Letters: Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development statement regarding Prospect Avenue buildings and development trends in Princeton

The Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development, or PCRD, is a non-profit organization that was formed recently to advocate for and enable a more effective and collaborative approach to land use development and redevelopment in Princeton. We are not opposed to new development and redevelopment in our town; that said, we do believe in smart, eco-friendly development and redevelopment that will respect and build upon Princeton’s unique character and reflect the voices of its residents. Such development is best accomplished through open, transparent, inclusive deliberations that heed the input of developers, our elected officials and, importantly, those of us who live in town.

Regrettably, there are too many recent examples of situations where the town residents’ views are either discounted or not being heard at all. Most recently in the headlines has been the effort by Princeton University to destroy three buildings that form part of the historic Prospect Avenue streetscape.

PCRD supports the effort to protect the historic former Court Club in its current location and to protect the three homes on Prospect Avenue from demolition by Princeton University for its ambitious ES+SEAS project. More broadly, PCRD is concerned about the disregard for key provisions of the Princeton Community Master Plan and the diminished prospect for the suggested evaluation of Club Row as a local historic district that Princeton University’s plan represents. Each degradation of this lovely part of town becomes yet another step toward further undesirable changes throughout Princeton in the future, thus diminishing, building by building and lot by lot, what makes Princeton so attractive to those who live here. 

Recently, the town has witnessed financially capable property owners neglect buildings and facilities, only to turn to the municipality for relief by pointing to the poor state of buildings they own and that they have let deteriorate. Rewarding such bad behavior isn’t something that is good for the town in the short run or the long run. Our historic buildings are important and deserve protection. Additionally, the environmental impact of demolition and its associated release of embodied carbon isn’t consistent with sustainable development.  As we are seeing throughout the country and, indeed, the world, adaptive reuse is vastly preferred, and should be the standard in our historic districts and throughout town.

Princeton University is undertaking a major endeavor, and we support the ES+SEAS project generally. PCRD asks that, with the town’s encouragement, Princeton University use its considerable talent and resources to find a solution that protects the historic streetscape and community and is consistent with both the Master Plan and sound environmental practices.

Although the focus of headlines in recent days has been on the Prospect Avenue situation, PCRD believes that town officials should in all cases consider development and redevelopment holistically and through the lens of the residents of Princeton’s many beautiful and desirable neighborhoods. In that vein, we note that there has been considerable resident concern about a number of recently proposed development projects in town, in addition to Prospect Avenue. Just since the beginning of 2021, this list includes: the outsized new Graduate Hotel to be built near Bank Street; the declaration of the Princeton Shopping Center and adjoining properties as an Area in Need of Redevelopment; and the poorly-thought out plan to add considerable parking to our neighborhood streets. Each of these projects engendered strong reactions from neighbors and other concerned Princeton residents. Each of these projects has felt rushed to accommodate the desires of the developing party, without sufficient public input.

We urge all the players in these dramas to take a collective deep breath, listen to each other, seek common ground and areas for compromise (including through an updated Master Plan), and ultimately reach decisions that can be supported by all parties involved. With the wealth of talent and creativity that courses through town, we can do better than our current practices.

The Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development

PCRD Chair: Jo Butler
PCRD Vice-Chair: Karen O’Connell
PCRD Treasurer: David DeMuth
PCRD Secretary: Brad Middlekauff
PCRD Executive Committee Chair: Jack Kerr
PCRD Secretary: Brad Middlekauff


  1. Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development advocates for responsible development, yet they only want to keep suburban development which caters to predominantly white and affluent families. They area also against density which is the best form to combat excessive use of resources, especially for transportation. Princeton should densify the downtown corridor which could make transit more cost effective and realistic for a greater number of people. A dense and walkable town with public amentities is vastly better than the auto centric low-density development this group advocates for.

  2. How will transit be more cost effective when the university and our town leaders are plotting to get rid of the Dinky train, which could be modernized with a trolley or other train that runs more frequently and connects with other modes of transportation? The planning board praises developers who don’t provide parking, or enough parking, yet now wants to make residential streets parking lots. How does driving more cars into neighbrohoods promote walkability and a transit centric town? This group is calling for a better thought out approach to development and smart development. It’s so easy to simply label any opposition as NIMBY though, isn’t it? The university is demolishing three large houses that could provide apartments so that a few dozen people could live in a walkable area near the center of town, but that’s good?

  3. “…thus diminishing, building by building and lot by lot, what makes Princeton so attractive…”

    Exactly. Many people – not just residents but also students and faculty – choose to come to Princeton distinctly because it is NOT a city, and because it is one of those rare places which has sought to safeguard its historic buildings and “old town” feel.

    But over the past decade, historic buildings in the surrounding neighborhoods are slowly being chipped away by our expanding University – and this latest proposal for Prospect Avenue only steps that up. But with so much land (15 acres) already available to work with for the ES+SEAS project, there is simply no need for it.

    Residents, alumni, and other stakeholders, please attend and comment at the town’s Planning Board hearing on Thursday evening, July 8th:


  4. As a lifelong Princetonian I fully support the University’s plan as it is. Princeton is a great town because it has a great university. Period. The university attracts the world class people that make up this town and that has always been the case.

    While most people living in town are not connected with the university, they are attracted by the dynamic intellectual life found here. It is the only reason people put up with the long commute to jobs in NYC and elsewhere when they would have a lesser commute if they lived closer to the city or a cheaper house with equally good schools if they lived in a neighboring town such as Hopewell, West Windsor or (ironically) Cranbury.

    We have enough Victorians in this town. They’re not even that old. They’re nothing special. Make room for something new instead of institutionalizing Victorians as somehow something so magnificent that they’re worth compromising having a world class campus in town. No students want to be across the lake to get to and from class. The campus is already bordering on being too big and expanding across the lake just to save 3 houses (which are frankly eyesores at this time since they have obviously not been maintained, but no one seemed to complain about their ratty state before they were at risk of being demolished) is putting the wishes of some minority of townies ahead of progress for the rest of us.

    Seriously, please explain to me how tearing down three poorly maintained houses that are not even excellent examples of Victorian architecture is diminishing what makes Princeton attractive to those of us who live here. I walk down Prospect several times a week, and those houses have not contributed in the least to what I appreciate about living here.

    What a luxury for people to expend so much time, energy and money to fight progress. Think about the real problems you could solve if you put that same time, energy and money towards something more worthy.

    I doubt that I am in the minority. But those of us who fully support the university’s plan are busy with more worthwhile endeavors, so the small number of people who oppose the university’s plans are making the most noise and seem to be more representative than they really are.

  5. Agree 100% with this perspective. As privileged citizens of Princeton, New Jersey and of the United States, we have far more germane and consequential issues on which to expend energy. Let the University execute their plans, which have been more than accommodating in preserving the lovely Prospect streetscape.

Comments are closed.