In a town like Princeton, which has 20 neighborhoods protected by some sort of historic designation, you would not expect a proposal to tear down a structure that has its origin in the 1750s or thereabouts to be easily approved.
But that is exactly what happened October 6 when the Planning Board unanimously approved a proposal to demolish the Colonial-era building at 203-205 Nassau Street, on the corner of Nassau and Charlton streets and most recently home to a retail flower store and previously a telephone answering service. The owners of the property, builders Roman and Daniel Barsky, will demolish and replace the structure with a building of the same size and very similar architectural style.
The Barskys acquired the property, located across the street from St. Paul’s Church, from its former owner, Sandy Zeitler, for $999,000 at the end of 2014. The recent approval concludes an 18-month application process featuring objections from the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC).
Ultimately, the new building will be built in the same footprint, with the same floor area ratio, as the current structure. Borough ordinance 17A-403 gives property owners the right to build a new building that replicates the pre-existing structure, even if the building does not conform to prevailing zoning regulations. The new 5,036-square-foot structure will have retail and office on the first floor and three two-bedroom, two-bath units on the second and third floors. There will be no onsite parking, which normally would be required. Under the borough ordinance pertaining to replication parking is not now required.
The current building is listed in the town Master Plan as a representative historic building as part of the recommended Andersontown Historic District. Isaac Anderson lived in the brick building, which he built in the middle of the 18th century, and apparently ran a carriage-making operation there.
Since the property is located in a recommended historic district, HPC did not have jurisdiction over the property. HPC did recommend the hiring of a structural engineer for a second opinion on the structure after the Barskys’ professionals recommended demolition. The town retained Pennington-based structural engineer John Harrison, who specializes in restoring older buildings.
“It’s painful to be here,” Harrison said, as he delivered his negative view of the structural soundness to the Planning Board. “I consider myself a preservation structural engineer.”
However, Harrison said, after a visual inspection of the interior and exterior, his report confirmed the initial findings. Harrison testified that the foundation, first floor frame, and roof framing all had signs of significant deterioration. He could not inspect beneath the finishes of the building, and while “any building can be saved,” he concluded, “I just couldn’t find anything worth saving.”
Harrison has previously worked on the restoration of 183 Nassau Street, home to the Thomas Sweet ice cream shop. For that project, the exterior walls were preserved by bracing them with steel columns while the rest of the structure away from the street was expanded and renovated.
“Adaptive reuse” was explored, but what the Barskys requested to offset the cost of preserving the structure was too high.
“I was personally aghast when I heard that this building was in jeopardy,” said Elric Endersby of the Historic Preservation Commission. “It has been part of the streetscape in Princeton for at least 250 years.”
Endersby added that “there was the possibility of trading the opportunity of retaining the existing structure and combining it with greater use of the site. We were told by the planning officers here that that was going to set a dangerous precedent. I also feel though, that this dialogue has the opportunity to set a precedent for preservation. It is in everyone’s best interest to work creatively to find solutions that benefit the community and preserve the fabric of the town.”
While the building’s 18th century roots may now have a romantic glow, the recent history was painted with a far darker brush. Zeitler, the building’s previous owner, “doesn’t have a good reputation for the way he takes care of his buildings,” Daniel Barsky said.
The three units on the upper levels will replace six single-occupancy rooms, which Barsky said were previously occupied by 12 people sharing a single toilet. According to statements at the Planning Board meeting, the building had been subject to a high number of police reports and complaints related to bed bug infestations.
Applicant Daniel Barsky said the new building will be “almost like a 3-D replication of what is currently there” — minus, presumably, most of the relics from its recent history.
Zoning Board applications
The following applications were scheduled to be heard at the October 26 meeting of the Zoning Board of Adjustment. The meeting occurred after this issue of the Echo had gone to press.
15 Madison Street, Stephen and Jenny Gilbert, owner and applicant. Variances for side yard setbacks and building coverage to permit construction of a deck.
