Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 15
 
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
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A "Small University" Will Play a Big Role in Princeton's Future

Matthew Hersh

Following an updated Princeton University campus vision plan presented Thursday to the Regional Planning Board of Princeton, and with Princeton planners continuing to review the joint municipal Community Master Plan, it is clear that the University will continue to play a crucial role in the Princetons' economic, sociopolitical, and educational development for decades to come.

It is also clear that both the towns and the school have a strong mutual interest in consolidating those advancements by working in tandem. Princeton University officials reiterated to planners at a special hearing at Township Hall that the school, a small school by most standards, "seeks to be an active participant in the life of the community and a good neighbor."

The hearing was part of an ongoing, state-mandated reexamination of the 1996 Princeton Community Master Plan, last revised in 2001, in order establish an updated document tailored to the current and future needs — including philosophical goals, land use, circulation, and housing — of Princeton.

But in light of the University's 2004 announcement that the school would grow more densely on its current campus rather than develop land the school owns in West Windsor, planners have emphatically indicated that the community master plan needs to reflect the University's thinking. Of particular interest is the proposed arts neighborhood in the University Place-Alexander Street area that straddles the Borough-Township municipal line.

While site plans were not included, University officials did offer a clearer signal for that area's intended use, including establishing buildings and infrastructure related to that area, public spaces for students and residents, and the near-certain redevelopment of New Jersey Transit's "Dinky" station, as well potential reconfigurations to the University Place-Alexander Street intersection.

"This is a very complicated, tangled part of town," said Neil Kittredge, the director of planning and urban design with Beyer Blinder Belle, the architecture and planning firm contracted by Princeton University to lead its campus-wide vision plan. Further, the arts neighborhood initiative, he said, could "truly transform the sense of arrival," creating a gateway to the community.

For now, it seems that BBB and the University have abandoned the previous notion of realigning University Place so that it meets Alexander Street further to the south, beyond the Wawa. Robert Durkee, University vice president and secretary, who led most of the presentation, put forth plans that outlined a roundabout, similar, though larger than, the existing roundabout on Faculty Road and Elm Drive.

Because of a potential increase in driver activity due to new arts neighborhood amenities, parking, Mr. Durkee said, would have to be provided elsewhere on campus, however. Early plans indicate that a new garage could be placed off Western Way near the athletic fields on that eastern portion of campus. A campus-wide jitney would facilitate pedestrian mobility.

However, the planners, as well as some community members, were cool to the idea of moving the Dinky station about 460 feet south to free up space, largely for student pedestrians coming from the Forbes residential college, just west of Alexander Street.

"Where this station is located is of vital importance," said Borough Councilman Andrew Koontz, himself a commuter. "The Dinky is a community facility, and not a University facility." Mr. Koontz urged planners keep from moving the "transit away from the village.

"Isn't that ironic? The nearer to Nassau Street, the better."

Borough resident Pierna Thayer worried about the area's possible increase in retail creating a deterrent to Nassau Street businesses: "Students, right now, have very little need to leave campus," she said, adding that Nassau Street was Princeton's "lifeblood."

Mr. Durkee, however, indicated that any retail on a redeveloped Alexander Street would be light, and also pointed to the conceptual status of the entire project.

Princeton Regional School Board President Michael Mostoller urged the Planning Board to focus on the economic impact of institutional expansion. "Campus growth will only increase that effect, and while these plans are beautiful, we have to think about the reconciliation of the growth of tax-free institutions. That reckoning is fast approaching our schools."

Mr. Durkee pointed to on-campus growth as the catalyst in defining developmental strategies on other parts of campus as well, including the north end, abutting Nassau Street, the south end, along Lake Carnegie, and the eastern end, which includes Butler Tract, and roughly lines S. Harrison Street.

Mr. Durkee also said that growing academic departments, including Operations Research & Financial Engineering, Genomics, African-American studies, and Neuroscience, required new infrastructural accommodations, preferably on a pedestrian-friendly campus. "You can't be a major University and not respond to development of new fields, new technologies, and new demands," he said.

However, University student growth in the coming decades, Mr. Durkee said, is expected to be only marginal. The school will increase its overall undergraduate population by 500 to 5,100 by 2012, with the graduate population, now hovering around 2,000 students, experiencing a modest increase in that time as well. The school will continue to provide housing for about 70 percent of the graduate school population, he said:

"We are a small University, and we intend to continue to be a small university."

———

While the Princeton Community Master Plan discussions thus far have been dominated by the anticipated growth of Princeton University, Planning Board Chairman Peter Madison said the academic institutional discussion needs to include the Institute for Advanced Studies, the Princeton Theological Seminary, and Rider University.

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