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Vol. LXV, No. 49
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
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Special Improvement District Introduced To Create a Better World for the Needy At Recent Meeting of Borough Council

Anne Levin

Special Improvement Districts have been successful in cities such as New Brunswick and Jersey City. But despite numerous tries, Princeton has yet to establish one of its own. The latest attempt came at the end of Borough Council’s meeting last week, when members voted 3-2 to introduce a measure that would create the “Transportation Corridor Special Improvement District” in the area extending from Nassau Street down University Place to the border with Princeton Township.

Special Improvement Districts, known as SIDs, are organization, management and financing tools used by local businesses to provide specialized services that complement existing municipal government services as part of a revitalization plan. Proponents of the Princeton plan said it would use assessments of non-residential properties to fund improvements in the new district such as crosswalks, shuttles, bridges, tunnels, and light rail service.

The proposed district, which will be formally introduced at a Council meeting on December 20, would be managed by a seven-member district management corporation called “Princeton on the Move” (POM). The non-profit group would be made up of the Borough mayor, a member of Borough Council, the Business Administrator, a Borough resident, a business or property owner, a representative of a merchants’ association serving the Borough, and a business or property owner from Nassau Street between Vandeventer Avenue and University Place.

Nearly 36 properties, most along University Place, would be included in the district. Residential properties are exempted. Most of the sites are owned by Princeton University. The anticipated assessment during the first year is expected to be no greater than $90,000.

The measure was met with mixed reactions. Council member Jo Butler, who with Jenny Crumiller voted against the proposal, accused other Council members of introducing it without proper notification. “You went behind our backs,” she said. Bob Durkee, vice-president and secretary of Princeton University, expressed doubts but said he was willing to learn more about the issue. “I’m not entirely sure what advantage there is to put in an intermediary,” he said.

Alan Hegedus, representing The Nassau Club, said “This cart seems way before the horse. Previous SID discussions were more substantive than what I’m hearing tonight.”

Councilman Roger Martindell, speaking in support of the issue, said it has been raised more than once over the past 20 years. “It’s a well recognized way of dealing with improvements in towns,” he said. “It has been successful in New Brunswick and other places. We have a new opportunity to move a SID into Princeton. If it works, there can be a seed for doing this in other parts of town.”

Councilman Kevin Wilkes also supports the plan. “We’re trying to find multiple strategies to implement solutions that benefit the community,” he said.

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