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Vol. LXV, No. 49
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
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Borough Council and University Spar Over Recommended Transit Zoning

Anne Levin

At the close of a contentious meeting last week, Princeton Borough Council voted to introduce an ordinance that would establish new rail transit zoning on the lot owned by Princeton University that includes the tracks linking the Dinky commuter train to the Northeast Corridor line.

There was considerable debate between attorneys and private citizens both for and against the ordinance. Bob Durkee, vice-president and secretary of the University, told Borough Council that they could face a lawsuit if the measure is given final approval. Lot 39, as the parcel is known, rezones the current Dinky train right-of-way for rail transit only, which hinders the University’s plans for an extensive arts complex at the site.

“If you go forward, it should be with the understanding that you are incurring legal liability,” said Mr. Durkee. “If this zone were in place, the project we proposed can’t go forward.”

The University’s counsel Richard Goldman called the ordinance “patently invalid” and said “These are serious questions that need to be thought through. You’re looking at an ordinance that really tests the edges of legal propriety.”

Originally introduced to include Lot 39 and the neighboring Lot 4, also owned by the University, the motion was first defeated with Council members Kevin Wilkes, Barbara Trelstad, and Roger Martindell voting against it. Council member Jenny Crumiller re-introduced the motion to include only Lot 39, and it passed.

Ms. Crumiller called the ordinance “the right thing to do,” and said it may convince the University to leave the station where it is. “Not one person has said this [moving the station] is good policy,” she said. “On behalf of Borough residents, we would preserve the right of way and hopefully the station and the tracks.”

Many residents have been opposed to the University’s plan to move the Dinky terminus 460 feet south of its present location, which it maintains it has the legal right to do. Last month, the Borough and Township signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University outlining the benefits the municipalities will receive when the station is relocated. Mr. Durkee said that the zoning would interfere with the MOU. “If we can’t go forward with the project,” he said, “we can’t go forward with the MOU.”

University representatives also argued that the move could be considered “spot zoning,” in which new zoning is issued to either prevent or facilitate a property owner’s plans for a parcel of land. Timothy Korzun, an attorney who chairs the Planning Board of Lambertville, was on hand to offer his expertise at the meeting. Mr. Korzun said a transit zone would not be considered spot zoning because the goal is to benefit the public.

Those in favor of the rezoning included a group of residents and their attorney Bruce Afran, who is representing them in a lawsuit against the University that seeks to keep the Dinky line from being relocated. Mr. Afran disagreed with limiting the rezoning to Lot 39. “If the district is to survive and thrive, Lot 4 must be part of it,” he said. “This ordinance is very important. It will discourage the University from moving the Dinky.” Mr. Afran added that he doubts the University would sue the Borough.

At its next scheduled meeting on December 6, Borough Council was to have a final hearing on the ordinance and address rezoning of the E5 parcel, located in the Township.

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