Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 14
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
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Lake Front Homeowners Explain Why They Are Dissatisfied With Revaluation

Neil Almstead, Mark Antin, Shinohu Asano, Diana J. Crane, Giles L. Crane, Steven Fracht, William M. Greene, Mildred W. Harford, Lynne Harwood, David Harwood, Refen Koh, Tung-Ching Lee, Marlaine Lockheed, Teresa Medici, Edward A. Moshey, Joseph Naggar, Alvin Salkind, Dr. Edward M. Soffen, Dr. Deborah Soffen, Helen Joy Smith, Pam Wakefield, Bill Wakefield, James Wei, 1-Wen Yeh, Nurit Zachter

Look at the University’s Proposed Arts and Transit Plan as a Whole

Stephen K. Hiltner
North Harrison Street

Dinky Musings: A Rabbit in the Hat? Too Soon to be Counting Chickens?

Leo Arons
Chambers Street

We Should Encourage the Building Of the University’s Arts Community

Dave Saltzman
Montadale Drive

Details of Settlement Reached In Princeton Ridge v. Princeton Suit

Daniel A. Harris
Dodds Lane
For People for Princeton Ridge, Inc.

Citing Campbell Woods to Validate Revaluation Is Inadequate, Deceptive

James W. Firestone
Vandeventer Avenue

Thanks Expressed for Support At PCDP Endorsement Meeting

Barbara Trelstad
Firestone Court


Lake Front Homeowners Explain Why They Are Dissatisfied With Revaluation

To the Editor:

We lake front home owners are dissatisfied with our new assessments from the revaluation of 2010. Here is why:

1. The severe increases in assessments are above and beyond what is called for; 2. our land values should not have risen to 80 percent or more of our total value; 3. mega-mansion building by speculators on the lake front should not determine other lot values; 4. all of Riverside values seem to have been distorted by lake front building activity; 5. subsequent sales should show a market decline in our assessor’s theoretical values.

Construction of new homes by speculator builders should not be used by the assessor for driving land values. Lake front half acre lots which are assessed at $1,400,000 are clearly not twice as valuable as the 1.5-2 acre lots up and down Hodge Road, Morven Place, and Boudinot with assessments of $700,000-$850,000.

This reassessment needs to be redone even for those with valuable properties such as our lake front homes. We suggest that citizens sign the petition against the revaluation being circulated by Princeton Fair Tax Reval Group.

Neil Almstead, Mark Antin, Shinohu Asano, Diana J. Crane, Giles L. Crane,
Steven Fracht, William M. Greene, Mildred W. Harford, Lynne Harwood, David Harwood,
Refen Koh, Tung-Ching Lee, Marlaine Lockheed, Teresa Medici, Edward A. Moshey,
Joseph Naggar, Alvin Salkind, Dr. Edward M. Soffen, Dr. Deborah Soffen, Helen Joy Smith,
Pam Wakefield, Bill Wakefield, James Wei, 1-Wen Yeh, Nurit Zachter

Look at the University’s Proposed Arts and Transit Plan as a Whole

To the Editor:

Catch a ride on the Dinky opinion train and you will find that, like the Dinky, it sweeps you vigorously from one terminus to the other, with no stops in People between. Respected friends will have opposite views, delivering you either to the conclusion that a rail line really should reach up to Nassau Street, or that the best chance for sustaining the Dinky is to move it 460 feet down the hill, as the University now says it will do, regardless.

The debate about the University’s proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood would be greatly expedited, and needless ill will avoided, if people would look at the proposal as a whole, not just one aspect. The Dinky, though its horn sounds like a cross between a tugboat and a mourning dove, has taken on the qualities of an elephant being intently scrutinized at too close a range.

Some aspects that I’d like to mention are these:

The 460 Feet: Having made the locally famous 460 foot, two-minute walk to the proposed new Dinky station location, I found it to be a surprisingly minimal change. For those parking at the nearby Lot 7 University garage (free to the public after hours and on weekends), the new location will actually reduce the walk by that same 460 feet. Though the University plan would lose the appealing interface with University Place, it offers improvements for traffic congestion, parking access, and train station facilities.

