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Opponents of Morven Tract Historic District Seek to Block Hearing on Ordinance

A few of the homes on Hodge Road that are included in the proposed Morven Tract Historic District.

A lawyer is seeking an injunction on behalf of some residents to prevent the Princeton Borough Council from moving forward with an ordinance that would designate part of the western section as a historic district.

The Princeton Borough Council is slated to vote on the Morven Tract Historic District ordinance next Tuesday at 7 p.m. after a public hearing. The ordinance was introduced in October and the Princeton Regional Planning Board recommended last month that it be approved.

Borough Council members met in closed session Tuesday night to discuss the legal challenge to the ordinance. If the ordinance is not voted on next week, it is likely that a decision on the historic district would be postponed until next year. Sources say the opposition is challenging the ordinance that was introduced by the Council because the ordinance did not list individual historic sites within the proposed district. If the ordinance were rewritten to include individual sites,  it would have to be reintroduced, meaning the issue would definitely be postponed until 2013 because of procedures involving legal notices about the meeting. Opponents of the historic district hope they will have a better chance of getting the historic designation defeated under the new council of the united Princeton.

The proposed historic district includes 51 properties bounded by portions of Library Place, Hodge Road and Bayard Lane. The district is adjacent to the Mercer Hill Historic District, one of four historic districts in Princeton Borough. The other three are Bank Street, Jugtown and the Central historic districts.

A group called the Friends of the Western Section has been lobbying for historic district designation since 2006. Supporters of the designation say the move will protect the area’s unique architectural character and regulate what kind of buildings can replace tear downs, while opponents argue it would create too many restrictions and infringe on homeowners’ property rights.

The Borough’s historic preservation review committee, an advisory body, unanimously agreed in October that the proposed district meets the criteria for historic designation. But members questioning whether the Borough Council should approve the move prior to consolidation. Committee members also suggested that the people who live in the proposed district should be polled on whether they support the designation.

Opponents say based on land mass, about 52 percent of the district opposes the historic designation, but supporters have questioned the opposition’s numbers and said a decision should not be based on polling residents. Supporters of the district argue that the designation increases property values. They have pointed to studies on the issue and real estate ads highlighting historic district properties to prove their point. Residents who support the plan said they fear that piece by piece, the character of the neighborhood could change because of tear downs that would devalue the neighborhood. Opponents have countered that they pay huge property taxes, that the restrictions would drive down property values, and that fears of new people coming in and building tacky McMansions are unfounded.

In October the Council voted unanimously to introduce the ordinance, 4-0, with two council members abstaining because they have business ties to residents in the neighborhood.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Supporters from the Friends of the Western Section are residents of the neighborhood and proposed district.

  • smug detector

    Why don’t we ask the people in Rocky Hill? Then we’d have occasion to bring them into the united Princeton.

  • smug detector

    “but supporters have questioned the opposition’s numbers and said a decision should not be based on polling residents. ” so if it’s not residents it’s?

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