Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 14
 
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
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Improvement District, Partnerships Discussed by Princeton Future

Dilshanie Perera

A Special Improvement District (SID) could bring increased vitality to business districts in the Borough and Township, as well as to the community at large, suggested Kevin Wilkes, who discussed the possibilities of such a collaboration at Tuesday’s Princeton Future meeting.

Such a district would represent a public-private partnership, in which commercial properties within a given area would be assessed for a portion of the total cost of the SID, with the monies going toward the improvement of the district itself.

“The special improvement district has statutory authority,” Mr. Wilkes explained, citing examples of successful projects in other municipalities like Red Bank and Rahway. “The business community can band together and create a plan” for maintenance, marketing, events, and the like in the area.

Payments to the SID take the form of assessments, not taxes, and non-profit or educational institutions could be subject to the special assessment, noted Princeton Future member Peter Kann.

Under the state laws governing SIDs, residential properties may be excluded from the area, and municipalities must still provide existing services to the district. Funds raised through the assessments would be used for further improvements, which would be collectively decided upon.

Emphasizing that it is appropriate to consider a SID right now, since “parallel to this, we’re having a discussion about consolidation,” Mr. Wilkes, who is an architect and a member of Borough Council, highlighted the importance of engaging in “visionary, down-the-road planning” to ensure a vibrant community.

Potential benefits of a special improvement district for its constituents are augmented maintenance strategies, including garbage collection, beautification efforts, sidewalk maintenance; merchant promotion efforts, such as special events and marketing; facade and design improvements; improved mobility; and the opportunity to rethink strategies for parking in town.

The SID would be created by the municipal bodies that have jurisdiction over the designated area, and would be governed by an independent board. Mr. Kann noted that “one of the virtues of a special improvement district is its simplicity. The municipalities could vote it in with a majority vote.” According to state statute, one member of each governing body would be on the board of trustees for the SID.

The cost of the SID would vary depending on the extent of activities it wants to pursue, though Mr. Wilkes estimated that a total budget could be in the realm of $500,000, pointing out that the 27 municipalities in New Jersey that have SIDs, some ranging in scope and price from $80,000 to $900,000, he added.

Alternatives to improvements undertaken through a special improvement district include waiting for municipal funding, private funding, or property owner or developer funding to spur benefits. Given the state of the economy, the alternate possibilities are not likely, Mr. Wilkes said, adding, “I can’t accept that we do nothing.”

While he acknowledged that it may take some years to fully conceptualize and execute a plan regarding a special improvement district, Mr. Wilkes underscored the importance of collaboration between all commercial and non-commercial entities as critical to the process.

Paul Fitzhenry of Tyco International said that mobility is a key issue for their employees, and added that more businesses might be enticed once a fully developed vision for the SID is in place.

Mentioning the recent efforts undertaken by Hometown Princeton and the Princeton Merchants Association, Rick Weiss of Viocare noted that there would likely be interest in collaboration by many merchants. “This is very timely,” he added.

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