Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 25
 
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
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Cleveland Lane Resident Disappointed Over Borough’s Plans for Sidewalk

Linda Arntzenius

Borough resident Kristina Johnson was unsuccessful in her attempt to alter plans for a sidewalk to be constructed outside her home on the corner of Cleveland Lane and Lafayette Road.

Ms. Johnson, who has lived at the home for 30 years, contends that the proposed sidewalk would “bring passersby so close to the first floor windows of the home that no sense of privacy would be possible.”

At last week’s meeting of Council, June 10, Ms. Johnson and her attorney, Dino Spadaccini, petitioned the Mayor and members of Borough Council to reconsider plans by Borough Engineer Christopher M. Budzinski to install a sidewalk on the northern side of Cleveland Lane just five feet from the side of her home and windows.

“The action threatened by the Borough Engineer will arguably cause irrevocable harm to the environment and to the beautiful streetscape of Cleveland Lane, as well of course as irrevocable harm to my privacy and peace and to the value of my property,” said Ms. Johnson in a letter to the Mayor and Council.

Mr. Spadaccini presented an alternative plan that would move half of the sidewalk to the southern side of Cleveland Lane and add a crosswalk for pedestrian access to the other side of the street.

The detailed plan was displayed at the Council meeting, along with a second showing another siting for the crosswalk.

Discussing the alternatives, Mr. Budzinski said that he was concerned for public safety at the intersection of Lafayette Road and Cleveland Lane. He suggested that if the sidewalk were to be split between the north and south sides of Cleveland Lane, pedestrians would ignore the mid-street crosswalk and continue on the north side of the street. In addition, homeowners at 70 Cleveland Lane had objected to the redirection of the sidewalk to the south side of the street.

Mr. Budzinski, who had met twice with Ms. Johnson, reported that he had considered moving the entire sidewalk to the south side of Cleveland Lane but that it was not feasible because of trees there.

“While recognizing the unique circumstance of Mr. Johnson’s house being very close to the street, I feel that staying with the [original] design would be the prudent thing to do,” he concluded, adding that the road is being narrowed on the south side to pull the sidewalk as far away as possible from Ms. Johnson’s dwelling.

Mr. Spadaccini responded by saying that the alternative plan satisfied all of the criteria that the Borough Council had set earlier. “Our plan has limited impact on cost, no safety issues, and causes little delay to the construction while preserving Ms. Johnson’s unique situation,” he said.

Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman said that Council had acknowledged the unique situation of Ms. Johnson’s home and had tried to be fair and balanced.

Mr. Spadaccini cited a report by a traffic consultant hired by Ms. Johnson that found the alternative plan to be “relatively simple to implement, not costly, and installed with appropriate sight lines, signage, and striping,” adding that it also had verbal approval from the Department of Transportation.

To counter Mr. Budzinski’s letter from residents at 70 Cleveland Lane, Mr. Spadaccini, offered a letter in support of the sidewalk switch from homeowners at 76 Cleveland Lane, the home directly opposite Ms. Johnson’s. He described the mid-street crosswalk as having no detrimental impact on safety and that there were already several such crosswalks in Princeton on streets near Cleveland Lane and on Nassau Street in front of Thomas Sweets.

In the discussion that followed Mr. Spadaccini’s presentation, Councilman Andrew Koontz questioned Ms. Johnson’s proposal with respect to pedestrian and bicyclist safety. He said that the purpose of sidewalks was to allow pedestrians to walk freely and safely in the neighborhood and that it was the intention of Princeton’s Master Plan to have a network of sidewalks throughout the town.

“Sidewalks are there for the convenience of pedestrians,” added Councilman David Goldfarb. “It is an unreasonable inconvenience for these people to have to cross the street to accommodate Ms. Johnson’s concerns.”

Mr. Goldfarb pointed out that revisions to the Borough Engineer’s plan would put the sidewalk 11 feet from Ms. Johnson’s property.

Council member Margaret (Peggy) Karcher suggested that a mid-street crosswalk would not be as safe as inviting pedestrians to continue on the same side of the street and cross at the corner. “I cannot in good conscience add another mid-block crossing to accommodate someone who doesn’t want a sidewalk in front of their property,” she said.

Council member Barbara Trelstad, a frequent walker in the neighborhood, pointed out that drivers would not expect a crosswalk in the middle of Cleveland Lane. She did not favor the changes included in Ms. Johnson’s proposal.

Councilman Roger Martindell, however, was inclined to accommodate Ms. Johnson’s proposal. “Her’s is a unique situation because of the proximity of her house to the curb,” he said.” I think we should accommodate [her proposal] because the damage to the homeowner here is significant.”

Besides the issue of safety, the issue of Ms. Johnson’s shrubs and trees was raised.

“75 Cleveland Lane was built long before anyone envisioned the road and sidewalk network of today’s Princeton,” said landscape architect Alan Goodheart in a letter to Council. “The currently planned sidewalk would require the elimination of the large specimen evergreen shrubs that flank the entryway to the main courtyard, [and] severely impact the small ground space presently available for the shallow roots of 4 very tall, needle evergreen tress.”

Concerning the shrubs — two Japanese Holly bushes — Councilman Kevin Wilkes said that he had spoken to a nurseryman at Kale’s and had been assured that they could be pruned and moved so as to make way for the sidewalk.

After the 5-1 vote rejecting Ms. Johnson’s proposal, Mr. Spadaccini was told that his request for a reduction of the width of the sidewalk from five to four feet would be considered.

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