Amid Resident Concerns, Pine Street Park Project Delayed Indefinitely

Linda Arntzenius

There seemed to be a consensus last December when residents of Pine Street, the one-block throughway that connects a portion of east Nassau Street to Spruce Street, heard a rehabilitation proposal from Princeton Borough landscape consultant Dan Dobromilsky concerning the repair and revival of the street's eponymous park.

After all, the park, a 30-foot by 34-foot expanse barely the size of a vacant lot, did not need a complete overhaul, just some landscaping, a toy for children, and a terrace area for picnics.

But when work was halted last week after the Borough met with residents, certain issues were brought to the foreground that will preclude the park's completion this fall, likely holding off its opening until the warmer months of 2007.

The central issue is literally the centerpiece of the park — a so-called "whirl" toy for children to play on. The toy, which requires a certain fall zone surrounding its border, takes up too much room and could be placed closer to the corner of the park, residents say. While the toy is not yet installed, the foundation has been set, and some residents worry that it will occupy too much space.

"The radius of the toy and the fall zone were much bigger than what was on the plan," said Bonnie Bassler, a Pine Street resident who appeared before Borough Council last Tuesday outlining her -concerns.

On Thursday, a subcommittee that included Borough Council President Peggy Karcher and Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi met with a handful of residents to discuss the problems with the park. Those problems, in addition to the whirl, also include a sloped terrace area — a slope that could be too much to house a picnic table: "They built a ramp," Ms. Bassler said.

And despite the concerns outlined on a petition circulated throughout the neighborhood — 16 out of 26 homeowners included their names on the list — Ms. Bassler remained optimistic that the project would go forward smoothly after meeting again with the Borough.

Some residents, however, believe that the issue at hand is minor and that the park's progress should continue unimpeded. In a letter circulated to neighbors and Councilman Andrew Koontz, also a founding member of the Princeton Parks Alliance, Jay Edson of Pine Street questioned the fairness of halting construction since that decision largely stemmed from Thursday's daytime meeting with Mr. Bruschi and Ms. Karcher. In a separate interview, Mr. Edson said that only those available during the day had been able to attend, characterizing the entire situation as a "tempest in a teapot.

"Why would I be worried about the space taken up by whirl? I've never seen more than four adults in there at one time, except for the Pine Street block party, and that happens once a year," he said in the interview.

In his letter, Mr. Edson also worried about potentially dangerous conditions stemming from an unfinished construction site. The Borough has since roped off the area.

After speaking with Ms. Karcher, Mr. Koontz contacted Mr. Bruschi and Wayne Carr, the Borough's Public works director, and advised a work stoppage on the park's construction to return to a planning process that could resume sometime in September. In the meantime, the only element of the park that will be completed will be the water fountain. Everything else will remain in limbo.

Mr. Koontz said he is advising Pine Street residents to have a clear picture of what is wanted for the park for those September meetings, citing time constraints for Borough staff.

In fact, the Councilman said he was taken somewhat off guard by the concerns, as the planning process so far had gone relatively smoothly. "I think anyone you spoke to would say it went well — also, my sense was that the construction process was going according to plan.

"But these are legitimate concerns and everyone is acting in good faith," he said, hoping to restore the "good working relationship" that was on display during the planning process.

Ms. Bassler said a new plan would likely surface soon. "What we have here is a modest little park," she said. "We're not building a mall, so we're pretty close."

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Last year, Princeton Borough pledged $25,000 for the park's rehabilitation as part of a neighborhood effort to memorialize the late David Bradford, the Princeton University economics professor and former Pine Street resident who died in February 2005 after sustaining injuries in a house fire.

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