Princeton Planning Board approves variance that paves the way for plan that preserves Court Club building and three historic homes on Prospect Avenue

Prospect Avenue south
The former Court Club building on Prospect Avenue will be saved, along with three Victorian homes.

The historic character of Princeton’s most iconic street, Prospect Avenue, will be preserved for years to come.

On Thursday night, the Princeton Planning Board unanimously approved a variance that allows Princeton University to relocate the former Court Club building at 91 Prospect Avenue to the other side of the street.

Originally, the university wanted to demolish three Queen Anne Victorians at 110, 114, and 116 Prospect Avenue to make space for the former eating club, which is now an academic building. But after months of discussion and planning board hearings during which Princeton University Architect Ron McCoy said it would be impossible to save any of the homes, university officials did an abrupt turnaround this week and agreed to a compromise deal that saves all three houses while still relocating the 91 Prospect Avenue building next to them. The land at 91 Prospect Avenue will be used for a “Theorist Pavilion” that will be part of the university’s proposed Environmental Studies and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences project. The planning board began hearing testimony about the project Thursday night after the variance was approved.

The details of the compromise agreement are spelled out in an Oct. 20 memorandum of understanding Planet Princeton first reported on Thursday evening. Not only will the three houses and the former eating club building that university officials previously threatened to tear down be saved, but university officials also have agreed to support a new Prospect Avenue Historic District, meaning the character of the street will be protected in the future.

During the planning board hearing Thursday night, municipal planner Michael LaPlace said the agreement was a win-win for both town and gown.

Planning Board Chair Lousie Wilson said the Prospect Avenue issue made her lose sleep at night, and credited LaPlace and other town officials, including Administrator Bernie Hvozdovic, with hunting for solutions that would help a broad coalition of residents and university officials reach a compromise. Almost 2,000 residents signed a petition opposing the demolition of the houses and the club. For many, the battle with the university brought back memories of the fight to save the Princeton Dinky more than a decade ago. But this time the story has a happy ending. LaPlace said staff members Derek Bridger and Jim Purcell worked very hard on the challenging issue.

About 60 residents attended the public meeting that was held on Zoom. Architectural historian Clifford Zink, who has written a book about the history of the eating clubs and worked with the Princeton Prospect Foundation to seek to preserve the club and houses, said he looked forward to working with the university and the town on some of the details outlined in the agreement.

David Kinsey, a Princeton resident and professional planner who testified in June against the university’s proposal saying it would not meet the criteria for a variance, voiced his support for the compromise plan Thursday night. “The public benefits outweigh the detriments,” he said of the revised plan.

Resident John Heilner said he was not completely happy with the plan, but he could live with it. He said as a university alumnus, he feels the school could make better use of its money than spending it on moving a building. He also said the architect could have been instructed to creatively incorporate the Court Club building into the plans for the Environmental Studies and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences project.

Princeton resident Jim Bash, who called Prospect Avenue a one-of-a-kind jewel and the most beautiful residential street in America, thanked all the residents who made their voices heard and advocated for a compromise plan

Resident and Princeton alumna Eva Martin said she was proud and relieved about the compromise plan. “It’s heartening to know that the buildings will be restored to their former beauty,” she said.

The new plan for the former Court Club and three Victorians on Prospect Avenue.

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