It’s official — the University Medical Center at Princeton is moving from its long-time Witherspoon Street home, and the odds-on favorite for the new hospital is a site in West Windsor Township.##M:[more]##

The board of directors of Princeton HealthCare Systems, which owns the hospital, announced at a meeting on Monday, January 24, that the facility will move. No site has yet been announced, but the boundaries are set.

“We are looking at sites within two to six miles of our front door,” says Barry Rabner, CEO of Princeton Healthcare, the hospital’s parent. Up to 15 sites had been under consideration, and Rabner is unwilling to absolutely rule any out at this stage, but says that there are four of five serious contenders.

The actual number may be even lower than that.

PHCS Chairman John Chamberlin, in recent public comments, narrowed the field further, stating that a site of at least 50 acres on Route 1 south in Mercer County would be the preferred location for a new facility. A location on Route 1 in West Windsor would also allow the hospital to retain a Princeton address because it is within the 08540 ZIP code.

The only viable site fitting those criteria is the Carnegie Center West tract, owned by Princeton Land Partners and the Landis Group. The 71-acre parcel is located between MarketFair and Princeton Overlook.

Princeton University also owns some 400 acres on Route 1 south near Washington Road, but university officials have said they have no desire to sell the property to the hospital.

Sites on Route 1 north in West Windsor that might qualify include the 653-acre Wyeth property at the intersection of Quakerbridge Road owned by General Growth Properties, and a 60-acre tract at Meadow Road owned by Mack-Cali Realty of Cranford. The property, located between Carnegie Center and the Square at West Windsor shopping center, currently is approved for the construction of the Palladium office and hotel complex.

West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh has lobbied hard for the hospital to locate in his town and says he has talked with Rabner on several occasions.

“We have had conversations on a one-on-one basis and we understand where each other comes from,” says Hsueh. “I have indicated that I would be happy to help them talk to property owners in the township.”

A move to any property in West Windsor would require either a rezoning ordinance approved by council and the mayor, or a successful application for a use variance before the township’s zoning board.

The Carnegie Center West tract, for example, is zoned ROM-1 and has a long-term approval for the construction of 1.16 million square feet of office space. The current zoning allows for research, office, and manufacturing uses, but not a hospital.

Another concern would be the loss of ratable revenues if the property is developed by PHCS, a non-profit entity. According to Hsueh, that situation can be remedied by negotiation of an annual payment to the township in lieu of taxes.

wnship properties.