Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 6
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
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A Word of Thanks to Teachers and Parents For Supporting Our Most Valuable Resource

Lucylle Walter
Ewing Mercer County Freeholder

Revenue Enhancement? Tickets Given When Parking Meters Are Snowbound

Richard F. Smaus
Winant Road

A Valentine for Roger Martindell From One Who Needed Help

Marina
Princeton Community Village

Joint Revaluation Study Commission Invites Residents to Next Meeting

Michael Reilly
Peter Marks
Michael Walker
Victoria Airgood
Ken Verbeyst
Stephanie Lewis

Scrapping of Arts and Transit Plan Arouses Intense, Divided Response

6 letters


A Word of Thanks to Teachers and Parents For Supporting Our Most Valuable Resource

To the Editor:

A few weeks ago I attended a play at my daughters’ school. Looking around the room, I felt a great sense of admiration for the parents present who were taking time out of their busy schedules to come out and show their support for the students as well as the faculty. Time goes by too fast, and before we know it, our children are grown. It is so important to recognize their many talents and skills. It helps help them to be more confident, try new activities, and can unlock doors they might not have even recognized existed. As a parent, and a full time teacher, I strongly believe in taking an active role in my children’s education and extra curricular activities. By supporting my children’s talents in the arts, sports, and academics it helps me to stay in touch with their lives, and to be knowledgeable about those individuals who influence their education. To all the teachers and parents who come out in all types of weather to see their children participate in competitions, plays and more, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for taking such an interest in our most valuable resource, our kids.

Lucylle Walter
Ewing Mercer County Freeholder

Revenue Enhancement? Tickets Given When Parking Meters Are Snowbound

To the Editor:

Last week I noticed parking enforcement personnel cruising the Central Business District, diligently issuing parking tickets. It struck me that Borough officials had devised a brilliant revenue enhancement technique. Save money by not clearing and plowing curbs, leave parking meters buried in three feet of snow and ice, making it difficult to feed the meters and, voilà , revenue enhancement. A high margin one at that. I’m sure the increase in parking ticket yield went through the roof.

In addition, Borough Officials gained valuable “style points” by showing Mike Bloomberg has nothing on them. Bloomberg suspended parking enforcement until the end of last week. Once again, Borough Officials demonstrated they will do anything to feed the beast: the rapacious need for non-property tax revenue.

Richard F. Smaus
Winant Road

A Valentine for Roger Martindell From One Who Needed Help

To the Editor:

My name is Marina (Shayna) and I discovered an angel in Princeton. His name is Roger Martindell, a lawyer in Princeton. I had called on him in the past when others I knew needed help with their problems. Now it was my turn. I needed help with writing a letter concerning a financial matter. As busy as he is, Mr. Martindell made himself available to me as soon as I called, and he said to come to his office. I had heard about him from other people he had helped, and I also saw him featured on a local television show doing a lot of good work for our community. He spent quality time with me and helped me write my letter to the appropriate people to resolve my problem. I came to America from the USSR many years ago, and I find I still need help with expressing myself in the proper way at times. I am grateful for a person like Mr. Martindell, who is there for people when we need him.

Marina
Princeton Community Village

Joint Revaluation Study Commission Invites Residents to Next Meeting

To the Editor:

Last year the Office of the Mercer County Tax Assessor directed Princeton Borough and Princeton Township to undertake a revaluation of the properties that comprise our two municipalities. As most of you know, the revaluation sharply increased many property values, resulting in double digit tax increases for many residents and, in some cases, real financial hardship. Responding to residents’ questions and concerns, the Township Committee and the Borough Council appointed the Joint Revaluation Study Commission to assess the reasonableness of the revaluation and suggest mechanisms for mitigating its effects. The six undersigned members of the Commission were appointed late in December. Three of us reside in the Township and three of us reside in the Borough. All six of us volunteered for the assignment.

The Commission’s initial meeting occurred early in January. One of our first acts was to create two subcommittees: one to assess the manner in which the revaluation was conducted, the other to assess possible means of mitigating its effects on Borough and Township residents. We recognize that many residents and neighborhood organizations have specific knowledge that could be helpful to us, and that many have devoted considerable effort to measuring and assessing the effects of the revaluation. Accordingly, we invite interested residents to assist us by attending one or more of our meetings or submitting written comments for our consideration.

