Princeton Forrestal Village was built in 1986 to resemble, no surprise here, a village. Despite its main street and central square with tree-lined pedestrian walkways connecting restaurants, retail, and office space, the village has never had residents. The newest development proposal for the complex, reviewed at the Plainsboro Planning Board Meeting on June 16, aims to change that. Three amenity-rich apartment buildings may replace existing parking bordering College Road West near Seminary Drive. The housing is intended to create a true village environment where one can live, right alongside work and play.
“There are a lot of open gathering spaces in Princeton Forrestal Village, but it’s not animated enough once all the stores close. We don’t have much activity outside the nine to five work day,” says Robert Schenkel, senior director of development at Lincoln Equities Group, the current co-owner and developer of the Village.
The property has switched owners frequently — the most recent in 2011, when Lincoln Equities Group in Rutherford and Bahrain-based Investcorp Real Estate partnered to buy the property, determined to turn the center into a successful multi-use complex.
Inspired by the relocation of the University Medical Center of Princeton to Plainsboro, the new owners introduced medical offices to the village in 2012. In addition to new surgical centers and outpatient clinics, the complex also includes Can Do fitness, a Westin hotel, retail stores, and restaurants. The village also began hosting a farmer’s market in the plaza on Fridays.
The estimated $25 million development project plans to build 394 luxury residential units of which 50 will be affordable rate units. More than half, or 54 percent, will be one-bedroom units, while 41 percent will be two-bedroom, with the remaining reserved as studios. The units will range from 750 to 1,050 square feet.
While Plainsboro already has a sizable cluster of apartment developments off of Plainsboro Road, Schenkel — trained as an architect — says those “garden-style” family apartments, characterized by their low-rise structure and surrounding landscaped grounds, are “rudimentary and pretty simple.”
According to Schenkel, the proposed three to four-story “hospitality-style” apartments will have upscale finishes with elevators and amenities — more akin to an urban hotel than a suburban apartment.
Both Schenkel and Lester Varga, Plainsboro Township’s director of planning and zoning, cite boosting retail as the chief motive behind this proposal. “Princeton Forrestal Village is isolated from Route 1 traffic; you really have to want to go there to visit. In order for neighborhood retail to be more successful, we need residential development to create built in, on-site customer demand,” says Schenkel. The June 16 presentation “was our first formal meeting with the planning board,” says Schenkel, “though we’ve been working with the township for almost two years in order to create this mutually beneficial proposal.” Schenkel hopes to receive approval by the end of this year, with construction anticipated as early as next summer.
Varga says the presentation created by the architects from Minno & Wasko was well received. The Lambertville-based architecture firm has done previous residential work in downtown Princeton, including the Residences at Palmer Square and the Witherspoon House, an apartment building next to Princeton Public Library. The proposed Forrestal Village development is similar to the Palmer Square residences in its enclosed parking design. However, one major difference between the two is that none of the Forrestal Village apartments will be for sale. Real estate brokers have noted that the Palmer Square apartment leases went quickly, while condominium sales lagged behind.
According to Varga, the architect has been working to blend the apartment buildings in seamlessly with the surrounding architecture using extensive brick work.
“The best thing I can say about the plan is you can’t see the parking from the main road [College Road West]. It’s not underground but tucked into the buildings themselves. It’s unique,” says Varga.
Unlike Windrows, the residential community directly across College Road West, the Princeton Forrestal Village apartments will not be age-restricted.
As for the target tenant market, Schenkel says, the apartments are designed with young professionals, rather than young families, in mind. The residential development is expected to attract hospital employees, given the nearby opening of the University Medical Center of Princeton’s hospital. According to Schenkel, there is a growing trend of young professionals seeking urban-type living, something in limited supply in the Plainsboro area. “Empty-nesters” who wish to remain close to friends and relatives but no longer need a large home may also find it convenient to move into this pedestrian-centered neighborhood.
Because the luxury apartments are not aimed at families with school-age children, Schenkel says the residential complex could be a source of property tax income for Plainsboro Township.
Varga, however, believes the residential area will “be property-tax neutral”; though these new residents won’t be straining the public school budget, they will be consuming costly local services, such as police patrols, firefighter calls, and postal deliveries. Besides supporting commerce in the Village, Varga says the proposed development’s primary contribution to the township will be maintaining Plainsboro’s variety of housing options, not generating township revenue.
Although a few Windrows residents were in audience at the June 16 board meeting, Varga says there was no opposition during the concept plan review. “It’s hard to say if it [their presence] was out of curiosity or to confirm what they’ve been told in private meetings with the developer,” says Varga, “but the presentation went very well.” Schenkel says the proposed development will benefit Windrows residents by “connecting communities in a pedestrian experience that doesn’t always exist in suburban New Jersey.”
This will be an innovative real estate venture for the Plainsboro area, says Schenkel. “These apartments are at a higher price point but will be of very high quality. It’ll be an example of very upscale development. Though there are some examples of this in areas around Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, there really isn’t anything like this in the region.”