Historic preservation commission approves plans for old post office, the future home of Triumph Brewery

Triumph Brewery is one step closer to having a new home.

The Princeton Historic Preservation Commission voted 6-0 Thursday to approve an application from LCOR Ventures, a developer based in California, to renovate the old post office building at 20 Palmer Square East. Once the process is finalized, Triumph Brewery plans to move from its current location at 138 Nassau Street to the former post office, where it will be LCOR’s tenant.

A public meeting of the town’s planning board has been scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on July 13 in the municipal building at 400 Witherspoon Street to review the plans. The review includes a public hearing. Officials and some residents have raised concerns about parking for the 300-seat restaurant.

“The goal of the whole project is to intervene as little as possible with the post office building and keep it as wonderful as it is,” Meredith Bzdak, a partner at Mills and Schnoering Architects, told thee commission. “We don’t want to interfere with anything worth seeing.”

The historic Palmer Square Post Office was built in 1937 as a small part of the massive construction plans called for in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Most of the building’s interior is still intact from that construction. The original mural inside the building entitled “Columbia Under the Palm” has been lauded for its historic value as well as decried for its portrayal of Native American subjugation.

Plans to move Triumph, a popular restaurant and brew pub, have been discussed since 2013, when LCOR Ventures purchased it. The move will give Triumph increased seating capacity.

LCOR’s plans call for the former loading area in the rear of the building to be enclosed in glass. The area would serve as the main entrance to the restaurant. The old lobby where the historic mural hangs would become a dining room.

“For 22 years, Triumph Brewery has been successful,” said Richard Goldman, the attorney for LCOR Ventures. “They saw the opportunity to reuse this building and therefore not be in a basement, but instead be in the heart of community and provide life to that back end of Palmer Square.”

Bzdak commented that the process was moving at a “glacial” pace even by the slow standards she’s used to as an architect. The entrance to the post office was not within the confines of the owner’s property. Easements for small sections of the building, including window wells and a handicapped ramp, were granted to the U.S. Postal Service by the municipality. Those easements would have lapsed once the building was sold, a scenario requiring the town to renegotiate a deal with the new owner of the building for the easements in 2015. The state then got involved, and contending that some of the sections of the building were on protected park land and that letting them be used for a restaurant, amounted to a “diversion.”

LCOR contended that the language in the original easement agreements was meant for potential buyers who would want to tear the post office down, a position that the town agreed with. In addition, the canopy of the roof reached over the bounds of the property, although the entrance was of more concern to both the town and LCOR.

Another factor working against a faster timeline is the classification of the project as a major site plan. Usually, a renovation that calls for minor or no exterior changes is classified as a minor site plan, which means that it won’t have to go before the full planning board for approval. Goldman thought it was best to ask for a major classification and undergo a lengthier process.

“There is some exterior work here with some changes to the sidewalk and a glass (enclosed space) and so the township professionals asked that we consider designating it as a major site plan…Because we agreed that this was such an important building, we agreed to go through the major site plan process,” he said.

Most of the exterior renovations will be done to the loading bay in the back of the building and the roofing material. The loading bay improvements call for the installation of a new sidewalk and the removal of a staircase on the building’s east side. No trees will be removed as part of the exterior improvements.

After a roughly 90-minute presentation, commission member Robert Von Zumbusch gave his thoughts, which were mostly complimentary. Aside from suggesting the addition of a few trees and a quick question about the design of the external HVAC unit, Von Zumbusch had no misgivings about the plan.

“This is something I think has been well done,” Von Zumbusch said at the meeting’s conclusion. “I think this all makes a lot of sense and I would recommend it.”