Extending tracks to Nassau Street: If extended to Nassau, as would reportedly still be possible via Alexander if the University’s proposal goes forward, the Dinky or any other heavy vehicle (“light rail” is not necessarily lightweight) will encounter steep inclines that could substantially reduce energy efficiency compared to the current relatively flat route. The combination of steep inclines, longer route, more stops, and interactions with streets could affect the most important factors determining Dinky ridership: dependability and frequency. Though a train stop on Nassau St. has symbolic power, even with more downtown density most Princetonians would still live well beyond the ten minutes people are supposedly willing to walk to a train stop.

It’s important that we defend traditions and dream of an even better town. Sustainability, whether environmental or in reducing the Dinky’s dependency on state subsidies, is a vital part of any vision for the future. The danger comes when the strong sustainable, cultural, and civic aspects of the University’s proposal are ignored due to focus on 460 feet. Nor is it fair to delay the University’s vision for years while the serious logistical and budgetary challenges of alternative proposals are indefinitely explored.

If people agree on a foundation of facts as they can best be determined, look at the big picture, and are as skeptical of their own opinions as those of others, then there’s hope this four-year opinion ride can finally pull in to a pleasing destination.

I have assembled a summary of information about the university proposal and the Dinky at www.princetonprimer.org.

Stephen K. Hiltner
North Harrison Street

Dinky Musings: A Rabbit in the Hat? Too Soon to be Counting Chickens?

To the Editor:

I am neutral with respect to moving the Dinky station, and believe the proposed Arts Center would be a significant benefit to all. However, I have been troubled by the unexpected tone in which the University sometimes presents its position, and I am puzzled by their sudden realization, after months of wrangling, that there is a rabbit in the hat after all.

It appears that the contract with New Jersey Transit for sale of the station gives the University almost carte blanche to do as they will with it, or so a confirming letter from New Jersey Transit implies. Why such a letter was sought rather than producing the contract itself is unclear, but leads to the assumption that the NJT letter is a narrowly constructed reply to a question narrowly put. Thus, there would be no reference by either party to significant limitations, qualifications, or ridership protection, which reason suggests ought to be present in the contract.

In any case, questions remain. The media all but cede victory to the University but it seems premature to be counting chickens.

Leo Arons
Chambers Street

We Should Encourage the Building Of the University’s Arts Community

To The Editor

Princeton University owes the Borough and Township nothing. Simply demanding that the University increase non-mandatory PILOT (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes) payments seems like a hostile gambit for a municipal leader (or candidate for office). And being surprised that there is a nexus between PILOT payments and municipal decision-making is to be shocked, shocked that there is gambling going on in Casablanca. We have it backwards: we should instead encourage this incredibly good corporate citizen to build the arts community they desire. If moving the Dinky station out of the University Place intersection is the price to pay for an exciting major investment in our town bound to help local merchants (and dare I say, motivate a larger PILOT payment), I think it is well worth it. We bullied the hospital until they left town. Bullying a fabulous university makes no sense, either.

Dave Saltzman
Montadale Drive

Details of Settlement Reached In Princeton Ridge v. Princeton Suit

To The Editor

People for Princeton Ridge, Inc., recently settled its three-year lawsuit against Princeton Township. Beyond the revised RSC-2 Ordinance of May, 2010, which restricts any builder to developing no more than 20 percent of the Lowe tract (with stringent provisions for stormwater runoff), the Settlement Agreement ensures the following:

1) No paved roads or sidewalks shall be constructed on the Lowe tract or the municipal Right-of-Way running from Bunn Drive south to Terhune/VanDyke Road (i.e., between the nearly purchased open space of the All Saints Tract and the Ricciardi tract). A north-south bicycle path shall be permitted.

2) Proposals for structures (beyond ordinary gates and trail signs) must be reviewed by the Princeton Environmental Commission before the Planning Board takes action.

3) The sewer pipeline under the Right-of-Way shall not be extended into forest.

4) All municipal work shall protect the environment as much as possible, and matters of reforestation shall be subject to advice from Princeton’s environmental groups.

