To the Editor:
The saga of the Arts Council of Princeton¹s efforts to expand its premises at the corner of Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place continues to get sadder every time its representatives make a move and/or a public statement to justify its attempt to double the size of 102 Witherspoon Street.
The Arts Council purchased the building in 1997 with full knowledge of its condition and restrictions. It enjoyed a sizable reduction in the purchase price based on its programs, its commitment to address neighborhood concerns, and its promise to bring the building up to code requirements in a timely manner.
A recent press article states ³The new space is mostly dedicated to meeting building code requirements for new bathrooms, handicap access and stairways and storage for the renovated Loft Theater.² The ploy is obvious. The Arts Council will meet overdue commitments only if it gets extensive variances for 10,000 square feet that experts recognize well exceed the code needs.
The statement adds, ³The two-plus years delay in our renovation and expansion has cost the Arts Council and the community dearly.² The hubris of the statement is appalling. The Arts Council has had full control of its money and programs, and fails to quantify how the community lost anything. The neighborhood lost nothing. In fact, it gained by the fact that the added traffic that would have been clogging its narrow streets never appeared.
The Arts Council is reported to have $3.8 million in funds, world famous Michael Graves as its architect, the oldest law firm in Princeton as its attorney, and a former Mayor of Princeton Township as a consultant. The neighborhood has no funds, no big architect, no attorney, and no consultant. The Arts Council is showing its bitterness in losing its initial attempt to obtain the variances that would have severely impacted the neighborhood.
The Arts Council has supposedly gone to great extremes to ³outreach² to the neighborhood. It never has reported what the neighbors had to say. The Arts Council was supposed to conduct a traffic survey several years ago to show who comes and goes to the building. It has never reported that a survey was conducted or any results.
The crowning element in this sad saga is the Arts Council's recitation of its mission to better the lives of the neighbors through the promulgation of the arts. It has blinded itself to the reality that its proposed expansion would be an added burden to its neighbors. It has failed to follow the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The Arts Council has many generous benefactors. The attitude and approach of the Arts Council makes one wonder if its benefactors understand what is going on. I doubt that benefactors would want to be identified with a building that is so oppressive to the Arts Council neighbors.
A question arises as to who proposed and developed the plan to double the size of the building with all of its detrimental effects on the neighborhood. Two years ago the Arts Council took the position that ³The value of a Michael Graves building would put us on the map.² Does Michael Graves want his reputation tarnished by a building that so negatively impacts the neighborhood?
The saga continues with a cloud over the entire process so far as the Regional Planning Board of Princeton is concerned. The Arts Council encouraged its members to contact and meet with individual members of the Regional Planning Board. How many ³off the record² meetings occurred? The Regional Planning Board is supposed to make its decisions on the record before it, and articulate an objective, factual basis for its decisions.
The saddest part of this saga is that the Arts Council can fulfill its mission and be a welcome force in the neighborhood and the community by networking with other organizations and churches throughout Princeton that have space and/or cultural programs.
To The Editor:
I was disturbed to read the comments of members of this community supporting the plans of the Arts Council of Princeton to double the size of the Paul Robeson building. One commentator, a professional architect, states that the concerns of the neighbors regarding traffic are superficial. Such a comment is chilling in the profundity of its callousness. Residents of the John-Witherspoon neighborhood and throughout the community of Princeton are already overwhelmed by and suffering the ill effects of traffic congestion. Consider the life and health impacts upon people when, because of our narrow and congested streets, emergency vehicles are not able to respond in a timely manner to medical, fire or other public safety calls. Traffic congestion and flow patterns are not trivial; rather, they are of vital importance to the health and welfare of individuals and whole communities. We all should realize the potential for tragedy is one child-like misstep, combined with several slightly too-rapid revolutions of four wheels, away.
