Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 7
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
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Borough Still Debating Best Approach To Resuming Arts and Transit Dialogue

Dilshanie Perera

Following the closed session discussion by Borough Council last week, the governing body continues to debate how best to approach further discussion pertaining to the original Arts and Transit Neighborhood proposed by Princeton University.

“Borough Council is still trying to find a way to reopen negotiations with the University. We are interested in the idea that Mayor [Chad] Goerner has proposed and that Township Committee has endorsed. We’re just trying to find an effective way to make that happen,” acknowledged Council President Kevin Wilkes, referring to Mr. Goerner’s proposal to form a committee comprised of elected officials and University representatives to see if solutions could be reached regarding the proposed development.

At the joint municipal meeting on January 31, the Borough and Township agreed they could not indicate to the University whether they would consider the zoning changes that would allow the Arts and Transit Neighborhood proposal to move forward in the approvals process.

Representatives from the Borough largely cited concerns over transportation developments in the plan, specifically the moving of the Dinky station 460 away from its current terminus and thus away from the downtown. Township officials expressed their willingness to discuss the matter further, some even endorsing the University’s plan, but noted that in the spirit of cooperation they would not negate the decision of their colleagues on Council.

Following the meeting, representatives from the University announced that the Arts and Transit Neighborhood plans would be scrapped, and that the University’s architect would begin looking for alternate sites on campus for the Steven Holl-designed art center.

Township Committee unanimously agreed to reopen the discussion, and in talks with the University Mr. Goerner put forth a tentative plan for the three entities, Township, Borough, and University, to negotiate for a period of not more than 60 days.

But as that time runs down, the Borough is trying “to see where there is some flexibility on the three sides,” said Mr. Wilkes, who mentioned that the University’s goal is to build the Lewis Center for the Arts, the Borough’s is to protect transit in the municipality, and the Township’s is to consider a mixed-use neighborhood for growth along Alexander Road, and that each goal is commensurate with the others. “I am optimistic that there is a pathway,” he added.

At the same time, Mr. Wilkes reasoned that such talks would be “non-effective if the conversation came to exactly the same decision we arrived at on Monday the 31st.” A “point of movement on all three sides” is required.

At present, the Borough is “trying to identify how we can make a negotiating strategy...to meet everyone’s need to have this discussed,” he said.

“This is very difficult for everybody,” Mr. Wilkes acknowledged, adding that it is “not pleasant” to tell the largest landowner in the Borough that the municipality is not thrilled with their proposal. “What we want is to improve the idea so we can tell them what they want to do is in large part okay.”

“Clearly, the public deserves to be involved in the conversation as much as possible,” Mr. Wilkes added, noting that the public rallied around the issue of transportation and the Dinky debate only last year when Bus Rapid Transit was being considered by a Planning Board subcommittee. “The community needs to be listened to.”

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