ROBERT and JANE COX
To the Editor:
On Monday, December 6, we attended the West Windsor Township Council meeting because we heard they were drafting a resolution to refute parts of the Patriot Act. During the public discourse, some people spoke in favor of it. We and another person, former Township Mayor Jack Flood, made the point that this was not the responsibility of the Council, and there were other avenues the members could pursue to protest it. We also felt that this issue should have had a public forum, rather than be decided by five people. Ultimately, it was passed with three in favor and one abstention. One of the draftees of the resolution, Councilman Charles Morgan, wasn't even there to vote for it. But the comments afterwards were even more disturbing to us. Ms. Miller and Ms. Alberts, who voted for the resolution, admitted they never read the Act. The Council president said that he read only 60 pages, but didn't like any of it.
More disturbing is the fact that Councilwomen Miller and Alberts felt that their roles as Council members extended beyond local issues to include federal issues. Ms. Alberts made another astonishing remark that people might be afraid to write to their representatives and that is was the Council's job to speak for them. Afraid to write their representatives!? Too busy, maybe. Uninvolved, perhaps. But we can't believe they would be afraid.
There are enough issues important to West Windsor to keep our Council very busy. Councilwoman Kristin Appleget said it very succinctly when she commented that the role of local government was to confine itself to local issues. If Ms. Miller and Ms. Alberts want to expand their roles in government, let them run for higher office.
and JANE COX
To the Editor:
I support the decision of the Board of Trustees of the University Medical Center at Princeton to build a new, state-of-the-art medical facility on a campus that is close to both Princeton and the Route 1 corridor. Rather than trying to add to, reconfigure, renovate, or readjust space on its current inadequate site, it makes sense to use valuable resources on a new complex, especially given the never-ending advancements in medicine and science and the growth of population in the areas surrounding our magnet community. Given that Princeton is so strategically located along the northeast corridor, the new medical center should receive wide support from the local community, the neighboring townships, the region, and state.
The process of determining what will become of the current site of the hospital must be open and completely transparent. I call again upon the mayors of the Borough and Township, and their respective Council and Committee, to ensure that the process of rezoning or the establishment of zoning overlays of the hospital site is a public process that involves citizens from the adjacent neighborhoods as well as public appointees. Elected public officials have the duty to represent the entire citizenry and to seek the common good. Appointed committee or task force members may not always represent the particular concerns of residents or neighbors who will be most affected by the major changes that will occur. If the Health Planning Task Force is to continue to lead the discussion about the hospital site, the mayors should appoint other members who are residents of the adjacent neighborhoods. Additionally, all Task Force meetings and deliberations should be "noticed" in the local papers, open to all residents, and held at times when members of the community are able to attend.
To the Editor:
The Snowden Lane residents' threatened lawsuit over the proposed construction of a sidewalk on their properties represents the latest example of a growing trend. Disgruntled citizens have begun to sue our local government when they have not been able to achieve their agenda democratically, i.e., when they have personally disagreed with the decisions of our duly elected representatives.
Our local governments have had to defend, with public monies intended for maintenance of the local infrastructure, against lawsuits from citizens disagreeing with the plebiscite position on various public policy initiatives such as decisions to preserve the local ecosystem over preservation of the local deer population, downtown development, library locations, and now a sidewalk.
I did not enter into the debate on the Snowden Lane sidewalk, not wishing to offend our neighbors. It was with the expectation that there was no need to do so, assuming our local government would enforce building a long overdue and necessary sidewalk.
After all, while these citizens had a natural reluctance to accept the building of a sidewalk on their properties, Snowden Lane is indisputably an exceptionally hazardous route for pedestrians and cyclists. It is a fast, uninterrupted road from Herrontown Road to Nassau Street, and large portions lack any safe shoulder upon which to walk or bike. There are no good substitutes: it is the most expeditious north-south route for the Princeton area east of Harrison Street, and represents the shortest route to schools, towns, and synagogues for the Littlebrook neighborhoods.
How do the Snowden Lane residents defend their objection to the sidewalk? It seems their objection has two main features:
1) They have put forward the absurd argument that Snowden Lane in fact does not represent a safety hazard because they can't recall any accidents.
2) They understandably regret the necessity of cutting down beautiful trees, a lovely feature of the road. However, how does one balance the life of a tree, its aesthetic value notwithstanding, with the life of a single human being and find it equal?