The Ordinance and the Settlement Agreement, with acquisition of adjoining tracts, create no fewer than 66 acres of newly protected open space — the Princeton Ridge Preserve. The Township now has, with Herrontown Woods, 208 contiguous acres of forest habitat in the midst of Mercer County. No mean feat!

Yet vigilance is still required. Obsolete principles of zoning continue to endanger remaining areas of natural habitat in the Township. Right now, the Lanwin Development on Province Line Road threatens 153 acres with McMansions built on 4-plus acre lots: the development will disrespect wetlands, steep slopes, and endangered species in their natural habitat.

Township Committee, Borough Council, and the Princeton Regional Planning Board must also be wary of the likely sale and development of 98 acres northeast of Herrontown Woods. Our elected officials must actively devise economic incentives to urge landowners to sell to developers committed to environmental sustainability — and economic inducements to builders to apply for the highest possible levels of LEED certification.

People for Princeton Ridge believes that any candidates for public office not actively seeking to create a Sustainable Princeton (with particular reference to land-use protections and Best Environmental Practices) are not deserving of voter support in the November elections.

Daniel A. Harris
Dodds Lane
For People for Princeton Ridge, Inc.

Citing Campbell Woods to Validate Revaluation Is Inadequate, Deceptive

To the Editor:

It is easy to see why Edgar Madsen (Mailbox, March 30) sides with approval of the mass revaluation: virtually all the units in his neighborhood of Campbell Woods went down in their assessments. He should have mentioned this in his letter. I urge him to take a wider view by looking at all the neighborhoods in town rather than just that small portion of the Ridge with housing that is either newer or larger. If you look at it on our maps at www.Princetonfairtaxreval.org, you will see that almost the whole Princeton Ridge got significant tax reductions. That’s because most of it wasn’t built on until the last thirty years, and any mega-mansions built there were more like the average price, not skewing the samples that were taken for reassessment purposes of determining the trends in each neighborhood.

In this revaluation of 2010, newer and larger housing received decreases while older and smaller houses generally got hit with the increases. That’s why we call it discriminatory. The severe increases in assessments near the center of town in both the Borough and the Township suggested to some of our elected officials that the downtown had spiked, or gone up disproportionately. It is simply not true. Entry level housing did not have a greater proportional increase than any other level of housing. To suggest that is to make a rash generalization that may have tainted the revaluation itself. In my estimation it did taint the compliance plan, which was touted by the elected officials as the main remedy for the grievances against the flaws of the mass revaluation. It shows that certain areas along the Princeton Ridge actually got more reductions. See the 4.3 percent reduction to all of Rushbrook, the area of Cradle Rock Road and Katies Pond Road and the 8.3 percent reduction to the whole Pheasant Hill neighborhood, the 6.8 percent reduction for the Russell Estates and the 4.6 percent reduction for Brookstone. Based by the assessor by one sale or no sale, most of these subjective reductions reveal a huge margin of error. Meanwhile, the Witherspoon Jackson area that was supposed to receive the main relief from the compliance remedy received only a 1 percent increase, evidence that the compliance plan was no remedy at all. If we tolerate this obvious misapplication of statistics in a university community like Princeton, we, too, are guilty of discrimination and pay mere lip service to preserving our diversity.

Mr. Madsen’s use of three sales in Campbell Woods to validate the revaluation is inadequate and deceptive. Mass appraisal and the collection of taxes need to be looked at more carefully by the county and by our elected officials all over the state. We need to get together, tighten our belts, and make sure everyone is taxed fairly, so that seniors or people on fixed incomes living in smaller and older homes don’t feel that they are being run out of town.

James W. Firestone
Vandeventer Avenue

Thanks Expressed for Support At PCDP Endorsement Meeting

To the Editor:

Thank you to all the civic-minded citizens who came to Sunday evening’s PCDO Endorsement Meeting to participate in local democracy in action. There were over 200 hardy souls in the room! It was a pleasure to be there to present my thoughts on the issues to you. I want to say thanks to those who supported me and thanks again to all who came. See you at the polls on June 7. Please do remember to vote in the Primary.

Barbara Trelstad
Firestone Court

For information on how to submit Letters to the Editor, click here.

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