To the Editor:
Last year, the Mayors of Princeton Township and Borough created a Princeton Health Care Task Force composed of themselves and other municipal officials to review the Medical Center's strategic plan and to "involve the community in decisions" about zoning and other changes that might best respond to that plan. In late January, the Medical Center trustees announced their decision to pursue relocation to a site, not yet identified, within five miles of Princeton. Among other factors, the decision reflects the reality that 84 percent of the hospital's patients do not live in Princeton. Soon thereafter, the Task Force issued a report which uncritically accepted the Medical Center's assessment of its expansion needs, even though the Task Force's independent consultant, Dr. Alan Sager, was unable to say that the plan was "sound" and believed that the hospital had not "made a compelling case" that extensive additions and rebuilding will bolster its competitive position. The report then proceeds to recommend a remarkable array of land use adjustments to accommodate the hospital whether it stays or leaves.
We are mystified by the report. The short term land use recommendations are in tension with the views of the independent consultant. The Task Force urges an expedited approval for 35,000 square feet of new on-site construction for current needs. Yet, Dr. Sager observed that "if relocation is inevitable," incremental spending would be "wasted" beyond the amount needed for safe and effective care. As for detail on the location and the purpose for the new construction, the report supplies none.
Perhaps the most perplexing recommendation, made over the dissents of three of its members, is one that calls for immediate preparation of master plan and zoning changes "just in case" the hospital cannot perfect its plans to relocate. Although the Task Force states that it cannot recommend "significant expansion into surrounding areas," the changes it endorses would permit precisely that. Its recommended zoning revisions would facilitate hospital expansion to the south, north, and east under plans that would close the Witherspoon side of Franklin Avenue, replace the affordable housing there with an expanded "J" wing, and eliminate the dwellings on the north side of Witherspoon Lane, replacing them with an access road and new laboratory and office space. In this picture are also two new garages a six-level garage for the Franklin parking lot and a multi-level garage on the Packet lot on Henry Avenue.
The Medical Center, to its credit, acknowledged to the Task Force that its in-town expansion plans would be "problematic" to its residential neighbors. Its decision to look for a larger site is a further and welcome recognition that a hospital which wishes to outgrow its community of origin should not do so simply by growing over that community. The appropriate response to that decision is not to reverse thirty years of land use policy which has protected residential neighborhoods at the heart of the Princeton public school system.
To the Editor:
Recently, the Princeton Health Care Task Force issued a report recommending changes to the zoning of the area around the hospital to allow for expansion, should the hospital determine that they can not complete their relocation plans.
The report states that there is an "immediate need for renovations and minor additions that will require an additional 35,000 square feet of new construction." If the hospital does not relocate, the Task Force endorses zoning changes that will allow a doubling of the existing hospital square footage, from roughly 500,000 to 1,000,000 square feet. This would entail displacement of the 20 units of affordable housing on Franklin Avenue, and the elimination of 11 homes on Harris Road, an office building on Witherspoon Street, and the recently renovated town homes on Witherspoon Lane. It would also include building a structured parking facility on Franklin Avenue. The plan would exchange several acres of tax paying commercial and residential properties for tax-exempt hospital use. The report does not address the parking, traffic, and other impacts on the surrounding community, or the question of where to build the 70 units of affordable housing that would be required by COAH due to this expansion.
The task force's own hired expert, Professor Alan Sager, notes in his report that the hospital has "not yet made a compelling case that extensive additions, rebuilding, or relocation or major programmatic changes will bolster the hospital's competitive position in the years ahead." Further, he states that the University Medical Center at Princeton has not "shown that these changes are essential to address unmet clinical needs in its service area."
Prof. Sager's findings beg the question: On what did the Task Force base its recommendations? Are these recommendations in the best interest of the community or of the hospital? By threatening to relocate and proposing to double its size, the hospital has made a 35,000 square foot expansion on an already overbuilt site seem like a reasonable compromise, but it is still too much for the neighborhood and should not be allowed.
To the Editor:
Two factors, among many, influenced Princeton Hospital's January decision to relocate: 84 percent of its patients reside outside Princeton, mostly from beyond Route 1. And other potential patients from that rapidly developing area prefer hospitals in New Brunswick or Trenton-Hamilton because it's quicker to drive there rather than into Princeton with its frequent student crossings on Washington Road and Alexander Street, and its congested business section traffic.
If instead of relocating the Hospital were to expand on its present site and even spill over onto Franklin and Henry Avenues, traffic concerns would be monumental.
Nevertheless, despite its decision to relocate, such expansion is exactly what Princeton Health Care Task Force (HCTF), a body created by the mayors of the Borough and Township, recommended. First, the Task Force advised zoning changes enabling the Hospital to add "35,000 square feet of new construction" on its present site. Where and how many stories would be involved, the Task Force did not say.
The recommendation disregards the opinion of Professor Alan Sager of the Boston University School of Health, whose expert opinion Princeton Borough and Township had solicited: "If relocation is inevitable, incremental and ad hoc spending (beyond the minimum needed to sustain safe and effective care until a new hospital is built) would be largely wasted."