We must trust that our local government will protect us from ill-conceived projects that serve narrow interests at the expense of the public good. And let us challenge our neighbors who use lawsuits to achieve what they could not persuade us to do.
To the Editor:
Last week's article, "Witherspoon Street Under Scrutiny" (Town Topics, December 8) reported about an informal group of residents concerned that Princeton Future has a preset agenda that does not represent the surrounding neighborhoods' wishes. At public meetings held by Princeton Future regarding Witherspoon Street, the community has firmly expressed the desire for maintaining and increasing residential uses. However, Princeton Future's annual report, dated February, 2004, and recent meeting minutes from the Community Based Neighborhood Retail Initiative Princeton Future Task Force (CBNR), dated November 11, suggest that Princeton Future has plans to commercialize Witherspoon Street and is hoping to use public meetings to legitimize their position.
In the annual report Princeton Future has recommended creating a Special Improvement District (SID) for the downtown area businesses. It also quotes Robert Geddes as saying, "More and more we are thinking of Princeton as a T-shaped town," with Witherspoon Street as the vertical axis. In the meeting minutes from the CBNR, members stated, "The purpose of a SID is the empowerment and improvement of the downtown as a place to do business." Then they agreed that the boundaries of a SID should be a T-shape and "that all of Witherspoon Street should be included."
What is a SID? It is a privately held entity formed to support business recruitment, marketing, and street maintenance services. SIDs are financed by additional taxes to the property owners within the SID. These taxes are used only for the SID and decisions affecting the use of the revenues are made by a board of private property and business owners. A SID is an inherently undemocratic entity because it is run by a private board appointed from within. Unlike with elected officials, citizens have no recourse if they do not like what a SID decides. To be part of a SID you must be a property owner, so it appears that this is a regression to a time when only those who owned property could vote. It functions as an exclusionary tool of modest income people of a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds in the neighborhood who do not own property. The result will be to homogenize and commercialize Witherspoon Street and eventually the surrounding neighborhoods, an insidious effort of gentrification and "urban removal."
Witherspoon Street is recognized as the spine of our town because of the residential neighborhoods and institutions Princeton University, the library, the Presbyterian and AME Churches, Community Park School, and Township Municipal Complex that line the street. They represent our core values of knowledge, spirit, democracy, and human connection. Witherspoon Street is Princeton's Town Commons, and as such is for the public good. It should remain in public hands and its residential neighborhoods strengthened.
To the Editor:
As a recently naturalized citizen, I am dismayed by the declining tone of the immigration debate. While I was applying for my green card, the INS shredded my passport. For several months, I was undocumented and could have been assumed to be illegal. If constitutional protections like assumption of innocence and due process were conditional, my apparent status would have disqualified me from receiving them.
Within a mile of my comfortable Princeton home, illegal immigrants live in overcrowded, squalid conditions. They work long, poorly paid hours at jobs that citizens and those who "bother to come here legally" refuse. They find their circumstances a "step up." Many of these "criminals" pay bribes and experience physical danger to get here. It isn't a free ride. If illegal immigration were my only way up to that level, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I wouldn't consider myself a criminal, either; I'd consider myself a survivor. The decision to deport these people is legal and may be appropriate, but their motives in coming here and conduct since getting here is no excuse to mistreat them or reason to despise them.
While I was going through it, I found my own green card process to be frustrating and annoying. I was threatened with deportation during my interview. The citizenship process also took a long time. Looking back on it, I am amazed at my good fortune. I happened to be born in a democratic nation and to receive a university education. I came to this country on a work visa and could come and go as I chose. I suspect that my "grueling" process would be the envy of those who don't come from Western European or predominantly white nations. I cannot resent those who, lacking my privileges, try anything they can to get here.
To the Editor:
This is an open letter to the thousands of Princetonians who supported the bipartisan Concerned Citizens in its efforts to revise and/or stop the Borough plans for the garage and new downtown development (46% were Democrats who disagreed with the Democratic Borough Council, 26% were Republicans, and the balance were independent). Our cause was backed up by a community-wide survey indicating that 72% of the town agreed with us.
Your two legal petitions of 610 and 1,100 names calling for non-binding referendums, your financial support, your letters to the editor, and your turnout at Borough meetings all that dramatized your concerns and hopes to be heard. After consistent rebuttals, not implementing our petitions, and not even surveying the community at large, it became obvious Borough Council would not recognize the majority voice of the people. Democratic party leader Andrew Koontz even packed the Borough meeting hall one night to the exclusion of many Concerned Citizens. Finally there was no choice but to institute a lawsuit.
