Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 16
 
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
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Partnerships to Improve Business, Community Are Princeton Merchants Association Themes

Dilshanie Perera

The Princeton Merchants Association (PMA) meeting prompted a dialogue regarding partnerships and future collaborations between local business owners and Borough and Township Zoning specialists, as well as Princeton University officials.

“Zoning in New Jersey goes back to 1918, and we haven’t stopped making laws since,” joked Borough Zoning Officer Derek Bridger, who explained that zoning laws control the use of properties, and the nature of buildings that can be developed on particular land within town. Parking requirements and signage are also governed by zoning ordinances.

“My goal is to create a level playing field, so that everyone has the same opportunities by which to attract business,” he added.

Expansions or curtailments of the zoning code occur by ordinance change, which first comes before Borough Council or Township Committee, before going to the Regional Planning Board, and then back to the municipal body for final approval.

“The genesis of an ordinance can come from the community,” noted Mr. Bridger, who went on to point out that usually when individuals or businesses want to develop or use a space in a way that conflicts with the zoning code, they apply to the Zoning Board for a variance, which is either publicly granted or rejected depending on the nature of the request. Minor changes may be approved via a waiver, but all queries must go through the Zoning Department of the municipality in which the property is located.

“The language of the [Princeton Community] Master Plan filters down to the laws of zoning,” Mr. Bridger said.

Township Zoning Officer Peter Kneski explained that while the municipality is 80 percent residential, the same general rules and processes apply to the Township.

Mr. Bridger said that restrictions on first-floor use in the business district have been around since the “late 80s or early 90s” when Borough Council decided that office and financial institutions could not occupy space on the street level. “It’s a balancing act; it does become an issue when times are tough,” he acknowledged in response to merchant questions about the use of vacant storefronts.

Currently, Mr. Bridger reported, the highest volume of inquiries he receives are for takeout restaurants, the implication being that the market would determine what the service and retail-scape in town might look like, on the way to achieving a balance.

PMA business owners and partnering institutional members also announced participatory events occurring over the next month.

Restauranteur and developer Jack Morrison noted that the Parkinson’s Alliance had inspired an event on Thursday, April 29, during which a portion of the proceeds from local restaurants would be donated to the group, with a matching gift by the Tuchman Foundation. Participating restaurants include Blue Point Grill, elements, Gennaro’s, Mediterra, Teresa Caffe, Witherspoon Grill, and Yankee Doodle Tap Room. Eno Terra will donate a percent of its Wednesday, April 28 sales.

Friday, April 30, will see a discussion within the community about race and racism. Organized by the YWCA Princeton and Not in Our Town. Kathie Morolda of Cranbury Station Galleries noted that at 9:30 a.m., participants could gather in Palmer Square to join hands, forming a “human chain of unity.”

Kristin Appelget, director of Community and Regional Affairs at Princeton University, elaborated on the events that would produce an influx of visitors into town, thereby spurring business activity. On Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until May 18, the university will be hosting a Farmer’s Market at the plaza outside Firestone Library. The market would reopen in a new location on Thursdays beginning June 17, Mr. Morrison said.

The NCAA Men’s Lacrosse quarter finals are anticipated to draw a crowd of about 7,000 to 10,000 to the area, which will occur on May 22. Reunions weekend begins Thursday, May 27, and draws between 20,000 and 30,000 alumni to town, Ms. Appelget said.

Also mentioned was the Princeton Festival, which brings together local and national musical talent in a series of performing arts events. It runs from June 5 to 27. For more information visit princetonfestival.org.

Permanent signage to efficiently direct people and vehicles to their destinations are the subject of an effort to obtain approvals from the Borough and the Township. A story about the Tiger Transit system at Princeton University can be found in the “Topics of the Town” section of this week’s newspaper.

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