adopted -December 12, 1996


Princeton is an attractive college town that balances commercial and residential development with open space preservation. The community is served by a lively downtown which is the center of business, cultural and educational activities. Large areas within and on our borders have been preserved as beautiful natural areas for all residents to enjoy. With this balance in mind, the Planning Board has adopted the following vision statement.


Princeton has a special sense of place and community. It is an educational, cultural and commercial center as well as the site of such world-renowned institutions as Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study. It is also home to a leading center for theological studies, two nationally acclaimed schools of music, and numerous prestigious public and private schools at the elementary and secondary level. It combines a rich mixture of educational, cultural and historic resources. Princeton is a lively college town with attractive shops and restaurants, as well as businesses and residences. Surrounding the town center are architecturally diverse, residential neighborhoods on tree-lined streets linked by bike paths and/or sidewalks to small scale suburban offices, shopping and service centers. Within these urban and suburban neighborhoods, residents vary widely in age, socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. Princeton is remarkable for its scenic open spaces, parks, recreational facilities and rural settings. Tree lined two-lane roadways lead to surrounding residential areas, extensive new office centers, shopping malls, and major transportation arteries.


In Princeton, decision making about land use and development has been based upon a set of strongly-held guiding principles. These principles have evolved over many years and are explicit in earlier master plans and are readily observed from the community's distinctive character. The Planning Board has articulated its vision of Princeton in the following expression of community values.





The Regional Planning Board of Princeton preserves and, where possible, enriches the sense of community of Princeton Borough and Township. The Board promotes a variety of housing, businesses, recreational facilities and open space to meet the diverse needs of its citizens of different ages, ethnicity and income. It preserves and enhances the historical, educational and environmental treasures of the community. The twelve member board is a combination of four elected officials and eight private citizens.

In accordance with the above mission, the Regional Planning Board of Princeton has the following primary responsibilities:

  1. to adjudicate land use applications in accordance with state and local regulations and to assure that all permitted development is designed so as to be as harmonious as possible with the surrounding neighborhood, and;
  2. to periodically revise the master plan to balance the changing needs of the community while preserving the community values, and;
  3. to recommend revisions to the land use ordinances to respond to new demands for housing and services for the regions, and;
  4. to provide community planning information and application services to our citizens in a courteous, responsive manner, and;
  5. to interact with surrounding communities, county and state government on issues that affect the Princeton community's well being, and;
  6. to promote dialogue with the citizens on needs and concerns of neighborhoods, as well as the larger community.


Princeton's approach to planning is unique in the State of New Jersey because it has a joint Planning Board serving both the Borough and the Township. Planning is approached on a regional basis, and there is a greater understanding of the mutual benefits and impacts of planning and land use decisions. This Master Plan is meant to represent the collective thinking of the Princeton Community and its citizens. Once reviewed, debated, and adopted, it will reflect the understanding and aspirations for the future expressed by the community and its people.

The roots and many of the essential principles of the 1996 Master Plan are found in its predecessor Master Plans. The process is an evolutionary one as changes occur in goals, regulations, economic conditions, population, living habits, and environmental awareness. For us, the Master Plan is a strategic plan to guide our future and a policy tool for retaining and enhancing the special character, the values, and quality of life fundamental to our community. The master plan process in Princeton is not static but one where changes can be made as new challenges arise. The master plan should be viewed as a "rolling document" where new issues can be reviewed, evaluated and changes made as warranted.

Although there are many highly-valued goals and objectives for this Plan, the primary theme interwoven throughout each element of the Plan is that of balance and human scale. Princeton is and strives to be a balanced community with a mix of many uses that are serviced by appropriately-sized infrastructure and community services and facilities. Each element of the Plan has been approached with respect to its relationship to the others. Perhaps the most obvious is the balance sought between land use and circulation. As a premise of the Plan, the demands of one element are not permitted to override and out-compete another. The product, therefore, reflects a series of trade-offs substantiated by policy decisions reached throughout the planning process. It is these findings and initial policy decisions that are brought to the community in draft form by the Master Plan Committee for discussion, debate, and resolution.

The Princeton Community combines two distinct political entities. Princeton Borough is the older, more densely populated "town" at the core, of little more than one and a half square miles in area. Covering over 16 square miles, however, the Township rings the Borough and is generally more rural to the west and in its more remote northern and eastern sections. Although the two municipalities have separate governments and ordinances, they have come together in joint planning, education, recreation, health, library, and other services.

Master Plan Defined

Enabling Legislation

The State enabling legislation for the community's Master Plan is the Municipal Land Use Law (Chapter 291, Laws of N.J. 1975, amended) (N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1 et. seq.). Under State law, the responsibility for the preparation of a Master Plan is required for any community that regulates land development through zoning controls. A periodic update every six years is required of each community.

A Master Plan must include a statement of objectives, principles, assumptions, policies, and standards upon which the constituent proposals for the physical, economic and social development of a municipality are based. The master plan may contain the following elements: land use, housing, circulation, utility services, community facilities, recreation, conservation, economic and historic preservation.

Planning Activity in Princeton

The Planning Board of Princeton Borough was established in 1938, one of the first in New Jersey. A zoning ordinance was first enacted in 1929, and the first Master Plan was prepared in the 1950s, revised in 1960, adopted in June, 1967, and revised and adopted a second time in 1980. The 1996 Plan represents the fifth Master Plan for the Borough.

