In 2000, some concerned residents wrote a letter to the editor asking if it were possible to have a "respectful dialogue" on in-town development that would outlast the inevitable disagreements.
Now, nearly seven years later, the discussion has been lengthy, and the disagreements have been abundant, but those residents, through the group known as Princeton Future, have managed to sustain that dialogue, by means of useful community analysis, nettlesome persistence, or, more likely, a combination of both.
This Saturday at the Princeton Public Library, that dialogue will continue. But unlike recent Princeton Future events, the topic is not geared to address any one particular development item, but myriad items that could change the shape of Princeton.
Typically aligning itself with traditional aspects of planning, this time around Princeton Future is looking at various tangential factors of development, including the economic and societal factors, as well as issues related to traffic and -transportation, institutional relations, and retail.
"We wanted to frame a large view of what's going on and find out which options are still on the table," said Kevin Wilkes, a Borough resident and a member of the Princeton Future council.
Saturday's hearing is likely to be broken off into several focus groups, but the goal harkens back to Princeton Future's early days when the driving force was simply a general concern for town-wide development. In recent years, the group has become more specific in choosing its issues, including the future of Witherspoon Street, focusing on the pending redevelopment of the hospital site and changes at the Princeton Public Library and the Arts Council of Princeton. This time, Mr. Wilkes said, the focus is again wide open.
"We're going a little bit further this time around, looking at neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown, and how the downtown relates to Princeton proper," he said, pointing to pending projects that could benefit from the "cleansing bath of sunlight."
Princeton Future has embarked on an ad campaign that has identified everything from the considerable Princeton University's proposed arts neighborhood at University Place and Alexander Street to a restaurant planned for the corner of Leigh Avenue and Bayard Lane.
All of those projects are equally important in terms of their impact on the future of the town, according to Sheldon Sturges, also a member of the Princeton Future council. "We have to avoid the negative consequences of piecemeal development," he said, with Mr. Wilkes adding: "We're going for sensible, open, intelligent, useful planning derived through listening."
While members of the Regional Planning Board of Princeton are updating the community Master Plan, Mr. Wilkes contends that Princeton Future is not trying to eclipse that process, and that non-governmental dialogue is needed as well. "This is a forum where people can be heard, and hopefully there will be answers made available."
Of particular concern is Princeton University's campus vision plan, which includes the aforementioned arts neighborhood, as well as changes in the school's Engineering Quadrangle area near Olden Street, and potential changes along the southern portion of campus. "The University has been consistent in saying that if the community will is determined, the school will play its part.
"Given that the University has embarked on its own master plan, it seems logical that we should engage in a simultaneous dialogue."
Saturday's discussion at the library will begin at 8:30 a.m. with an introductory session, then breaking off into small table groups, focusing on three, 40-minute sessions. At 11:30 a.m., the results of those sessions will be consolidated, followed by a break for lunch, and closing statements.
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