Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 23
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
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Durkee Gives Township Arts and Transit Update

Ellen Gilbert

University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee made the case for the University’s proposed “arts and transit district” at a Township Committee work session Monday evening.

The presentation was essentially a reprise (about 25 slides and a dozen other images) of the one Mr. Durkee gave to Borough Council last month, and reiterated many of the points discussed at the numerous open houses and community meetings that have been held over the past three years: the hope of the University is to create an arts hub that would include an experimental media studio and performance hall; reduced peak hour traffic flow at Alexander Road and University Place; a relocated, upscale Dinky station; and the development of a neighborhood “that is a model of sustainability.”

Among the main sticking points the University must contend with is the location of the proposed “neighborhood,” which would sit in both the Borough and the Township at the intersection of Alexander Street and University Place, and extend to McCarter Theatre, the Dinky Station, and the Lot 7 Garage. “It’s not a large footprint,” Mr. Durkee observed, “But it sits in six different zones.” In order for the University to move ahead with the plans, the area would have to be rezoned, and approvals would have to be granted by both municipalities, as well as the Regional Planning Board.

As he did at the Borough Council meeting, Mr. Durkee noted that the plans are “in many ways the most challenging” set of proposals to come out of the long-range campus plan in that they are far-reaching, but not as “incremental” as other proposals. He emphasized that changes to the original plan have been made in response to community feedback, and that it was still “evolving.”

He also noted that the University’s endowment had taken a “major hit” as a result of the current economic downturn, losing about 30 percent of its income. Despite the several challenges it poses, however, he said that the arts-transit neighborhood proposal remains a high priority. Among the rationales for its creation is, according to Mr. Durkee, a perceived need for greater undergraduate participation in the arts, with an opportunity for students to engage in performing and making art, not just studying its history.

The University’s effort to diminish traffic congestion in the area would include moving existing University offices that are unrelated to the arts to another part of the campus. The current “obstructive” location of the Dinky station and adjacent Wawa would be moved about 460 feet, and a new facility with air conditioning, heating, and restrooms, housing the Wawa inside, would be built. The resulting “multi-modal hub” would include bike lanes and bike storage; “kiss and ride” space; a taxi stand; and new commuter parking.

Mr. Durkee’s description of the creation of “Dinky plaza, as a “lively public space” including retail shops, restaurants, and cafes in the current Dinky space drew some comments from both Township Committee members and individuals in the audience. Committeeman Lance Liverman wondered whether new retail stores and food operations would “draw people away from the center of town.” Mr. Durkee responded by saying that downtown merchants have been among the strongest supporters of the plan, seeing potential satellites of their current stores opening there, and anticipating new customers from among those visiting the new arts facilities. Borough Merchants Association member Travis Linderman echoed these sentiments.

Managing Director of Princeton Future Sheldon Sturges was among the dissenting voices. “I don’t believe that the community has been fully informed, nor has it had a chance to express all their concerns. The plan is very focused on the campus; not on the community. We need to work with Bob and his committee to form a plan that makes sense for all of us,” he observed.

Hodge Road resident Joan Miller expressed regret at the loss of the once viable Dinky station building, and wondered why a new arts museum was necessary when the Arts Council building on Paul Robeson Place represented a good venue for student activities.

Committeewoman Sue Nemeth said that she was uncomfortable with using the word “neighborhood” to describe an area that really did not include a residential component. Mr. Durkee noted that students currently live there, and that there is a potential for mixed-use housing to be built south of Alexander Road in “the long-term future.”

Other Business

Other business at Monday evening’s meeting included the passage of a revised ordinance stipulating that the owner of a dog that bites a person or another animal will be fined $250. Deputy Mayor Chad Goerner noted that the words “threaten, menace, and molest” have been stricken from the old ordinance, and Princeton Township attorney Edwin Schmierer said that there would be “a more general, global look at the dog control law” sometime in the fall.

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