The Planning Board of Princeton Township was established in 1948, ten years after the enactment of the first zoning ordinance. The first Township Master Plan was completed in 1959, revised and adopted in June 1968 and again in May 1980. As with the Borough, the 1996 Plan is the fifth Master Plan addressing Township growth.

The Regional Planning Board was organized in January 1970 and charged with exercising those powers pertaining to community growth and development, including the preparation of a Regional Master Plan. The first regional Master Plan was adopted in May 1980 and the second in July 1989.


For the first time in our history, Princeton is facing a shortage of vacant, easily developable land. This shortage has already begun to show itself in increased competition among a variety of social issues over the future use of the remaining undeveloped land for a variety of social uses. The debate over sites for affordable housing, senior housing as well as the development of parks and schools is just the beginning of a series of increasingly difficult choices that the Princetons must make between competing social goals. This document provides the opportunity to identify necessary community facilities and plan for them.

One of the major purposes of this Master Plan is to express community goals for the use of Princeton's land and facilities. Guided by a broad community consensus, these goals include: meeting the community's affordable housing obligation, providing for our educational needs, preserving open space, developing adequate recreation facilities, preservation of historic buildings and sites, and retaining Princeton's small town atmosphere. The master plan also seeks to preserve the existing character, mix, and densities of commercial, residential, and other land uses in Princeton.

The Master Plan consists of eight separate elements and represents the Princeton community's strategic plan for development into the next century. The Master Plan is written so that each of the elements complement one another providing a concise picture of how the community will grow.

The Land Use Element recognizes the fact that most of land in Princeton has been developed and that there will be competing uses for the remaining lands. Specific recommendations include providing opportunities for senior housing, maintaining existing commercial areas, preserving the character of established neighborhoods and ensuring that redevelopment and new development is in character with existing neighborhoods. Specific zoning changes include:

Princeton has a long history of affirmative efforts toward the provision of affordable housing. The Housing Element contains the Affordable Housing Plan for both the Borough and Township. The Borough's plan provides for the rehabilitation of 25 low and moderate income units. The Township's plan provides for the rehabilitation of 50 low and moderate income units in Princeton and 23 new affordable units which will be met in the City of Trenton. During the previous six-year cycle the Borough provided 12 units of new affordable housing and the Township provided 181 new affordable housing units. Both communities remain committed to providing affordable housing and have included additional sites which may yield additional affordable housing.

The Circulation Element includes three distinct categories of mobility problems: internal circulation, regional circulation, and interstate/inter-regional circulation. Internal circulation addresses the mobility needs of Princeton residents and how they get to work, shopping, recreational and cultural areas within Princeton. Regional circulation addresses the mobility needs of those people who have one trip-end in Princeton; whether they are residents, employees, customers or persons utilizing Princeton's educational, cultural or recreational facilities. Interstate/inter-regional circulation addresses the mobility needs of those people whose final destination is not in Princeton but who pass through the town. The circulation element suggests strategies to increase the use of mass transit and to encourage bicycles and pedestrian mobility.

Providing adequate infrastructure to meet the needs of the Princeton community without adversely affecting the environment or quality of life in Princeton remains the underlying policy in the Utility Service Element. The location of new utilities or expanded facilities are planned so as to guide growth to appropriate areas of the community. Utility expansions are based upon changing demands and environmental considerations.

The Princeton community is served by a comprehensive system of municipal services which include public utilities, police and fire protection, emergency services, the public library, public health, public school system and recreational and cultural facilities. The goals of the Community Facilities Element includes: encourage the provision of convenient well-located community facilities; provide adequate municipal facilities for the efficient operation of the community; plan community facilities to serve the needs of all age groups; and, coordinate construction and installation of improvements as part of a comprehensive capital plan. The Community Facilities Element recommends that these facilities be well planned and well designed to ensure their integration into existing neighborhoods. This element also identifies the importance that the arts play in the visual quality and character of the community.

The need to preserve open space, create linkages between open spaces and to provide for a comprehensive plan for parks is more urgent now than in past if the community is to meet its goal of preserving 25 percent of the land area in Princeton as open space. The Open Space and Recreation Element identifies and prioritizes sites to be preserved for passive recreation and sites to be developed for active recreation.

The Historic Preservation Element promotes and encourages the preservation and enhancement of building, structures and areas of historic value that reflect the cultural, social, economic and architectural history of Princeton. There are 19 identified historic districts in the Princeton community.

The Conservation Element seeks to preserve Princeton's natural and visual amenities. These include: critical environmental features such as steep slopes, waterway corridors, floodplains and wetlands; resources with exceptional community value including both man-made and natural visual resources and scenic corridors; and special environmental areas such as The Ridge, Delaware and Raritan Canal, and Lake Carnegie.


Implementation of the many recommendations contained in this document will occur over the next few years. An Executive Summary will also be prepared to be used as a guide by prospective developers and the community as a whole. Many of the recommendations require zoning amendments by the governing bodies and others require additional review by ad-hoc subcommittees. The Board's Master Plan Subcommittee and the Zoning Amendment Review Committee will develop a process for implementation of this Master Plan. Each year the established priorities will be reviewed, adding or deleting as necessary, thereby adjusting the listed priorities accordingly. The adoption of this Master Plan is just the beginning of the planning process for the Princeton community to bring us into the 21st Century.


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