Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 24
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
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Township Approves First Step Toward AET Zone

Ellen Gilbert

Township Committee unanimously approved an amended introduction of an ordinance at its Monday evening meeting that would establish an Arts, Education, and Transit (AET) zone in the Township.

Planning Director Lee Solow described the suggested conversion of a portion of an S1 (service) zone along Alexander Road into a hub that would permit buildings for educational, transit, retail, and residential use.

The final version of the ordinance was amended to include more specific language regarding the size of potential residential buildings. While Township Committee was comfortable at the prospect of housing small groups of visiting artists, they wanted to ensure that new dormitories would not be built in the area.

The approximately 17 acres of land currently serve a variety of uses. In addition to the permitted structures, Mr. Solow said, the plan allows for 25 per cent of the area to be maintained as open space, and 30 per cent of it for non-transit uses. “Streetscape” standards would be followed in an effort to “soften” buildings, and plans for outdoor activities would help to “avoid monotony” and provide “enhanced visual appeal.”

By providing for 180 spaces and not prescribing how they will be used, the ordinance differs slightly from the one passed earlier by the Borough. Committee members liked the flexibility of not pre-determining how many parking spaces would be designated for permits, and how many would be metered.

University spokesperson Rich Goldman noted that the plan does not just promote university interests; there will be “opportunities for anyone who owns a parcel in the zone,” public use of art facilities, and “a lively, welcoming plaza.” The inclusion of a childcare center would give commuters boarding the train or people participating in an art class a convenient place for dropping off children. Mr. Goldman warned against “spot zoning” that would appear to ensure the presence of some kinds of buildings while precluding others.

The area does not aspire to being a “second Nassau Street,” according to Mr. Golden. “Only one J. Crew,” agreed Township Committeewoman Sue Nemeth, although, she conceded, a convenience store with late hours to serve hospital staff living in the area might be in order. Members of Township Committee expressed concern about the presence of bars — not just restaurants that serve liquor — in an area so close to the University.

Township Committee and Mr. Golden agreed that this was a “first reading” of the plan, and not an appropriate time to have a “full-blown discourse.” The inclusion of an “incubation site” for start-up businesses may be included in future iterations.

The Public Hearing on the AET Zone ordinance will take place at Township Committee’s August 15 meeting and, if it is approved, it will go to the Planning Board, which will assess its consistency with the Township’s Master Plan. Possible dates for a Planning Board meeting that would be exclusively devoted to the AET Zone are June 30 or July 7.

Other actions at Monday’s meeting included the approval of a resolution that will encourage N.J. legislators to pass legislation currently under consideration for changing “Assessment Plan” requirements for revaluations from every four years to every eight years. Committeewoman Liz Lempert reported that Revaluation Task Force meetings have looked “at options for recommending what the municipalities want to do moving forward.” Although they were still “not sure what to do,” they liked the assessment plan better than either continuing to do revaluations “every ten years or so” or adopting a compliance plan.

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