Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 28
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
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Planning Board Meets To Discuss Rezoning For Arts and Transit

Anne Levin

At its July 7 meeting, the Princeton Regional Planning Board entered into its first discussion of the rezoning being proposed by Princeton University to allow for construction of a $300 million arts and transit neighborhood near McCarter Theatre. No action was taken at the gathering, but several concerns were raised by Board members and community residents.

“This is a major rezoning. We have to decide if it impacts the community master plan,” said Board chair Gail Ullman as the meeting began. “I can’t over-emphasize the importance of this rezoning, and we want to get it right.”

Several members of the community voiced their opinions about the proposal, which would involve moving the Dinky train station 460 feet south of its present location to make room for a complex of theaters, gallery and rehearsal spaces, and public areas. Princeton University Vice-President and Secretary Robert Durkee spoke in response to their comments. High on the list of concerns were increased traffic and the idea of the area as a gateway into Princeton Borough.

“If the University wants to promote sustainability, then we need to extend public transit into town,” said resident Sheldon Sturges, who opposes the Dinky move. “Why can’t the University amend their point of view? It’s the right thing to do.”

Former Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand, who supports the plan, commented that the meeting was a “delay tactic” rather than an examination of whether the project met the goals of the community master plan. “I’d like to see you move ahead and see the community participate in the fine tuning,” she said.

Township resident Carlos Rodriguez told the Planning Board that as a private developer and landowner, Princeton University is not going to plan for the community at large. “It’s not their job,” he said. “It’s not about the circular buildings or the setbacks or even the traffic. It’s about the overall framework. Nobody other than you is going to be the custodian of that.”

In an effort to clarify the University’s position, Mr. Durkee said there were two questions to consider: whether the proposed ordinances are consistent with the master plan, and whether developing the area for the arts is better than developing it under existing zoning.

“We are thinking very seriously about developing these lands one way or the other,” he said. “We’d prefer to develop them for the arts, and we think that would be better for the community.”

Addressing the traffic concerns, Mr. Durkee said the rezoning would reduce peak hour traffic because the buildings would be used for educational and artistic purposes rather than for offices. Traffic would also flow more smoothly with the addition of a roundabout at Faculty and Alexander roads, he added.

Borough Council member Barbara Trelstad, who is on the Planning Board, said that the Board also needs to consider the effect of graduate students and junior faculty members who will soon be housed at the former Merwick rehabilitation facility on Bayard Lane. “They will have an impact on traffic because they will be using Alexander Road,” she said.

The discussion will be resumed at a meeting on July 28. Public hearings on the zoning are scheduled for August 15 in the Township, and August 23 in the Borough.

Borough resident Joe Small voiced his displeasure at the scheduling of these events. “These public hearings should be held when the citizenry will be here,” he said, “and not in secret in the dark of night, which the middle of the summer is here.”

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