the site. Several things happened between the writing of that plan and now… the economic downturn of 2008 dramatically changed the financial landscape, and then the University acquired the Merwick property, which adjoined existing University housing, sooner than they had expected to from the hospital. It made more sense at that point to go ahead with developing Stanworth and Merwick. The University is currently winding up a strategic planning process, which will in turn lead to the generation of its next 10-year campus site plan… the 2026 Plan. Residents who have thoughts, concerns, or suggestions about the future use or development of the Butler tract are strongly encouraged to contact the Office of the University Architect with those.)
The Lewis Library is located at the corner of Ivy Lane and Washington Road. Parking will be available in the lots along Ivy Lane, near the building.