PU Once Again Focus of Master Planning

Matthew Hersh

As the October deadline for an updated community master plan looms, Princeton planners are still grappling with Princeton University's future, and, as of Tuesday, continue to have many unanswered questions.

A master plan subcommittee of the Regional Planning Board of Princeton convened Tuesday to discuss how the updated master plan would apply to Princeton University, at a time when the University itself is midway through a campus-wide revision plan that indicates some significant changes in campus development philosophy since the Princeton master plan was last revised in 2001.

Among those philosophical changes is the reversal of a once-concrete plan to develop vacant University-owned land in West Windsor, and, more recently, the proposed redevelopment of the Alexander Street-University Place neighborhood for a planned arts neighborhood. The latter proposal, while still conceptual, outlines a plan for additional infrastructure designed to accommodate, in part, the University's Center for the Creative and Performing Arts and envisions relocating New Jersey Transit's Dinky station 500 feet to the south, as well as reconfiguring the University Place-Alexander Street intersection.

But Tuesday's hour-and-a-half Planning Board session focused less on specifics and more on finding common philosophical ground as planners look to re-tailor the master plan, addressing issues like transportation, housing, and zoning in tandem with a change of course in Princeton University's overall developmental philosophy.

Marvin Reed, the chairman of the Planning Board's Master Plan Subcommittee, issued a memo to other board members outlining a list of concerns, including the proposed arts neighborhood; the implementation of a combined municipal-University jitney; a proposed PU parking facility along the Western Way playing fields; New Jersey Transit's Bus Rapid Transit initiative and how that factors in to the Dinky; and the University's impact on housing, affordable housing, and potential opportunities for open space.

Mr. Reed's presentation, which was originally drafted as a Planning Board memorandum to Princeton University administrators, but then refined at yesterday's presentation, centered on the idea that Princeton is "no longer just a college town,

"We have become the economic, social, and cultural hub of a much larger central portion of the state, and we recognize that Princeton University has had a lot to do with making us so," Mr. Reed's remarks read.

One area of concern for Planning Board members was the potential redistribution of traffic to Alexander Street once a University arts neighborhood is established. The Princeton master plan indicates that three roadways — Harrison Street, Washington Road, and Alexander Street — should sustain a relatively equal amount of traffic going to and from Route 1. New development along Alexander Street could upset that balance, some board members said.

"We have always maintained that there are three entries into Princeton," said Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand. "But as I'm sitting here now, Alexander Street is going to be the road where we are funneling everyone in."

Princeton University, in its campus plan, has indicated a desire to create a campus and town gateway on Alexander Street north of the canal, effectively moving the entrance from Nassau Street to the southern portion of campus.

Planners also pointed to the not-yet-known outcome of the Department of Transportation's Bus Rapid Transit initiative. Department representatives visited Princeton in the fall to talk about how a BRT, which would largely serve the greater Penns Neck portion of Route 1, could tie in to the Dinky line. Princeton University has also invested, at least conceptually, in the BRT plan, as the school's proposal to move the Dinky station hinges, in part, on the creation of a BRT system.

Responding to planning board member Bill Wakefield's concern over Dinky ridership in light of an existing BRT, Mr. Reed said it was effectively too soon to know the outcome of the BRT initiative: "There's no guarantee that there's even going to be a BRT."

University officials were in attendance at Tuesday's session, which also drew a handful of residents. The meeting, however, was largely geared for board members to flesh out concepts aimed for revising the master plan, which will likely begin mobilizing in the summer.

Planning director Lee Solow asked board members if an affordable housing component could be worked into the proposed arts neighborhood, but some board members said basic questions needed answering first. "Until a decision is made about the Dinky," Ms. Marchand said, "I don't know how we can have community input." Mr. Wakefield also worried that some issues, specifically those related to affordable housing, could be stymied if the Princetons once again entertain the concept of consolidating. "It's a whole different issue if there is one town." Mr. Solow, however, said the affordable housing aims of the master plan would apply to both the Borough and Township, and would likely cause few problems in the event of municipal consolidation.

Board member Gail Ullman, however, suggested that the master plan could even encourage tying the Princetons together:

"I'd love the master plan to endorse consolidation."

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The Master Plan Subcommittee of the Regional Planning Board of Princeton will reconvene Tuesday, July 10, at 9 a.m. at Township Hall.

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