Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 9
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
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Borough Joining Arts and Transit Talks With University, Township Representatives

Dilshanie Perera

Negotiations concerning Princeton University’s Arts and Transit Neighborhood proposal are slated to move forward following the Borough’s unanimous vote approving the “Alexander Corridor/Arts and Transit Joint Task Force” that will include members from Borough Council, Township Committee, and Princeton University.

Representing the two governments in the talks are Roger Martindell and Kevin Wilkes from the Borough, and Chad Goerner and Bernie Miller from the Township. The municipal administrators will also represent staff at the meetings.

Discussions are to last no more than 60 days, upon which the University will continue seeking alternate locations for its Steven Holl-designed arts center.

At the meeting, Council member Jo Butler noted that she “fully supported” conversations with the University, but added, “I worry that a joint conversation does not do enough to protect the interests of Borough residents.” She urged the municipal representatives to clearly delineate the costs and benefits of the plan for each municipality, as well as elucidate those jointly shared.

Mr. Martindell endorsed Ms. Butler’s comments, saying that he “would work to negotiate on behalf of Council,” as well as “outline pros and cons.” He characterized the Arts and Transit proposal as one that would have “a significant impact on the community.”

“I think there are going to be significant infrastructure issues that arise in this particular negotiation,” Mr. Martindell added, emphasizing, “I hope and expect we’ll resolve it favorably to the interests of Borough residents.”

The Task Force has committed itself to evaluating community benefits; analyzing resulting “opportunities and impacts” the project would create for the Borough and Township in the areas of parking, pedestrian use of the space, bicycle and vehicle traffic, and public and private mass transit options.

Additionally, the group will make a report to both governing bodies, recommending whether or not to okay the zoning changes requested by the University that are the first set of approvals necessary to move the project forward. Periodic reports will be made at open public meetings of Council and Committee.

The creation of the task force follows a contentious joint meeting on January 31 during which Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman requested that the municipalities indicate either their support or refusal to grant zoning changes for the proposed plan, which would relocate the Dinky terminus 460 feet away from the downtown into an enclosed station. The “transit hub” would allow for drop off, parking, shuttle pick up, and secure bicycle storage. In addition, the area at the intersection of Alexander Road and University Place would be redesigned to alter traffic flow with roundabouts and a pedestrian crossing light. The arts center would be located between the Dinky station and McCarter Theater.

During the January meeting, Ms. Tilghman noted that the plan’s proposed move of the Dinky station was nonnegotiable. After members of Borough Council expressed their approval of the arts portion of the plan, together with their simultaneous concern over the Dinky’s move, they said they were unable to provide support at the meeting. Township Committee decided to stand with their municipal counterparts.

Following the meeting, representatives from the University said that they were scrapping the Arts and Transit Plan and asking the University architect to look for alternate locations for the arts center, but negotiations were reopened following efforts by each of the parties to engage in talks.

While the University remains firm in its decision to move the Dinky terminus, Director of Community and Regional Affairs Kristin Appelget did mention at a meeting of the Environmental Commission last week that increasing free Tiger Transit shuttle bus routes to the station and linking it to other forms of transportation through the town is “a conversation that the University desperately wants to have with local leaders.”

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