Princeton University is readying plans to start developing a new campus on its almost 500 acre property in West Windsor Township.
The project—called the Lake Campus, since it’s located along Lake Carnegie—would serve as an extension of its main campus and as a hub for research, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
University officials have said they plan to submit an application for General Development Plan approval this spring to the West Windsor Planning Board for the project, which is targeted to open by 2022.
Under the township’s GDP ordinance, a developer can seek overall approval for a large project, which can be vested—guaranteed—for up to 12 years. The developer then appears before the board for final site plan approvals as each phase of the project is ready to be constructed.
In an appearance before the planning board in January, University officials presented the latest plans for the new campus, and said they would be requesting that the vesting for the GDP approval be extended to 20 years.
One example of a GDP development in West Windsor is Carnegie Center, which was originally approved in the 1980s and has been extended by the township after the original vesting expired.
the innovation center would “foster interaction among faculty, researchers, students and partners in the nonprofit, corporate and government sectors.”
According to an overview from Princeton’s Office of Community and Regional Affairs, the university first acquired land in West Windsor in 1922, when several alumni informed the Board of Trustees that they would donate a farm south of Lake Carnegie along Washington Road to Route 1, if the trustees would purchase an adjoining farm. The trustees agreed, giving them ownership of 216 acres for future use.
The university expanded land ownings in West Windsor in 1945 and 1948 by purchasing two additional farms located between Lake Carnegie and Route 1, bringing the acreage up to around 400, before purchasing 90 more acres from the Sarnoff Corporation in 2001.
As part of Princeton’s 2026 Campus Planning process, the university decided to begin developing part of its West Windsor holdings and has hired Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, an architecture, design and planning firm, along with James Corner Field Operations, an interdisciplinary landscape architecture and urban design practice, to create a Lake Campus Master Plan.
The university planners first came to the West Windsor Planning Board to discuss their West Windsor property and a potential Lake Campus in January 2017 and followed up this January with a presentation that delineated the key foundations of the Lake Campus, and how it would interact with the West Windsor community. Some of the main factors in this plan include expanding graduate housing, creating an innovation hub, cultivating open spaces and athletic areas, and providing additional visitor and commuter parking.
The Lake Campus plan expects to provide housing for 550 to 600 additional graduate students.
Members of the board expressed concerns at the January meeting that this may produce additional students for the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, where capacity is an ongoing concern.
However, “the university representatives indicated that, for the 1,200 graduate students currently residing, there’s only a handful of students generated, so the expectation is that this will not increase too many students,” planning board chairman Gene O’Brien said in a recent interview.
The innovation hub is planned to a 138,000-square-foot area for students and faculty to tap into research and entrepreneurship as part of New Jersey’s growing innovation ecosystem. This will expand on Princeton’s growing recognition as a center for innovation— recently, Google opened an artificial intelligence lab at 1 Palmer Square to explore the growing field of machine learning.
According to the university’s overview, the innovation center would “foster interaction among faculty, researchers, students, and partners in the non-profit, corporate and government sectors in order to fuel innovation initiatives and collaborations.”
At this time, the university does not have plans to create academic buildings alongside this center.
The plan also indicates areas for open space and athletic facilities, though the specific nature of these facilities and accessibility to the public has yet to be decided. However, the planners hope that these spaces should serve to integrate both campus and community, through activities like performances and pop-up markets.
To connect the Lake Campus with the existing Princeton campus and community, the master plan includes a pedestrian flyover, which would cross Lake Carnegie and Delaware and Raritan Canal, “to provide a safe and scenic way for members of the campus community, visitors to the campus, and the general public to cross the lake and canal without having to use the existing heavily traveled vehicular roadways.”
O’Brien said a question was raised as to whether vehicles would be allowed on the bridge, “but the largest vehicles would be golf carts. One board member also asked if they are planning to connect Lake Campus with Canal Pointe Boulevard, but at this time they don’t plan on it.”
The Lake Campus planners also hope to reduce the use of individual vehicles by creating a transit hub for carpool, vanpool, walking and biking facilities. This would be serviced by Tiger Transit, a shuttle service run by the University that transports more than a million riders yearly.
The current plan includes parking concentrated on the West Windsor side of the campus, so planning board members suggested “that they move the parking to the Princeton side, since people will be walking to Lake Campus or Princeton downtown anyway,” said Mayor Hemant Marathe, who was at the January meeting.
The Lake Campus plan also proposes some road changes. The current West Windsor Master Plan shows a road that would run northwest from Eden Way towards the Lake Campus area and up to Washington Road. However, the current plan proposes expanding the road that connects Harrison Street to Eden Way, so that it runs parallel to Route 1 until it reaches Washington Road.
Marathe said the planning board was receptive, but only if it was moved further away from the Washington Road-Route 1 traffic circle, in order to prevent congestion.
The entire Lake Campus proposal also brings concerns of additional traffic going through West Windsor along Route 571. However, O’Brien noted that Mercer County is planning to make improvements to the road through downtown Princeton Junction that should help mitigate traffic concerns. The state is also planning to widen Route 1, which would ease traffic congestion closer to the Lake Campus.
Since these projects would be funded by the county and state, O’Brien does not believe this should have an impact on West Windsor taxpayers. But, as Marathe noted, the Lake Campus “will definitely impact municipal services. The kind of services have not been worked out yet, but there will surely be some impact.”
The graduate housing will be incorporated into West Windsor’s tax base, which will help cover some of the additional cost. “Since this housing would not be tax-exempt, and as long as the number of students coming to the school district is not too large, this will certainly have a positive contribution to our township,” Marathe said.
“Now the ball is in Princeton’s court. They have gathered input, so they’re going to develop the plan further and reach out to us again,” the mayor said.
The University is slated to appear before the board again in May with a refined concept.
“These conversations are leading up to the University submitting a General Development Plan for the project,” the overview said.
“We have a very positive relationship with the University, and we look forward to working with them,” Marathe said.