This article was originally published in the March 2018 Princeton Echo.
Anyone concerned about housing in Princeton would prick up their ears at news of six new residential units. When those units are apartments planned for the heart of the central business district, on a street that appears to be almost fully developed already, that’s practically cause for back flips.
Blessed by unanimous approval of the Planning Board on February 15, the owners of Nelson Glass and Aluminum Co. at 45 Spring Street now have permission to add a three-story addition above the commercial building that has housed Nelson’s glass business there since 1960. The addition will house two 3-bedroom apartments, three 2-bedroom units, and a single 1-bedroom apartment. The units will range from 1,170 to 478 square feet, and include one low-income unit.
According to a press statement from the architect, JZA+D at 20 Nassau Street, the upper floors have been designed “to reduce the massing and allow light and air to reach the street level,” with each floor “stepped back from the one below, creating terraces for the residents of the six new apartments to enjoy.”
Nelson Glass was founded in 1949 by Robert Nelson, a Cornell engineering graduate who first ran the business from the garage on Nassau Street that is now the site of the Ivy Inn. Nelson bought the Spring Street property in the mid-1950s. The business also owns the residential house, current divided into two apartments, next door at 47 Spring Street.
Bob Nelson died in 2010 at age 85. His daughter, Roberta “Robbie” Nelson, now runs the business. She told the Planning Board that at some point she became aware that the 2,000-square-foot commercial building had been constructed with over-sized beams throughout. Her father, she said, had a vision that someday the site could be expanded by building up.
“There are a lot of positive aspects” to the plan, Nelson’s attorney, Christopher DeGrezia of Drinker Biddle, told the Planning Board. The most unusual “is that the owner and developer is not a traditional developer looking to max out the site. It’s clearly an under-utilized site. The zone allows five stories, 65 feet in height, and no set-back. My client is concerned with her family legacy and with the neighbors.”
In his press release, architect Josh Zinder referred to the mix of styles that will result from an adaptive reuse rather than a tear-down and new construction. “Princeton enjoys a mix of architectural styles,” Zinder said. “Colonial, Modern, Neoclassic, Victorian, Gothic — the variety crafts the historic fabric of our town, enriching our streetscapes and strengthening the urban quilt of our community.”
Like most applications before the Planning Board, this one had been wagged around a little by the tail of parking. Zoning would require 13 parking spots for the project. The plan called for 11 spots, three of which would be stacked parking — the car in front being blocked by the car behind it. That triggered considerable discussion. Finally, however, the application and the parking plan was approved unanimously — with one member apologizing for “so much nit-picking” over parking. That parking discussion happens all the time, of course. But six new housing units — time for that back flip.