Princeton University is moving forward with various projects in Princeton and West Windsor that are included in the school’s 2026 campus plan. As part of these plans, an area bordered by Western Way, Broadmead Street, Faculty Road, and Washington Road now referred to as the “East Campus” will be transformed.
Representatives from Princeton University presented a conceptual plan for portions of the East Campus to the local planning board on Thursday night. A concept review is an opportunity to present plans and receive feedback, but no plans are approved.
The plans proposed by the university call for the removal of Lot 21 and several other parking areas, the construction of a 1,567-space, five-story parking garage, the installation of two 80-foot-tall water tanks for a new geothermal heating and cooling exchange facility, and the construction of a new soccer stadium and practice field. The conceptual plans presented did not include any plans for the proposed new environmental studies or engineering department buildings slated for Ivy Lane and Western Way.
Some existing athletic facilities, including the softball field on the East Campus, would be moved to the new “Lake Campus” in West Windsor so that other facilities can be relocated to the East Campus. Two new residential colleges are being built on the existing soccer fields on the Western Campus. The university recently received approvals for the residential college plans.
The Fitzpandolph Observatory is slated to be torn down under the proposed plans. The university is exploring reusing some of the stonework for another project. Municipal officials have asked whether the observatory can be preserved and relocated.
University officials said the parking garage will be the first project the school will tackle for the East Campus plans. It is unclear when the school will file plans with the municipality and present them to the planning board for review. This is likely to happen sometime this year, said Christopher DeGrezia, a lawyer for Drinker, Biddle, and Reath, the firm representing the university. DeGrezia also said a detailed traffic impact study is in the works and will be submitted with the first site plan application for the East Campus.
Michael LaPlace, the municipal planner for Princeton, said the development of the new parking garage, the larger parking capacity, and traffic circulation in the area are his staff members’ biggest concerns, along with the size and location of the two water tanks.
More parking spaces, more traffic
Just over 1,200 parking spaces are located in the East Campus development area. Lot 21 currently has 702 parking spaces. The Ivy Lane/Western Way area currently accommodates 499 spaces. Fitz Field on the east side of FitzRandolph Road is used for overflow parking at athletic events and can handle an additional 140 vehicles. The new garage would be built on the site of the existing Lot 21. The garage would have a total of 1,567 parking spaces, adding 366 assigned spaces, an 18-percent increase over the university’s current parking supply in the East Campus area.
“The university does continue to grow and so there is a need to accommodate some growth in the amount of cars we accommodate on campus,” Princeton University Architect Ron McCoy told the planning board.
New two-way roadways would provide access to the area from Ivy Lane/Western Way, FitzRandolph Road, and Faculty Road. The network of roads would replace the existing Lot 21 driveways and ring road. Stadium Drive would be turned into a two-way street running north-south that would connect the future garage to Ivy Lane/Western Way. The new roadways would allow the university’s TigerTransit buses to bring commuters from the future garage to the engineering and environmental science buildings on the East Campus. A proposed “flyover” bridge for pedestrians and cyclists over the D&R Canal and Lake Carnegie would connect the East Campus and the Lake Campus. The flyover exit/entrance would be located in the southwest portion of the East Campus near the DeNunzio Pool.
According to representatives from the university, the net traffic increase in the East Campus neighborhood would be 175 vehicle trips during the morning rush hour and 150 trips in the afternoon rush hour. Asked by residents how the construction of the university’s proposed new environmental science and engineering facilities slated for Ivy Lane/Western Way would impact those numbers, officials said those proposed facilities are already factored into the estimates for traffic increases. Details about those new facilities were not presented at the meeting.
According to an engineer representing the university, the additional vehicles wouldn’t worsen traffic to a significant degree. Some residents said they are skeptical about those claims. They also question what the impact of the other facilities being planned for environmental studies and engineering would be.
