Princeton University reaches compromise with Prospect Avenue historic preservation supporters to save buildings, with details outlined in a memorandum of understanding

The former Court Club building would be relocated across the street from its current location and one of three Queen Anne Victorians would be moved behind the other two houses, saving all three homes.

Princeton University officials have backed down from threats to demolish a former eating club building on Prospect Avenue if the school isn’t allowed to tear down three Queen Anne Victorian homes across the street and relocate the former eating club on the site.

A memorandum of understanding outlines details of an agreement between Princeton University and the Princeton Prospect Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve and restore historically and architecturally significant buildings owned and occupied by Princeton University eating clubs and to educate the general public about the history and architecture of the buildings. The Princeton Prospect Foundation has worked with the Princeton Historic Commission to create a Prospect Avenue Historic District. A subcommittee is working on language for the creation of the district and is expected to vote on the recommendation to create the district next month. The planning board and Princeton Council would then have to review the proposal.

Princeton University submitted plans for its new 600,000-square-foot Environmental Studies and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences project back in November of 2020. The project, to be located along Ivy Lane to the south of Prospect Avenue and the eating clubs, will provide state-of-the-art facilities for seven academic departments focused on the sciences and engineering. A sticking point of the project has been the university’s desire to tear down three homes it owns across the street from the proposed development at 110, 114, and 116 Prospect Avenue and relocate the Court Clubhouse building, currently located across the street, to the site. The building is still used as the office for the dean of research at the school.

Prospect north homes
The three homes university officials wanted to demolish.

Over the past few months, the planning board has heard hours of testimony and public comment about the houses and the former eating club. Opponents of the plan include several prominent planners, architectural historians, and preservationists who live in the Princeton area. Almost 2,000 residents have signed a petition opposing the demolition of the three historic homes. And last month there was some pushback by municipal staff members and a few planning board members about the proposal. Last month an issue was also raised about a promise made by the university two decades ago to leave a buffer zone between the residential neighborhood and academic buildings, and a pledge not to build new buildings where the three houses are located. Plans for the E-quad area were outlined in an Aug. 11, 2005 memo from Bob Durkee, who was the vice president and secretary of the university at the time. In a Nov. 4, 2005 memo, Durkee also pledged that the university would never seek any building expansion on the E-quad site beyond the additional 100,000 square feet the university was requesting. At the last planning board meeting about the project in September, there was debate regarding the intent of the zoning change back in 2005 and what the changes were intended to do.

New memorandum of understanding details

KyuJung Whang, the vice president for facilities at Princeton, wrote a memorandum of understanding on Oct. 20, just a day before the planning board’s next scheduled hearing on the project, detailing the compromise reached with the Princeton Prospect Foundation.

“Over the past many weeks, considering input received through planning board hearings, the university’s project team has worked to assess the feasibility of an alternative design that would preserve all four structures,” reads the memorandum from university officials. “Following recent discussions with (the) Princeton Prospect Foundation that were aided by expert advice from the municipal staff, on October 18, 2021, the university submitted an updated plan to the Princeton Planning Board for consideration at its meeting on October 21, 2021.”

The former Court Club would be relocated from 91 Prospect Avenue to a site across the street but closer to the North Garage than the university’s original proposal. Both 114 Prospect and 116 Prospect would remain in place, but 110 Prospect would be relocated by the university to a site near the rear of 114 and 116 Prospect.

If the university’s plan to relocate 91 Prospect is approved by the planning board and not challenged by residents or the Princeton Prospect Foundation, Princeton University has promised to:

  1. Support the creation of a new local historic district being considered by the Princeton Historic Preservation Commission called the ”Prospect Avenue Historic Dlstrlct” that would include the sites where the relocated 91 Prospect Avenue Court Clubhouse, the relocated 110 Prospect Avenue structure, and the existing 114, 116, and 120 Prospect Avenue structures. The university would agree to include the Ferris Thompson Gateway and associated brick wall in the district.

2. Within six months of the relocation of 91 Prospect and 110 Prospect, the university would submit an application nomination to the State Historic Preservation Office and National Park Service requesting a boundary adjustment to the state and federal Princeton historic districts to add the relocated 91 Prospect Court Club, the relocated 110 Prospect Avenue house, the existing 114, 116, and 120 Prospect Avenue houses, and the Ferris Thompson gateway and associated brick wall to the districts.

3. The university would promise to rehabilitate 110, 114, and 116 Prospect in a manner that follows the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for the treatment of historic properties. Currently, the homes are dilapidated. The former Court Club building would still serve as the office for the dean of research. Both 110 and 114 Prospect would be used for housing, and 116 Prospect would continue to be used for offices.

4. The university would also work with the Princeton Prospect Foundation to come up with a landscaping plan for the Prospect Avenue frontage of the Theorist Pavilion that is part of the new Environmental Studies and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences building. The Theorist Pavilion will use land where the Court Club currently is located.

“Finally, we note that we are memorializing the above commitments, made during our recent discussions with PPF and municipal staff, at the Foundation’s request,” reads the memorandum. “PPF, in turn, has assured of its unqualified support for the project given the planned update to the site plan and the University commitments described above.”

The Princeton Planning Board will continue its review of the Prospect Avenue plans at 7 p.m. Thursday night, Oct. 21, via Zoom.

The boundaries of the proposed Prospect Avenue Historic District.