The Princeton Zoning Board last night denied to grant zoning variances for the proposed redevelopment of 255 Nassau Street, which is now a CrossFit gym. Previously the site was the home of grocery stores Olive May, Wild Oats and Davidson’s. In the 1970s the property in the East Nassau neighborhood known as gasoline alley was a Volvo dealer.
Lou Carnevale, the owner of the property and former owner of The Annex, proposed a 4,500-square-foot bank, 5,400 square feet of office space, and 16 apartments for the building, The proposal included a four-story building with 57 parking spaces, including parking spaces in the front of the building.
Variances were requested for the project for office space usage, front-yard parking, and stacked parking.
At the end of the hearing last night, after it was clear from board member comments that the board was ready to reject the proposed development, a lawyer for the Carnevale family amended the proposal at the last minute. She said 1,000 square feet of the office space would be used for the building management company instead of office tenants, and the rest of the office space would be used for dental or medical offices allowed under the zoning. The chair of the zoning board offered to carry the hearing forward another month so that a revised proposal and supporting documents could be submitted, but the lawyer for the Carnevale family demanded a decision last night.
The board then voted 5-1 to reject the amended application, with Louisa Clayton casting the lone vote in support of granting a variance.
“The zone was set up less than a year ago with the knowledge of this site, ” Zoning Board Member Richard Kahn said, adding that granting the zoning variances was not in the best interest of the neighborhood.
“I’m concerned because an ordinance was passed last year to rezone this area, and so many things in this project are in direct conflict with that,” Board Member Penelope Baskerville added.
Many residents in the East Nassau neighborhood opposed the project and have called for restaurants and retail at the site. Linda Fahmie, the representative for the Carnevale family, has repeatedly said it is impossible to get financing for restaurants and that banks are reliable tenants.
In December of 2012, the former Princeton Borough Council rezoned the area after extensive hearings and discussions with the Carnevale family and members of the neighborhood. The council decided to allow for banks as a compromise with the Carnevale family. But council members wanted to make that stretch of Nassau Street more pedestrian-friendly. They ordinance banned parking in front of redeveloped businesses in the new zone, and the council wanted features like a kiosk to be part of the development.
Princeton University owns a driveway between the site and the neighboring property that provides access to the site. The school was willing to grant a license for up to 60 years for use of the driveway, but the representative for the Carnevale family wanted a permanent easement and opposed a lease or license. Because the school would not grant a permanent easement, the proposal for the site also included a new curb cut on to Nassau Street.
More than 70 people attended the hearing last night and several residents spoke out against the project, many opposing the addition of a new curb cut and the front-yard parking.
The representative for the Carnevale family claimed that refusing to grant the variances for the project would mean the property is unable to be developed and any denial of the variances would thus create a financial hardship for the property owners. But the lawyer for the zoning board and some board members questioned whether the project would be impossible to be developed without the variances, or whether the site would be able to be developed, but in a way that would be less profitable.