Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 23
 
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
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Princeton Future Discusses Development, Transportation, Organizing Information

Dilshanie Perera

Princeton Future’s meeting at the public library on Saturday saw presentations on assembling salient information about the town, mobility and transportation, as well as zoning and development procedures. The ensuing conversation featured a brainstorming session regarding long-term and short-term efforts at engaging with the future of Princeton.

As a non-governmental organization formed in 2000, Princeton Future provides a forum for community members to voice concerns about where development, policy, and quality of life are headed vis- à-vis the town.

Organization Chair Robert Geddes explained that members of the group realized “two things were needed,” namely, making sure facts about Princeton could easily be accessed, while also improving relations between members of the community, governments, businesses, and institutions in order to better understand one another’s needs.

Two action items emerged from those discussions: the Princeton Index, which would organize key statistics, and the Princeton Partnership, which would be composed of the aforementioned community groups.

While both projects are in their formative stages, Princeton Future member Charlotte Bialek explained the impetus for the Index, noting that her tenure on the School Board “heightened [her] love of information.” She challenged those present to determine what kinds of information would be useful “for people interested in policy and planning in Princeton,” adding that “all of this has to be about real information: laws, demographics, properties for sale, etc.”

Later in the discussion when an attendee advocated strategic planning “to get people out of their cars,” Mr. Geddes remarked that the Princeton Index aims to compile facts precisely like those pertaining to car use and parking in order to better ascertain where the particular needs lie. The overall goal is to use the information to better guide public policy.

In his presentation about policy and planning regarding “mobility, housing, and the downtown,” Kevin Wilkes emphasized that sustainability “speaks to social and economic conditions, as well as those of energy and the environment,” adding that it is imperative “that we keep our population at all income levels present and happily working in town.”

Proposing a few avenues of exploration, Mr. Wilkes suggested a town-wide “parking improvement program,” which would offer various entities —  developers, governing bodies, the University — a chance to collaborate to alleviate parking problems.

Instead of granting developers variances to meet their parking provision requirements, Mr. Wilkes proposed that under the improvement program, developers pay into a fund to meet the requirements. “This is a condominium idea, but for cars,” he said. The monies could go to spurring mass transit options (“a very important part of this equation”), or assisting with the creation of new parking.

Such “new parking” could take the form of smaller, hybrid garages located on existing parking lot sites throughout Princeton, Mr. Wilkes said, explaining that they could also allow for space for housing and retail.

“We can have institutional, residential, and historical coexist on one site,” Mr. Wilkes said, though he added, “I’m not trying to sell garages; I’m trying to create opportunities for development in Princeton Borough; the foremost goal is to bring in additional rateables, and additional vibrancy.”

Jim Constantine gave a presentation on zoning, asking, “How can we create user-friendly, design-based codes and a streamlined review process?”

Characterizing today’s regulatory process involving zoning in the Borough and Township as involving “minimal proactive planning, and mostly reactive regulating” and being somewhat “slow, multilayered, costly, and unpredictable,” Mr. Constantine urged considering a zoning scheme that is more form-based, thus regulating aspects like how tall buildings are allowed to be, and how they meet the street.

“If we have a clearer vision, then that will improve the quality of what actually gets built,” he said.

The discussion among the participants touched and expanded upon the themes elicited in the presentations, including making parking structures accessible for those with reduced mobility, putting public transit and parking “on equal footing from the beginning,” and how the ease of parking affects business.

Mr. Geddes suggested that the organization would have to contemplate pursuing a no-growth strategy, noting that “caps create a pressure cooker, but on the other hand, we might not be able to accommodate the number of vehicles on the road.” He acknowledged that a carrying capacity study would have to be done.

Princeton Future Managing Director Sheldon Sturges remarked in closing that Princeton “has been a place where the rich and poor have lived together for decades.”

“Right now, the ‘bottom half’ is being pushed away, and it’s my personal view that at least half of new residential units be more inclusive,” Mr. Sheldon urged, noting that “it is a precious moment in the history of our town.”

“We need to unlock the parking situation in town, and encourage development to invest, but we also need all socioeconomic strata to be in place for Princeton to be a vibrant and diverse community,” he said.

More information about the organization can be found at princetonfuture.org.

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