Comments may be submitted to the Township Clerk or the Borough Clerk at the following addresses:

Township Clerk Borough Clerk

Township of Princeton Borough of Princeton

400 Witherspoon Street One Monument Drive

Princeton, NJ 08540 Princeton, NJ 08542

Alternatively, we invite you to attend our next scheduled Commission meeting, which will be held in Borough Hall on February 10 at 7 p.m. We have invited the community groups formed last year to address the revaluation and its consequences, and we are hopeful that each of them will be able to send representatives to our February 10 meeting.

We encourage you to assist us as we work to understand the methodology and techniques used in the recent revaluation, the potential sources of relief for financially distressed residents, and the possibilities for modifying assessment practices in the future.

Michael Reilly
Peter Marks
Michael Walker
Victoria Airgood
Ken Verbeyst
Stephanie Lewis

Scrapping of Arts and Transit Plan Arouses Intense, Divided Response

To The Editor

The joint meeting of the Princeton Borough Council and the Princeton Township Committee on January 31 (“University Scraps Arts and Transit Plans,” Town Topics, Feb. 2) was a fascinating look into the collision between democratic government and private interests. That the citizens had a chance to be heard, their elected representatives listened and refused to be pushed into a hasty decision made me proud to be a part of our democratic system.

On the other hand, as a graduate alumnus, I am disappointed that Princeton University did not come out of this looking like a good citizen. As a non-profit educational institution with privileged standing in the community, it should have been willing to treat seriously the concerns of local residents about sustainability and the importance of transit. The university should have worked with the community to seek a better outcome.

Instead, it came in with a heavy-handed approach that attempted to bully the governing bodies, made a political end run to the governor, and threatened that the community would be punished if it did not accept the university’s position. I am also disappointed that the governor chose to take a position on the issue without listening to both sides. It was interesting to see that labor representatives and patrons of the arts did not acknowledge that one way or the other the university is going to spend Peter Lewis’s money on facilities for the arts in Princeton. Hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on construction, new arts venues and jobs will be created; just at a different site.

The Borough Council members who took a strong stand in the face of the University’s assault, and the Township Committee members who stood with the Borough, deserve praise for their thoughtfulness, willingness to listen to the citizens, and for their courage.

Jerome M. Lutin,
Holland, Pa.

Note: Mr. Lutin lived in Hibben Apartments along the Dinky line as a Ph.D candidate and faculty member of the Princeton University Transportation Program. He retired from 20 years of service in senior planning positions at NJ TRANSIT and teaches a course on Transit Oriented Development for the National Transit Institute.

To the Editor:

According to a study reported in the Road Engineering Journal, the average walking speed of pedestrians 65 year and older is 4.11 feet a second. At that speed, you would need a bit under two minutes to walk the 460 feet from where the Princeton Borough Dinky station stands to where Princeton University proposes to build a new station. If the location of the Dinky station is truly the deal breaker for the long debated “Arts and Transit Neighborhood,” then what’s the big deal? The members of the University community and the members of the surrounding communities would be immensely fortunate to have access to a superb new arts neighborhood in Princeton. “All art,” said Leo Tolstoy, “has this characteristic: It unites people.” Let us hope so. And let us all unite behind art.

Richard Trenner
Province Line Road

To the Editor:

I attended last week’s town meeting at which the Borough and Township considered Princeton University’s proposal for a new Arts and Transit Neighborhood. The next day, I woke up with a feeling of dismay about the civic process and about governing priorities in Princeton.

The facts of the proposal seem widely known. Princeton University is ready to invest $300,000,000 in redeveloping the area around the Dinky Station to house its arts program; add performance and exhibition spaces; improve traffic conditions; and, yes, move the Dinky station 460 feet southward. The University made clear that the project would be fully paid for and held to the tests both of sustainability criteria and of shared benefits for town and gown.