I witnessed the escaping of such a tragedy when walking home from a meeting of my neighborhood association. A father was walking alongside his tricycle-riding youngster down John Street. The new ³trikester² veered slightly off course and onto the edge of the street. Fortunately, the approaching car¹s driver was able to screech to a stop without incident. It is more often the case that automobiles travel all our streets much too quickly. Concern about traffic in our neighborhood and all of Princeton is not insignificant or ³superficial²; it is potentially a matter of life and death.
We are asked by a second commentator to believe that 3400 new square feet of space is needed to meet fire code and ADA mandates. This is preposterous. Many other public spaces throughout Princeton and in the immediate environs of the Arts Council have been successfully and beautifully renovated, upgraded and brought into compliance with the codes and the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements without doubling the size of structures.
When the wool is being pulled over the eyes, one must look for pinholes of clarity where the light of truth may shine through. The Planning Board must do a professional and fair job and sort the real requirements and regulations from the ³crafty and artful² proposals of the applicant who suggests the consequence of the Arts Council not getting its way would be its departure from the downtown. This is not the expressed desire of any with whom I'm associated. I have, however, previously suggested an alternative and better site for a new state-of-the-art facility, namely, the parking lot adjacent to Princeton Township Municipal Complex, Recreation Center, Community Pool and Community Park School. Though it is not ³downtown² it is much better situated, and much closer to schools and other facilities used year-round by youth and adults from the neighborhood and broader community, the latter making up the largest percentage of the Arts Council's patrons. World-class architects could easily employ art, craft and science to design a beautiful resource that would serve the needs of Princeton and the region for decades to come, without bringing more car traffic into the downtown box. Foot, bike and ³trike² traffic would still have easy and safer access.
It is not too late to consider, honor, and protect the long-term future of the John-Witherspoon neighborhood and at the same time develop a top quality Arts Council facility that is a good neighbor as well.
To the Editor:
I have lived in Princeton since June of 1976. When I became a Princeton resident, parking was a problem in the main Princeton business district. I sincerely hope that when the five-story parking garage next to the site of the Princeton Public Library is completed, the parking problem in the main Princeton business district will be over with once and for all.
There are two businesses on Nassau Street that I want to patronize; however I do not go to those businesses because of the parking congestion problem.
ETHAN C. FINLEY
To the Editor:
As the rift develops between the Arts Council and the neighborhood, of which it seeks to become a part, this observer is struck by a startling omission. This is a time when, all over the country, organizations are recreating American towns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Disney, for one, as both an entertainment company and new town developer, has attempted to breathe synthetic life into contrived places from a time now rapidly remote. Usually, in existing towns, restoration is useful in the way a stuffed bird is, as a reminder of what has been lost.
With the thorough, admirable work of the Historical Society, we have had a chance to see into this heritage and to find it relevant. Princeton retains evidence of neighborhood, dwindling but alive and embattled. The building the Arts Council occupies is, in itself, an instance. The startling thing is that this precious disappearing history is seen not as a mine of legend and narrative, an inspiration for storytellers and artists, but as an impediment in the way of progress.
Wouldn¹t you expect, for example, that some instructors from the Arts Council might have recruited some grandparents from the John-Witherspoon neighborhood to tell their stories to pupils for illustration and inspiration? If it has happened, I haven¹t heard of it. From here, it appears that the Arts Council has a major asset which it has turned into an adversary.
To the Editor:
My Township Wish List for 2004:
The Township Mayor will drive through all neighborhoods in her own automobile every week to experience road conditions.
Potholes will be filled within at least six months of their appearance.
Fall leaves will be entirely (not partially) removed prior to their blocking and washing into the storm drains.
Dangerous branches hanging over sidewalks and roadways will be clipped more frequently.
Glass and paper left on the streets from recycling will be removed before the next recycling pick-up.
Less salt will be used on our roads, and more sand.
The quality of work performed by Township crews will conform to the same standards imposed on independent contractors.
Branch removal will return to its former (pre-2003) pick-up schedule.
More township funds will be allocated for road repair and maintenance rather than cost overruns on municipal buildings.
The Princeton Township will be run like a world class hotel. Pay attention to detail and treat residents like valued customers.