Planet Princeton

The Textile Research Institute’s Trophy Lakeside Property – What Should Its Future Be?

View of the TRI from Riverside Drive
The view of the TRI from Riverside Drive.

At the intersection of Prospect Avenue and Riverside Drive, on a grand slope down to Carnegie Lake, is an enigmatic jewel of a property. Resembling an English park, the privately owned, 20-acre property is presently for sale.

Two questions for the Princeton community:

  1. Could this property be more of a community asset than it is now?
  2. If a common vision for the property could be established, with limited public resources, what options exist to achieve it?

The Textile Research Institute (TRI) has owned the property at 601 Prospect Avenue for decades. The property features open lawn, a vast protective canopy of oaks and maples, a stone mansion, and several hundred feet of Carnegie Lake shore front.

A wooded portion of the property along Prospect Avenue has been set aside for public use, and it is an ideal, if smallish, parcel for walks (with or without dog).

In 2014, a real estate broker issued a request for developer proposals (a “Request for Expressions of Interest,” or RFEI). A local developer is said to have acquired an option to purchase the property that would expire late in 2016. As a result, there has been little marketing activity of the property recently.

If the entire property – or much more of it – were available to the public, it could be a wonderful asset to surrounding neighbors and the entire town,

With the late 2016 expiration of the developer’s option to purchase the property, it is timely to ask what the future of the property could and should be.

State Purchase of Property

One group of neighbors is exploring the possibility of obtaining a state grant to purchase the property outright for use as a park (Note: Exhibit 6 in the RFEI describes the 2010 enrollment in the State’s Green Acres Tax Exemption Program recognizing TRI’s green space conservation efforts).

Private Purchase for Single Family ½ Acre Lot Development

Another possibility – should an outright purchase for park use fail – is the private purchase of the property for single family home development. Zoned for half-acre lots, this option could result in around 18 or so new homes being built on the site, depending on how much space was set aside for roads, lot configurations, conservation easements, etc.

Without policy intervention, such homes would likely have the character of the tear down-rebuild houses that are so controversial in Princeton right now. Public access to the lake would probably be cut off.

Clustered Housing

A third, hybrid possibility is the creation of clustered housing on the site. This would involve the construction of a slightly larger number of more compact homes on a small portion of the property, and the dedication of the remaining property to public park use.

Thoughts on the Possible Outcomes

Obtaining public funds to purchase the TRI property for a community park would create a terrific park amenity for the Riverside neighborhood. I personally think this outcome is unlikely, but I don’t have a sophisticated understanding of how these things happen in New Jersey. Earlier this year, the town made the dubious fiscal decision in a similar situation to buy land on Princeton Ridge for conservation and take it off the market – the kind of decision that increases housing costs in New Jersey and makes communities like Princeton increasingly inaccessible to anyone except those who want to tear-down and rebuild existing homes – so this outcome is possible to envision.

Sale of the property for half-acre single-family home development would, in my opinion, be a disaster. I can’t imagine it as anything other than a cul de sac McMansion wasteland offering zero community benefit and furthering the town’s trajectory towards an economic monoculture.

A hybrid outcome of clustered housing and reservation of the remaining land for public access seems like an achievable way to diversify Princeton’s housing stock in one of the more bike-friendly parts of town, as well as to increase the amount of public park space available to town residents.

This last approach would take significant citizen energy to support, since it is not exactly a “path of least resistance” approach.

Nat Bottigheimer

Nat Bottigheimer is a professional transportation planner and consultant with a background in public policy and real estate economics. He is currently working on TOD, streetcar, and bus dedicated lane planning projects in the Washington, DC region. He was a member of the Alexander Street University Place Task Force, and is a current member of the Princeton Traffic and Transportation and Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committees. He's married to Eve Ostriker, an astrophysicist at Princeton University; and has two daughters, one at PHS. The most recent family addition is Basil, a one-year old labradoodle who gives the term "active transportation" new meaning.

  • Cecie

    Excellent piece, important issues. Thank you. A similar case will soon come before council and planning board: the 90 wild and beautiful Princeton Ridge acres across from Stone Hill Church on Herrontown, home to many endangered and threatened species, will probably become heavily McMansionized in the near future, if owner Bryce Thompson Jr has his way. What magnificent additions to Princeton green space both these properties would be, if funding were available to save them…

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