Without the major public presentations that have characterized some of the biggest West Windsor development plans in the past, preliminary work now is quietly proceeding on two major tracts: The nearly 660-acre former American Cyanamid site at Clarksville and Quakerbridge roads, now owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation; and the 25-acre site on Washington Road next to the Princeton Junction train station, where Intercap Properties gained approvals to proceed with a mixed-use development approved after a lengthy battle between Steve Goldin, a principal at Intercap, and the township.
Now, after several years of dormancy, the Washington Road project is showing signs of life. Lubert Adler, the Philadelphia-based commercial real estate developer that had been a funding source for the Intercap project, has commissioned Princeton architect J. Robert Hillier to configure some preliminary designs for the site. “We are just in the research phase,” said Hillier. “We may be developing a design proposal for the property, but that is months away. To the best of my knowledge, no developer has been hired yet, either.”
At the time of the legal settlement in 2011 Goldin, a West Windsor resident, said he hoped to bring a site plan review to the planning board in 2012 and to break ground in 2013 for a project that was envisioned to eventually have 800 townhomes and 100,000 feet of retail. But by then, with the economy still in recession, Goldin was already busy with new responsibilities as real estate director at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, a job he had taken in 2009. (More recently Goldin reportedly has been involved with a Princeton-based start-up company. He did not immediately return a call seeking comment.)
According to Township land use manager Sam Surtees, the current approvals enable the Washington Road development to include multi-family dwellings; retail except those with drive-through or curb-side service, including restaurants, delis, grocery stores, and professional services such as medical offices, law firms, accounting firms, and banks, so long as there is no drive-through window; and indoor recreational facilities and/or fitness centers. The reason for the prohibition on drive-through service is because the development is supposed to be a “walking-oriented area,” Surtees said. “In terms of parking, the developer can have either surface parking or structured deck parking.”
While Hillier’s work is only beginning, Hillier is already very familiar with the site and its potential. Hillier was commissioned by the township in 2006 to oversee a community-based planning process to determine the direction of the 350-acre redevelopment area on both sides of the train tracks.
That project eventually collapsed in the face of political pressure, with the opposition focused on the amount of housing that would be required to make the project economically viable. But individual pieces of property within or near the redevelopment area have continued to evolve.
Cyzner Properties has transformed the old Acme center. The township continues to plan improvements to Princeton-Hightstown Road to make it more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. And Shawn Ellsworth may begin work soon to expand his center to include residential units along with the retail (see stories above).
While the Hillier-led planning process for the train station redevelopment included architectural “charrettes” organized to facilitate public input and attended by as many as 500 people, the Hughes organization, the sole owner of its property, is taking a different tack.
As promised, representatives from Howard Hughes have been meeting with West Windsor residents in an effort to elicit suggestions and views from the community about the proposed Howard Hughes development. Either individually or in small groups, residents — including this reporter — have met with John Simon, senior vice president for strategic planning for the Howard Hughes Corporation, and Chuck McMahon, the project manager. The meetings have taken place at restaurants or coffee shops, community meeting places, and people’s homes, and often at the end of a meeting they have asked the attendees if they know of anyone else who would like to speak with them.
As Simon explained in a previous interview, the company wants to forge a partnership with the West Windsor community and is genuinely interested in offering amenities that appeal to residents, and might not exist currently in the area. Hughes is still interested in hearing opinions from residents. Interested parties may contact McMahon by phone, 410-964-4987, or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to Sandra Browne, one of the residents who met with Simon and McMahon, this interest in forging a partnership seems genuine. “They spent a lot of time explaining what their company is all about, and asking people what they would like to see be developed at the property — what ‘wants and needs’ people have that aren’t currently being addressed.”
According to Simon and McMahon, people are apparently interested in more restaurants, especially those in the “fine dining” category, and more things for adults to do in the evenings, especially for younger adults who have no children. Some residents have commented that most of the activities in West Windsor are geared towards families, rather than singles and couples without children.
Browne said that during her meeting, they discussed the concept of a more “adult” movie theater, not, she said, “one that shows ‘adult movies,’ but a dine-in theater that serves food and alcohol during the show. People under age 21 are not generally permitted.”
“They really seem to want to offer residents something new, something different and enjoyable,” she said. “However, they made it very clear that they are going to develop the land, and do it in a profitable way. So it is not just altruism that is driving their commitment to the community; but also because they want to build amenities that people will use. And they confirmed that they want it to be successful so that they can sell units at the highest price possible, because, at the end of the day, they are in business to make money.”
Browne said that at her meeting the Hughes representatives mentioned that they are looking to build townhouses and homes on at least some of the property. “They talked about the idea of a ‘planned community.’ They compared it to a village or hamlet in England, where everything you need is within walking distance. In general I like that idea, but, as someone who has lived in Great Britain, I don’t think a planned community in a portion of West Windsor will be quite the same as an English village.”
Browne and others meeting with Hughes shared their concerns, principally about traffic and the impact on the schools. “As a parent of two young children, I am worried about the effect this development will have on our schools. A lot will depend on how many housing units are built, and who buys them. They mentioned that they are hoping to create an access point for the train station for residents who will be living there, which should help ease the traffic problems somewhat,” said Browe.
“I am also concerned about the effect this development will have on Clarksville Road,” she continued. “When my family moved to West Windsor, Clarksville Road was a lovely country road. The traffic was light, it always moved well, and the scenery and foliage was just lovely. Bit by bit, it is being destroyed by development. A perfect example is the apartments, which have completely destroyed the country-feel along that section. In contrast, the Jewish Community Center [now the Windsor Athletic Center] does not destroy the road’s beauty.
“Development, if done correctly, doesn’t have to destroy Clarksville Road’s esthetic appeal. I am hoping that Howard Hughes will take that into account when they develop their property.”
In meetings with residents the Hughes officials have not given any specifics about what they intend to build on the site, except that they don’t intend to build another large office park. Not only would that not be profitable for them, because that much office space is not needed in this area, but they have stated that, based on feedback from residents, that’s not what the community wants to see there either.
In addition, confirmed Browne and other residents, the Hughes representatives have been stressing that this development is a multi-year project that will be completed in stages. “They specifically said that they are not planning on building and developing the whole site at once,” said Browne. “In fact, at this point they said that they are most likely going to develop the area closest to Route 1 first, the part furthest away from what most people consider ‘West Windsor’.”
The Hughes team has stated that, as of now, it is still interested in speaking to residents and welcomes all input, whether it be pro or ant-development. “It does us no good to only talk to people who are completely supportive of this project,” said Simon. “We want to hear from people who are ambivalent or in fact opposed to it as well. In order to forge a true partnership with the community, we need to hear from people with as many different viewpoints as possible.”
In fact John Church, who has been critical of the current West Windsor administration and who was active in the unsuccessful effort to prevent the Grover Farmstead from being razed by the township, reported this week he had received an invitation to share his views with the Hughes group.
Browne still has concerns about the development, but, after meeting with Simon and McMahon, is satisfied that it is not just a “big, bad development company, but one that really wants buy-in from the community.”
“They are going to develop the area,” she said, “one way or another. Since that is the case, I would rather have it be developed by a company that really seems to care about what the community wants than by one that doesn’t care at all.”