Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 53
 
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
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Election, Economy Define a Year of Change

Ellen Gilbert

Dilshanie Perera

With the presidential election and the downturn in the economy at the forefront, 2008 has definitely made itself felt in Princeton, where local merchants are anxiously totaling results of holiday season sales, and the municipal governments are facing cuts in services and spending next year. Here is a look back at the year and some of the events that will continue to affect Princeton.

Princeton Borough

When Borough Council member Wendy Benchley resigned her seat at the end of March, Architect Kevin Wilkes was appointed to fill the remainder of her term until the November elections, during which he won a one-year term on Council against opponent Dudley Sipprelle. David Goldfarb and Barbara Trelstad ran unopposed and were reelected to Council for respective three-year terms.

Borough Council passed a municipal budget of $25,264,214 in July, which included a five-cent tax increase, meaning that residents now pay $1.03 for every $100 of assessed property value. The total is an increase of over a million dollars in spending from the previous year. Discussions have already begun regarding the budget for 2009, and without a tax increase, a shortfall of $890,000 is projected after possible budget cuts.

Princeton Township

After 13 years as Mayor and 22 years on the Township Committee, Phyllis Marchand announced her retirement effective November 30. Liz Lempert was elected by the Committee to fill Ms. Marchand’s seat. Deputy Mayor Bernie Miller assumed mayoral responsibilities until the Committee’s January 4 Reorganization Meeting, when the Committee will elect a new mayor. Retiring committeewoman Vicky Bergman’s seat will be filled in the new year by Sue Nemeth, who was elected by Township residents in November.

Township taxpayers faced the smallest tax increase in four years in 2008: five cents per $100 of the assessed value of their homes. The average Township tax bill was cited as $15,394, which was divided among the Princeton Regional School system ($7,330), Mercer County ($4,269), and the Township ($3,795). The participation of a citizens’ advisory committee was welcomed in the budget preparation process, and resulted in a well-received brochure sent to Township taxpayers and municipal departments, explaining how the budget worked.

Property revaluations in both the Borough and the Township will be of signal interest in the coming year.

Princeton Regional Schools

The Princeton Regional Board of Education said good-bye to board president Michael Mostoller and member Jeffrey Spears in the spring, electing Alan Hegedus as new president and welcoming two new members, Township resident Dan Haughton and Borough resident Tim Quinn, in the fall.

In February, artist-in-residence Terrance Simien offered zydeco music programming for district students in grades K through 12, culminating in community concert to benefit students displaced and schools destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

A $100,000 pledge from the Institute for Advanced Study to the Princeton Education Foundation (PEF) promised to support innovations in PRS’s science curriculum, and enabled the creation of a new biology wing in the high school, which was celebrated with a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony in April. PEF was also responsible for the fund-raising behind a new state-of-the art physical fitness center at the high school that opened at the beginning of the year.

Data reflecting the district’s concerted effort to close the achievement gap among minority students were brought into focus at November’s Minority Education Meeting.

For the 11th consecutive year, the district received an unqualified commendation of excellence after an audit of the district’s financial affairs.

The end of the year found the district anticipating state legislation that would impact the budget preparation process and the election of board members.

The still-unresolved future of the Valley Road Building is certain to be an item on PRS, Township Committee, and Historic Preservation Commission agendas in 2009.

Princeton Public Library

A Children’s Book Festival, the most successful Friends Annual Book Sale to date, and the Friends Annual Benefit featuring journalist Evan Thomas, were among the library’s 2008 high points. The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe’s book, Things Fall Apart, was this year’s “Princeton Reads” selection, culminating in a standing-room-only appearance by Mr. Achebe at the Nassau Presbyterian Church in March.

Responding to evidence that library use flagged when free parking was no longer available, the Borough and the Township agreed to revive parking subsidies that gave library patrons two hours of free parking in the Borough parking garage. Terra Momo took over the library cafe from Chez Alice, and the library store diversified its merchandise in an effort to boost sales. At year’s end the library announced a hiring freeze and was looking at a flat budget in the coming year.

Jitney

The Borough’s community jitney, or Free B shuttle, began running in April and currently traverses a route from the downtown to the Dinky station and back again on weekdays between 5:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. and again from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The program is free of charge and is in an experimental three-year phase during which a grant from New Jersey Transit and the provision of a vehicle support its operation. Princeton University has also agreed to contribute funding to the service.

Affordable Housing

December 31 is the state deadline to file a ten-year affordable housing plan with the New Jersey Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) that meets the obligation assigned to each municipality by COAH. Though the state-imposed mandate does not provide funds to assist in building affordable homes, housing consultant Shirley Bishop warned that if municipalities do not file a plan with COAH, they become open to a builder’s remedy lawsuit, which would cost taxpayers. The Regional Planning Board and both Borough Council and Township Committee approved of the plans for the municipalities in December.

Downtown Development

Though Borough Council and developer NHKT agreed to a mediator in December, Phase II of the downtown development had been given the go-ahead in June when Council approved a set of estoppel agreements. Delays in approving the construction stem from disputes regarding Phase I of the project, specifically the Spring Street Parking garage.

