Historic District Consultant Completes Field Work in Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood

witherspoon streetA consultant has completed the field work for a study of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood in downtown Princeton as part of an analysis to determine whether historic designation is appropriate for the area.

The consultant is now conducting research, and still has some steetscape sketches to complete, officials said. The consultant is expected to submit a draft report to the Princeton Historic Preservation Commission in October and to make a presentation on the issue in November.

In Princeton, the commission is responsible for making recommendations to the council for establishing historic districts. The consultant will be paid up to $35,000 for the assessment to help officials decide whether the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood would be suitable for a historic district.

In December or January, the Princeton Council is expected to review the consultant’s report and the commission’s recommendation.

Residents who have questions about the process are encouraged to attend the next historic preservation commission meeting, which is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 21, in Room A at the municipal building at 400 Witherspoon Street.

More than two decades ago, the state recommended that the neighborhood, the oldest African-American neighborhood in the state, be declared an historic district. Some residents fear that the Witherspoon-Jackson history will be lost as developers buy up properties and tear down homes in the neighborhood. They hope historic designation can stop or slow the gentrification of the neighborhood.


  1. I own a house in the neighborhood and while I support a historic designation for certain selected properties, I think it’s unrealistic to expect hIstoric designation to slow gentrification. A study of landmarked districts in New York showed that historic designation led to higher-than-usual increases in property values. One reason is that people without a bunch of money get squeezed out by the increased costs of conforming to the Committee’s requirements on building forms and materials. Another is that affluent folks love the expensive-but-cute ‘historical’ trimmings mandated by the Committee. I think the neighborhod can say “bye-bye” to its working-class Guatemalan community if this goes through. That said, I will not be attending the 4p.m. (!) meeting of the historic preservation commission, because I will be out working to help keep up my property. I hope Council will show great restraint when the recommendation comes before them.

    1. I agree that historic designation is likely to lead to higher costs, driving out residents with less income, but if you think that’s just the working-class Guatemalans, you’re being optimistic. There are still many, many African American and yes, even white, residents of the neighborhood who could be forced out by higher property taxes resulting from higher property values. This is not the way to preserve the neighborhood’s proud history of diversity.

    2. While the New York City study by its Independent Budget Office’s credentialed economists did show that historic districts (HDs) have a positive impact on property values, this was over a 27 year period: 1975-2002.
      See https://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/HistoricDistricts03.pdf.

      It’s not like property taxes went up in the short term after an historic district was created. So residents benefited from a somewhat faster than average increase in the market value of their homes when they went to sell them, but if they stayed long enough they may have seen an increase in taxes – which the study did not address.

      As for conforming to our Historic Preservation Commission’s requirements in an HD, many residents have testified to the assistance that the HPC provides in helping them find less expensive maintenance materials that maintain the current “look” of their house. If maintenance does not change the look of their house, they need not even consult the HPC.

      Let’s wait and see whether the HPC recommends designation of only selected properties, or stretches of blocks in the W-J neighborhood. At this point I favor stretches of blocks that will preserve the look and feel, the fabric of the community. Without this, rapid gentrification and market forces will result in rapidly rising property prices as developers pick off individual properties and build the largest homes that current zoning permits. This would surely destroy the nature of the community.

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