Advancing sustainability goals
The geothermal exchange facility is slated for the present site of Fitz Field, which is the temporary parking area on FitzRandolph Road. A geo-exchange system is an electrically powered heating and cooling system for interior spaces. This system utilizes the earth for both a heat source and a heat sink. GeoExchange is the most energy-efficient, environmentally clean, and cost-effective space conditioning system available, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Princeton University will use the geo-exchange system for the East Campus as part of its efforts to become carbon neutral by 2046. “The redevelopment of the East Campus allows the university to take a huge step forward to meet that goal,” DeGrezia said.
The new parking garage would also support solar panels on top, DeGrezia said.
Nixing traditional tailgating
Fields and parking lots for tailgating will be removed as part of the plans. One resident said tailgating was born in Princeton.
“If tailgating was born in Princeton, tailgating will die in Princeton,” McCoy said. He added that tailgating has evolved into a “concierge activity” at Princeton, where tents are set up and events are hosted by different organizations and alumni now. He said 90 percent of the participants are connected with organized events provided on the campus.
“A very small percentage of tailgaters are in the parking lots,” McCoy said.”Tailgating out of the back of a car won’t be accommodated.”
Community concerns about traffic, tanks
About a dozen residents comments on the plans at the meeting. William Wolfe of the Princeton Site Plan Review Advisory Board said he was pleased that the university was making use of the concept review process. “It almost always helps the whole planning process,” he said. Wolfe also suggested that the university officials look for more solar capacity, noting that the roof of the garage is not enough for the facility.
Resident Robert Brynildsen said he fears the number of rush hour trips in the area will increase much more than predicted. He called for more traffic modeling and said the proposed parking garage will concentrate all the traffic in one area.
“You’ve effectively tripled the volume of traffic concentrated in one area,” Brynildsen said of the proposed garage. Officials said a traffic consultant has been hired to do a transportation improvement study that will be submitted with site plan applications.
Resident Martin Schneiderman expressed concerns about the extra traffic volume and how it would impact the town, and said he would like to see the university build new access roads “sooner rather than later” if the plans are approved, so people don’t use residential roads to get to the East Campus.
Resident Andrea Stine said incremental traffic increases for each new project in town add up.
“The town needs to say enough is enough,” Stine said. “The town needs to do a major traffic study and look at the pattern of where all the cars are flowing. Maybe one-way streets are needed in certain areas. Traffic calming measures have to be more than a speed bump or a traffic sign. The town has to start thinking outside the box.”
Tiger Transit buses would stop at the garage about eight times per hour. Some residents said the university should replace their diesel buses with more environmentally friendly electric buses.
Residents also expressed concerns about the scale of the tanks, which are proposed to be 80-feet wide and 80-feet tall, and are slated for one of the highest elevations along the lake. A few residents worried that the tanks would ruin the scenic view of Princeton when people drive into town.
Eric Greenfeldt suggested that the water tanks be fatter and shorter. He also suggested that a retention basin be moved to make more room for wider tanks. McCoy said the basin can’t be moved because of the childcare facility to the north. He also said the tanks must be the same width and height.
Schneiderman suggested that the tanks be moved to an area where the ground already drops off significantly so the tanks are not as visible. Residents have also suggested putting a portion of the tanks underground, but said they were told it would be too expensive.
“I am very concerned about the tanks,” said resident Karen Aurup. “The argument from the university that it is too expensive to throw some dynamite, or however you remove rocks, with such a big project like this – I’m sure the university can find the money to dig the hole and stick the tanks down there.”
Resident Tarik Shahbender suggested that people go to the Dinky train station area to see a tank that is 60-feet high. “Take a look at the perspective,” he said. “Those (proposed) tanks represent over 10,000 square feet of footprint in wooded areas. That’s 60 percent of the size of the building adjacent to them. It’s huge. The university could mitigate an eyesore by moving the tanks down towards the lake, down that big hill.”
Resident Robert Sedgewick said his real concern is that the tanks would become the new face of the university. “You would come down Washington Road and see those tanks, not gothic buildings,” he said. “Jadwin Gym goes down six stories. There is plenty of room on the other side of Jadwin Gym where these tanks could be located and not mar the historic view of the university for the whole community.”