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Merchants Sound Off On Downtown Safety, Trash Pick-up Issues

Matthew Hersh

Addressing concerns ranging from long-term downtown development, safety, in-town density, and garbage removal, several Borough business owners met yesterday to discuss what will likely be the major issues of the coming year.

In their first general meeting of 2005, members of the Borough Merchants for Princeton had an opportunity to ask Mayor Joe O'Neill about various issues that affect in-town businesses. The discussion centered around the increase in crime in town, and the possibility of combining the Borough and Township police departments as a possible solution to the drying up of federal funds made available from the Community Oriented Policing Services Program (COPS). Mr. O'Neill left the issue open-ended, saying the Borough was currently involved in a study that re-evaluates what is needed on the police force, including the possibility of joining forces with the Township. "What do we really need? Let's also look at consolidation of the police forces. I wouldn't say that those would be permanent cuts, but I wouldn't say they weren't either."

Lori Rabon, general manager of the Nassau Inn, said she was concerned with teens congregating as the weather becomes warmer, as well as an increase in gang-related activity. Recently, she said, Nassau Inn employees were faced with three children lighting matches, almost causing a fire.

"Probably nine times out of ten it's harmless, but I have employees who fear walking around in town, and once the employees start to have this fear, it's going to [affect] our guests."In responding to Ms. Rabon's concerns, Mr. O'Neill referred back to the possibility of consolidating forces with the Township. He said in meeting with senior Borough police officers about six months ago, he had expected to encounter resistance, which, as it turned out, was not the case.

However, the prospect of consolidation was easier said than done, the mayor added. "I don't expect it to be easy, and several major decisions have to be made: and two of them are deal-breakers,"he said. One of those factors would be the cost-sharing between the two municipalities. Currently, there is about a 70 percent to 30 percent split of cost between joint-municipal agencies, with the Township shouldering the larger portion of the split. But if there is one joint police department, Mr. O'Neill said, the possibility of splitting 50-50 would have to be discussed.

The other issue would be the question of which municipality would act as the lead agency. Mr. O'Neill pointed out that with other joint agencies, there is a "tendency"to devote more time to the municipality "that pays your paycheck."Additionally, the mayor said that the Borough could benefit from having the extra law enforcers present, joking that the "Township Police are constantly cutting through the Borough ‹ and we haven't charged them yet."Borough Merchants Board President and Cranbury Station owner Kathy Moralda suggested that there be some sort of enhanced non-police security presence around the Central Business District (CBD), much like the security agency employed by Palmer Square.

Nick Hilton, owner of Nick Hilton Studio on Witherspoon Street, suggested a mall-type security operation. "In the malls, the mall provides the security, but here, the landlord doesn't," he said.

An additional discussion on trash pick-up in the CBD stemmed from yesterday's meeting with several merchants complaining that nearby businesses or residents were putting trash out on the curb on Friday evening for a Monday morning pick-up or were illegally placing garbage in commercial dumpsters. "The Garden Theater dumpsters are not full everyday because of popcorn,"Mr. O'Neill said, saying that he often sees discarded furniture in those dumpsters. Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi said the municipality was looking to come to terms with enforcement in handling illegal dumping.

Mr. O'Neill also addressed the recent discussion about forming a Special Improvement District (SID) in the CBD. A SID is a municipal designation to augment existing services in downtown areas. Typically geared only to businesses that fall within the predetermined confines of a SID, those properties would be assessed a fee that would pay for services like security, trash pick-up, and snow removal.

Changing Demographic

Mr. O'Neill also urged merchants to anticipate the impact of more residents within the CBD. With 77 new units on the way as part of the Borough's downtown redevelopment project and the 100 condominium units to be built on Palmer Square North along Paul Robeson Place, the mayor said those additions could "more than double"the population of the CBD. The mayor said the Borough units and Palmer Square units, which will sell for between $750,000 to $1 million, will likely bring in many people in their 50s, or "empty nesters,"so restaurants and merchants alike should begin to think in terms of that new demographic. Comparing the future CBD to Manhattan's Greenwich Village, Mr. O'Neill said businesses should start thinking about accommodating residents who use street-level commercial businesses on a daily basis, and not only on the weekends.

He added that some areas that could be further examined for development are Griggs Corner across from the Princeton Public Library, and the set of stores facing Spring Street. The mayor suggested that better access to those stores from the new library square be explored.

"That set of stores which now face onto Spring Street is not logical or economical. They should be facing the square, where you have 2,500 potential customers going to the library."


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