Sadly, step-by-step the courts turned down our effort to have an open trial which would have permitted placing Borough officials and others on the stand to testify. While the cause was lost, questions remain why Borough Council used a law that permitted them to condemn a perfectly good $500,000 a year income parking lot, let them give the $13 million project to a former Borough Councilman without public bidding, and let them suppress each of the two referendum petitions.
But, it's over. Your support helped our attorneys, Bill Potter and Bob Zagoria, wage a long and expensive effort to permit the public to hear the facts through a trial. Bill and Bob were totally committed to the cause and put in untold hours on our behalf. We want to thank them publicly for their exceptional involvement and let them know how disappointed they are as, we know, are so many people in Princeton.
Again, our sincere thanks to all who supported Concerned Citizens for so long.
To the Editor:
In an open public meeting of Princeton Borough's governing body, Borough Police Captain Anthony Federico unequivocally stated that Borough Police do not report to anyone the immigration status of persons who are victims or witnesses to crimes.
Further, in conformity with the weight of authority in the municipal police community, the Borough governing body recently passed a resolution designed to discourage local law enforcement from acting as deputy agents of federal immigration authorities serving civil process. The Borough is also studying an ordinance that would restrict Borough police in providing information to immigration authorities in connection with non-criminal matters.
By these and other means, the Borough is establishing a bright line to protect the confidentiality of crime victims and witnesses (and those who report other events to police, such as fires) so that the entire community may be safer. A victim or witness to a murder, beating, rape, or robbery, or a witness to a fire, should not be discouraged from contacting authorities simply because of his/her immigration status. Immigrants' fear of reporting events to local police threatens public safety and everyone in the community.
The Township's policy on this issue is not so clear. According to a recent report, one member of Township Committee indicated that representatives of the Hispanic community should "trust" that undocumented aliens who turn to Township police for help will not be reported to federal immigration officials. But Township Committee has taken no official action on this issue.
Further, Township Police Lieutenant Mark Emann, speaking for his department, reportedly indicated that Township police are not "actively" seeking to report immigration violations.
There appears to be a gap between the Borough's developing non-disclosure policy on one hand and the Township's less certain statements on the other. It's time to fill that gap. The Princeton community will be safer if both the Borough and Township have a uniform, publicly stated, unequivocal commitment to the same policy.
Crime and fire do not distinguish between Borough and Township. Immigration status recognizes no municipal boundary. In protecting our public safety, we must act as one community.
To the Editor:
On Thursday, December 16 at 8 p.m. in Borough Hall, Princeton University will present its arguments to the Borough Zoning Board of Adjustment, to change the zoning of the Olden Street properties from the current residential use to non-residential use. The proposed structure includes several thousand square feet of area, and sections are three and four stories tall. Special variances for loading, parking, coverage, floor area ratio, yard, and set-backs are also requested.
Princeton University has owned the Olden Street homes for more than a decade. Having been abandoned since their purchase, they are now earmarked for demolition. They are an anchor and gateway to an established Princeton neighborhood of "moderately" priced homes, which are currently being purchased by the University as quickly as they become available. In keeping with its revised plan to extend the campus along the eastern side of Nassau Street, from Alexander Road to Harrison Street, the University has been purchasing property on Williams Street, Murray Place, and throughout those neighborhood streets flanking Nassau Street and leading to the Harrison Street playground.
Currently the master plan specifically identifies halting the erosion of once thriving residential neighborhoods as a top priority. The goal to "preserve and protect the character of established neighborhood" is reiterated in the 2001 Reexamination Report.
The problem of eroding residential neighborhoods is of serious concern to all of us. It immediately ratchets up the tax bill and drives gentrification while reducing the housing stock, and it increases the demand for infrastructure services and resources on an already strained Borough budget. Furthermore, the erosion of our neighborhoods significantly impacts the quality of life in our community in every way socially, economically, and culturally.
Past University acquisition of valuable revenue-producing commercial and educational property has been a tragic economic and cultural-social loss to the Borough community. This rich and powerful research and development organization cannot be stopped or apparently sated in its grab for prime real estate in once quaint and thriving neighborhoods. However, our zoning laws can protect our community's interests and retention of tax revenues and how that land is used. We have paid for our place at the table; we are all important stakeholders in Princeton Borough.
Please plan to attend the hearing and take your rightful place as stewards of this very special community.
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