The Tulane Street parking lot was closed in July so construction could begin on the five-story mixed-use structure, referred to as Building C, that will occupy that site. The new complex is to house 56 apartments, a small grocery store, and three live/work retail spaces.

Rezoning

In June, Borough Council approved of an ordinance allowing the creation of a mixed-use (MX) zone on the 32 acres of land comprising the Merwick, Stanworth, YMCA, and YWCA properties. The rezoning permits a combination of single and two-family dwellings, a parking garage, and non-residential non-profit organizations to coexist on the site, and imposes certain height, density, and affordability restrictions on future development within the space.

The Borough’s Zoning Board heard a three-part case beginning in April and ending in August regarding a proposal by architect J. Robert Hillier, who is also a Town Topics shareholder, to rezone three properties along Greenview Avenue in order to build a condominium complex of 14 units for persons aged 55 and above. The project was denied in a 4-3 vote, and reactions by neighbors were mixed. One of the major factors cited by the board members who voted against the proposal was an ordinance passed in 2006 to specifically limit the size of residential buildings.

University Expansion

The designs for the University’s proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood were unveiled in September for public consideration. The reshaping of the southern part of the campus provides for adding new buildings adjacent to McCarter and Berlind Theaters, including the Stephen Holl-designed new Lewis Center for the Arts, a new media center, and a contemporary art-focused satellite of the University Art Museum. While a plaza, cafe, and other amenities were also proposed, the largest point of contention was the plan to shift the Dinky station 460 feet further from town in order to have space for a transit hub.

The Arts and Transit Neighborhood is part of the 10-year Campus Master Plan, which has come under review by the Regional Planning Board. The proposed construction of a garage on the east side of campus has received input from the Eastern Campus Neighbors group, and traffic patterns in the town as a result of University expansion are being analyzed, though no final decisions have been made.

New at the University

Princeton University saw a flurry of activity over the past year with the resolution of the Robertson case, and new construction and programs, alongside a wide array of lectures, including talks by Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker, a preview reading from her latest novel by Toni Morrison, and a conversation between Professor Cornel West and Actress Phylicia Rashad.

The sculptural cascade of brick and stainless steel that is the Frank Gehry-designed Peter B. Lewis Library is the home to all of the University’s science library collections, which have been brought together for the first time. The opening coincided with the beginning of the school year in September. The Art Museum has undergone summertime renovations and now features an exhibition, among others, of Mr. Gehry’s line drawings, through which his design process can be observed.

In May, the University’s Alcohol Coalition Committee issued a strategic plan to address high-risk drinking on campus, which has been a source of concern. Borough police recently reported to Council that they have seen a sharp rise in underage drinking over the past years.

The upcoming autumn will see the first trial of the University’s “bridge year” program, during which 20 incoming freshman will spend a fully funded year abroad engaged in service projects, language training and cultural immersion.

Hospital

The University Medical Center of Princeton broke ground in October for its new location in Plainsboro. The project is expected to be complete in 2011, and will feature a 160-acre campus comprised of the hospital, a health education center, fitness and wellness center, senior residential community, skilled nursing facility, public park, and medical office building. The hospital itself will contain 238 private rooms, 100 percent energy-efficient fresh air circulation in specific areas to reduce infection, patient safety features, operating theaters that can accommodate robotics and will be voice-controlled, and will use electronic medical records.

Parks and Recreation

The Joint Recreation Department was told to “keep it simple” by Township and Borough residents in the several public meetings held to discuss potential renovations to the community’s aging pool complex, which has outlived its 25-year life expectancy by more than 15 years. While independent money, accrued through user fees, was used to pay consultants who developed several scenarios for the future pool site, financial responsibility for new construction has not yet been determined.

As for land-based activity, Potts Park underwent some renovations and formally reopened in July, while the new skate park that opened in November was built at Hilltop Park. Both recreation initiatives were funded in part by a County grant called “Mercer at Play,” encouraging collaboration between the Recreation Department, Borough, Township, University, non-profit Parks Alliance, and community.

Green Initiatives

Sustainability has been a buzzword around town for a while, but a few particularly green initiatives stood out during the past year. In January, in order to cut down on waste from plastic bags, the Public Library began selling its reusable red bags, which have become a fixture in Princeton. Additionally, the donation of “Kill-A-Watt” meters to the library from the Princeton Environmental Commission revealed how much energy was being used by electronic appliances and that turning computers to standby mode instead of logging off is saving the library about $6,000 per year. Residents may borrow the meters from the library.

Throughout the summer, Friends of Princeton Open Spaces Naturalist Steve Hiltner, who is also a member of the Environmental Commission, led weekly plant inventory walks to categorize the kinds of flora found in local parks, woods, and trails. The listing will be published in the final version of the Princeton Environmental Resource Inventory.

November’s Green Home and Garden Tour sponsored and curated by the Environmental Commission showcased nine Princeton institutions or residences with green elements including geothermal heating, a rain garden, and sustainable renovations.

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