50 Cherry Hill Road, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton. A variance to permit construction of a small addition over the existing first floor and a new entry/vestibule.
338 Nassau Street, estate of Michael Graves, owner and applicant. Removal of prior condition of approval requiring the restoration of two residential apartments.
2 Cleveland Lane, Danielle Coppola, owner and applicant. Variance for a generator to be located in the front yard.
The following listings of residential home sales, which closed between July 7 and 15, are based on public records and tax files. The number in parentheses after the closing price indicates the amount it was above or below the original listing price.
2 Cleveland Lane. Seller: Bo & Andrew Honore. Buyer: Danielle Coppola. 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths. 116 x 151 lot. Two-story Colonial on corner of 206. $1,595,000.
2 Governors Lane. Seller: Albert Smith & Tatian Piotroff. Buyer: Pradeep & Taruna Vachani. 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths. Three-story attached townhouse. $740,000 (-$10,000).
50 Gallup Road. Seller: Albert & Elizabeth Angrisani. Buyer: Deepak & Sunita Chanchlani. 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths. Two-story Colonial off Mercer Road. $1,055,000 (-$44,500).
25 Running Cedar Road. Seller: Caroline & Randal Clouser. Buyer: Jessica & Michael Stiefel. 6 bedrooms, 7/2 baths. Two-story colonial in Rushbrook. $3,100,000 (-$395,000).
350 Cherry Hill Road. Seller: Cranbury Heights Estates/Alliance Homes. Buyer: Steven & Michele Harlan. 4 bedrooms, 5.5 baths. $1,557,500 (-$241,500).
7 Lytle Street. Seller: Ristaba LLC. Buyer: Donald & Mary Anne Greenberg. 2 bedrooms, 2 baths. Two-story contemporary by Lewis Barber replacing a teardown. $685,000 (-$104,000).
47 Locust Lane. Seller: Estate of Edward Gibson. Buyer: Thomas Mavis. 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths. One-story Colonial near Littlebrook. $625,000 (-$74,000).
262 Jefferson Road. Seller: Madeleine & John Barrett. Buyer: Allison & Ben Saunders. 4 bedrooms, 4 baths. 1.5-story Cape Cod. $860,000 (+$10,000).
173 Jefferson Road. Seller: Carl Green LLC. Buyer: Diana & John Pecina. 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths. Attached twin home. $665,000.
187 South Harrison Street. Seller: Jeffrey & Regan Tuder. Buyer: Adam Goldstein & Katie Sabo. 3 bedroom, 1.5 baths. Attached twin home. $500,000.
56 Cradle Rock Road. Seller: Sam & Suzanne Ghusson. Buyer: David Dankworth & Pamela Williams. 6 bedroom, 6.5 baths. Two-story Colonial in Rushbrook. $2,537,500 (-$457,500).
37 Broadripple Drive. Seller: Broadripple Realty LLC, managing member: Morley Goldberg. Seller: Bing Bai & Yihua Wu. 5 bedrooms, 6.5 baths. Littlebrook neighborhood. New construction replacing teardown. $1,829,000 (+30,000).
524 Kingston Road. Seller: Dickson Development Corp. Buyer: Allan & Carmen Cain. 5 bedrooms, 4.5 baths. Littlebrook neighborhood. New construction replacing teardown by Richard A. Dickson. $1,500,000 (-$189,000).
2 Pardoe Road. Seller: Diane & Mark White. Buyer: Hong Sung & Kai Wang. 5 bedroom, 3.5 bath. Two-story Colonial in Princeton West. $1,460,000 (-$90,000).
4247 Province Line Road. Seller: Alex & Amanda Bruno. Buyer: Megan & Joseph Ax. 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths. Two-story cottage style. $910,000 (-$109,000).
168 Mountain Avenue. Seller: Claire & Garnet Chan. Seller: Leo & Dominique Farnan. 4 bedroom, 3 baths. Ranch house. $785,000 ($+60,000).