Princeton Zoning Board Approves Masonic Temple Reuse for 10 Apartments

Masonic Lodge PrincetonThe Princeton’s Zoning Board granted several variances to a developer for a 10-unit apartment complex at the Masonic Lodge in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood after an almost five-hour meeting and public hearing on the issue.

The MacLean Street building will be converted to 10 apartments, including studios, and one and two-bedroom units. Rents will range from $1,500 to 2,500. Two of the units will be affordable units. Princeton resident Joshua Zinder is the architect for the project that is being developed by  Princeton MacLean LLC, led by Aubrey Haines, CEO of Mercer Oak Realty.

Zoning board members were concerned with the increased density and parking issues. The board approved the project by a 5-2 vote after lengthy debate. Two or three homes would fit on the site if the building is torn down.

Some residents oppose the project because of the density, and say the neighborhood can’t bear the burden of such projects given that AvalonBay will add 280 units to the area soon.

Town Planner Lee Solow said it was up to the board to decide whether preserving the building and the adaptive reuse justifies “quite a bit of increase in density.”

“It’s a tough call,” Solow said. “(The equivalent of) 58 dwelling units an acre is a lot, it sounds like a lot.”

“I don’t think anyone is saying the proposal doesn’t make sense. It’s  unique, and it is reusing the property. It’s an important building in the neighborhood,” Solow said. “It’s higher density than normal. The question is, are there enough benefits to the community for that? That’s the tough decision I’m hearing you struggle with as a board.”

Zinder’s lawyer said the board should compare what exists on the property now with his project and not treat the proposal like “a blank sheet of paper.”

“We are proposing some open space areas, and are removing 1,000 feet of impervious coverage,” he said. “The use now drives 20 to 40 parking spaces. We are bringing green back, planting trees, and benches.  It will now be a nice monument to the history, a really nice touch, and the building means so much to the community…this site can accommodate this density.”

The board members who supported granting the variances liked the adaptive reuse of the building proposed by Zinder.

If the building can not be salvaged, the variances are not applicable and Zinder would need to return to the zoning board for new approvals.

“If they can’t save the building, it must come back to the board,” Zoning Officer Derek Bridger said. “I don’t want to be in a situation where we are saying what do now if it can’t be saved.”

Harlan Tenenbaum and Steve Cohen cast the two votes against granting the variances, arguing that the fewer units should be allowed on the site and questioning why the developer couldn’t build six or eight units instead of 10. They were not convinced the parking issues were resolved in the developer’s proposal.