I expected a conversation about the role the arts can play to help stimulate the economy and educate citizens; about the merits of the proposal; and about the details and challenges of executing such an ambitious plan. Instead, hours were devoted to quibbling over moving the Dinky station. The fact that the University’s proposal to add a cultural destination is the best chance we have to protect the Dinky service from being dismantled by the State was effectively sidelined. Shouldn’t we be more worried that we have a Dinky than whether we like where it drops us off?

And yet: it now looks as if that same worry about having to walk an extra tenth of a mile to catch a train to New York will be allowed to derail an opportunity that in our recessionary times is truly rare. Everywhere I look, funding for the arts is being cut. In many places, it seems that the nurturing of creativity is deemed to carry too narrow a measurable profit margin to warrant any kind of expense. We can count ourselves lucky to share this town with an institution that disagrees.

Practical problems are solved even by divergent groups so long as they don’t lose sight of shared convictions. So I offer my own guiding conviction concerning the arts, one borne out by plenty of empirical evidence: The vitality of the arts and the vitality of participatory democracy go hand in hand. In other words, the communities that support the arts are also the communities where people come out to vote and come out to town meetings such as Monday’s on a night when predictions were for half an inch of ice on the roads.

Right now we should hurry up and see what can be done to get this proposal back on the table.

Dorothea von Moltke
Labyrinth Books

To the Editor:

Go or No Go: so said Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman when the University presented its Arts and Transit plan to Borough Council, Township Committee, and the Planning Board. The University wanted assurances that very night that zoning would be changed to allow arts buildings between Alexander Street and the Dinky tracks south of McCarter Theater. If not, President Tilghman said, the University would pick up its marbles and go home. When four Borough Council members suggested they wouldn’t approve those zoning changes if it meant moving the Dinky terminus, Township Committee members allowed that unilateral approval would make little sense. So it was No Go. In an interview next morning, University Vice President Robert Durkee said the University has begun exploring other locations for its arts expansion.

The real problem, in my view, was one of distrust. Yes, Princetonians were genuinely concerned about a campus expansion that required moving the Dinky terminus 460 feet further south. But they might have been less distraught without the distrust. Apparently very few Princetonians believe the University’s claim that their arts neighborhood is incompatible with the current Dinky terminus. Very few feel secure relying on a Dinky station wholly contained within the campus. Very few think the University would ever agree to restore the lost right-of-way. Very few trust the University to help extend the current right-of-way so that light rail, when it becomes practicable, could reach Nassau Street.

In her opening remarks, President Tilghman said the University knows that Princetonians have begun to expect the same support from the University that other university towns have received. Her offer was the $300 million in jobs the arts district would bring. And indeed representatives of building-trades unions had been marshaled Monday night to support the arts district. President Tilghman should recognize, however, that high property taxes prevent most construction workers from living in Princeton. Perhaps we Princetonians should have been more altruistic. But what Princetonians want, especially in light of our recent revaluation, is property tax relief. A payment in lieu of taxes from the University comparable to what it would pay if it weren’t tax exempt would have reduced property taxes in 2006 by 25 percent (Borough) or 15 percent (Township). That direct support plus some assurances about light rail and a restored right-of-way might have resulted in a different outcome Monday night.

How many thousands off my property taxes would have persuaded me to walk that extra 460 feet?

Anne Waldron Neumann
Alexander Street

To the Editor:

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. You [the Princeton Borough Council, Township Committee, and Regional Planning Board] have muffed a lifetime opportunity in the loss of the University’s Arts & Transit plan, to the detriment of the entire community. Maybe there’s a chance even yet, if you were to say “sorry” and “please.”

Bob Rodgers
Laurel Road

To the Editor:

In my view, if the Princeton Arts and Transit Neighborhood fails to get approval, the Dinky will die. The governor has no trouble putting hundreds of millions of dollars into casino development, but can’t find the money to fund the ARC tunnel. Without the Arts Neighborhood which the state does not even have to fund, what incentive does Governor Christie have to spend public monies to subsidize a little train that serves a small town full of Democratic Party activists? Council members seem unhappy that Princeton University is bullying them. How unhappy will all Dinky users be, when the little train is shut down? Council members should consider that as well.

Dawn Day,
Meadowbrook Drive

For information on how to submit Letters to the Editor, click here.

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