Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 5
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

Advertise in Town Topics

Iris Interiors

Advertise in Town Topics

Weather Forecast

University Scraps Arts and Transit Plans

Dilshanie Perera

Given the outcome of Monday’s joint municipal meeting, Princeton University will not pursue its proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood plans at Alexander Road and University Place, but will instead look for an alternate site for building an arts complex.

Representatives from the University, including President Shirley Tilghman and Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee, requested at the meeting that the Borough and the Township indicate whether or not they were willing to reconsider the zoning in the area in order for the arts development to proceed.

A caveat issued by the University was that the Dinky terminus would have to move 460 feet as stated in the plan.

“I think we do have an ‘either-or’ here on this project,” acknowledged Mr. Durkee. “We have tried various alternatives and various models, and they don’t work,” he said of developing the Arts Neighborhood while also having the Dinky remain in its current location.

The first phase of the proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood plans involved the creation of a Steven Holl-designed arts complex, the conversion of the existing Dinky buildings into cafe and retail space, the move of the Dinky farther from the downtown into a transit plaza that would include an indoor waiting area and the Wawa, a roundabout at University Place and Alexander Road, a separate pedestrian crossing for Forbes College, and a new entryway into the Lot 7 garage.

“As the community looks to us for support, we need the community’s support in helping us,” Ms. Tilghman said of the zoning change that would be the necessary first step in plan approvals.

Noting that she was “very curious about the degree to which this project has languished,” Ms. Tilghman pointed out that in terms of the arts on campus, “We cannot fulfill the responsibility to the students for lack of space.”

“I feel as though I can no longer allow this discussion to continue without a sense that we are making some form of progress,” Ms. Tilghman asserted.

The Arts and Transit Neighborhood had been endorsed by Governor Chris Christie, and Ms. Tilghman noted that given New Jersey Transit cutbacks, “If your highest priority is saving the Dinky, the surest way is to approve this plan.”

Later, Borough Council President Kevin Wilkes noted that even if the plan were to be given the go-ahead, no guarantee was offered by New Jersey Transit or the Department of Transportation that it would preserve the Dinky as is. “Our train service is hanging on the thread of the Governor’s desire,” he noted.

Most members of Borough Council were unwilling to give a firm approval to the necessary zoning changes for the arts if the movement of the Dinky away from the downtown was a nonnegotiable part of the plan.

Council member Jenny Crumiller worried that the plan would have the effect of suppressing Dinky ridership, and urged the University to make the concession of not moving the rail terminus.

“I think it’s a false choice … to either accept the proposal as it comes before us, or to abandon the Arts and Transit Neighborhood altogether,” Roger Martindell of Borough Council stated. He voiced his support for the arts development proposals, but said that he would “like to see more effort by the University as it relates to infrastructure issues, particularly as it addresses transit.”

Both Mayor Mildred Trotman and Barbara Trelstad said they would like to continue discussions, but that concerns remained, while Mr. Wilkes noted that although he feels “that this is the right neighborhood for this project to happen … I’m troubled to hear there is no possible solution to the train question.”

Township Committee spoke largely in favor of the project but voiced their reservations with the Dinky plans, and noted they were unwilling to contradict the decision of Borough Council in remaining steadfast on the zoning.

“It seems that we’ve created a bit of an unfortunate circumstance,” admitted Mayor Chad Goerner. He called for continued dialogue seeking “the ability to move forward with some sort of compromise.”

“I’m leaning more toward favoring the project, even if it means moving the Dinky,” Committee member Sue Nemeth said, though noting that while the current layout of the Dinky and roadways is “awful,” the “proposal to move it is equally bad.”

“I’m very conflicted …. We love the arts proposal and we don’t love the transit proposal,” she added.

Lance Liverman of Township Committee called for a timeline for discussions in order to move forward. “If moving the Dinky means a lot of benefit, then it makes a lot of sense. We can’t keep playing games.” Bernie Miller also agreed on the necessity of a timeline.

Public comment at the completely packed meeting lasted almost two hours, with citizens generally voicing support for the proposed plans for the arts expansion. The main issue of contention was moving the Dinky.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Mr. Durkee called the meeting’s outcome “very disappointing,” noting that the University will “look elsewhere for the space that we need to expand what we can do in the arts.”

“By going elsewhere, we can develop the space we need for the arts,” Mr. Durkee said, adding that “what will not go forward are all the improvements we were going to make that would benefit the community.”

With respect to future collaborations between the University and the two municipalities, and how Monday’s outcome affects that relationship, Mr. Durkee noted, “I don’t think it helps at all.”

The area at the intersection of Alexander Road and University Place would likely be revisited at some point in the future for determinations as to what may be built there that would conform to the zoning, but at present, Mr. Durkee observed that the president has already telephoned “our colleagues who are responsible for this project, asking them to redirect their attention to another location.” Subsequently, the project architect will have to start from scratch in designing the new space.

“It’s a shame to have to do that, but it would be worse to remain in limbo,” Mr. Durkee said.

Return to Top | Go to Next Story

Town Topics® may be purchased on Wednesday mornings at the following locations: Princeton — McCaffrey’s, Cox’s, Kiosk (Palmer Square), Krauszer’s (State Road), Olives, Speedy Mart (State Road), Wawa (University Place); Hopewell — Village Express; Rocky Hill — Wawa (Route 518); Pennington — Pennington Market.
Copyright© Town Topics®, Inc. 2011.