The Task Force also advised expanding the Hospital zoning areas to include property the Hospital already owns: the Henry Avenue garage, the Franklin Avenue parking lot, and its Harris Road houses; and beyond, the Princeton Packet parking area, low-income rental housing units on Franklin, the office building on Witherspoon Street at Witherspoon Lane, and townhouses and apartments on Witherspoon Lane. The Task Force also contemplates the Borough's eventual vacating of Franklin between Harris Road and Witherspoon Street.
No mention is made of traffic: How many more cars and trucks will an expanding hospital engender? Nor is there any mention of the impact partially vacating Franklin would have on high school students who walk from their homes west of Witherspoon Street en route to the High School. Or on the younger children who use Henry Avenue on the way to Community Park School. Surely, the concerns of their many parents should have merited consideration.
Finally, there's no mention of the effect on the quality of life that this construction and expansion will have on the John Street neighborhood to the west and on the Carnahan-Harris-Henry-Jefferson-Moore Street neighborhoods to the east.
Let us hope that the Hospital abides by its decision to relocate, despite the recommendations of the Princeton Health Care Task Force which appear to be an open solicitation to it to reconsider.
Note: The following is a copy of an open letter sent to Judith Wilson, Superintendent, Princeton Regional Schools, and Anne Burns, President, Board of Education.
To the Editor:
Who in their right mind approved the school calendar for next year? It is the worst calendar I have ever seen. Were any of the parents or teachers consulted? I am the mother of three children currently attending Princeton schools and I wonder if any parents were allowed to provide input regarding the school calendar.
We have a week off in the second week of November! That's just when the momentum for the new school year is starting for the children and their families, and to break it up with a week away from school is ridiculous.
To return to school on September 8 is too late. Everyone's mind set is ready for "back to school" right after Labor Day; and then to have minimal days off from school during January, February, the entire month of March, and half of April provides for an extremely long haul for the children, teachers, and parents. Plus, those of us with summer plans have to stick around until June 20. We all know we will have snow delays so we'll be lucky to get out of town by the fourth of July.
This calendar is not set in stone and can be remedied. How about switching those unnecessary days off in November and letting us have some down time in February, when a break from the long tedious winter months and school would be much more appreciated and beneficial?
I don't know what process you folks used to conjure up this awful school calendar but I wish more thought had been given to spacing out our holidays more judiciously.
Please consider my concerns. Thank you.
MARY M. GALLAGHER
To the Editor:
During the month of February, organizations and institutions throughout Princeton choose from countless ways to celebrate the vast contributions that African-Americans have made to our community. At the Arts Council of Princeton, it made sense to commemorate Black History Month through the arts, with an exceptional program abounding in African and African-American cultural traditions.
We were delighted to welcome, first, Trenton-based African drummer, dancer, and storyteller Mwt Shekemet, who engaged audience members with musical call and response, African stories of morality in the vein of Br'er Rabbit, and a stunning drumming and dancing performance that prompted audience members to join her onstage. We also presented a portrait in video of celebrated tap dancer Howard "Sandman" Sims, courtesy of his son and daughter-in-law and the Sandman Sims Feet First Foundation. Finally, Princeton film scholar and archivist Bruce Lawton screened rarely seen black and white narrative short films of the 1930s starring Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and others singing and dancing up a storm.
We have many to thank, particularly the performers and artists who were kind enough to share their artistic gifts; the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission and the J. Seward Johnson Sr. 1963 Charitable Trust, the organizations that helped fund this program; members of our Neighborhood Advisory Committee for their planning advice and help in spreading word of the event; and the individuals from our neighborhood and the greater Princeton area who attended. To everyone who was involved in this and other joyous celebrations of Black History Month, you are both recognized and appreciated.
To the Editor:
Contrary to your front page article "Task Force Endorses PHCS Relocation" (Town Topics, February 16), the Princeton Health Care Task Force did not endorse the relocation of the Medical Center. This statement is not substantiated by the Task Force's final report. While some members of the Task Force may at various times have expressed their own opinions in support of a possible relocation, the Task Force as a whole did not. Indeed, the Task Force's recommendations, if implemented and acted upon, offer the Medical Center a realistic scenario for continued expansion on the site.
The Medical Center has chosen to move for reasons of its own. If the move proves impractical, the Task Force believes it has created the conditions that allow the Medical Center to stay and expand, in ways that would improve, not detract from, the surrounding neighborhood.
To the Editor:
The Spirit of Princeton will conduct the Disposal of Unserviceable Flags on June 14, Flag Day.
The ceremony creates a dignified and solemn occasion for the retirement of unserviceable flags. According to the Flag Code, "When a flag has served its useful purpose, it should be destroyed, preferably by burning. For individual citizens, this should be done discreetly so the act of destruction is not perceived as a protest of desecration."
If your American flag is old, torn, or moth-eaten, let The Spirit of Princeton dispose of it for you.
The drop-off box is located at The Flower Market, 26 1/2 Witherspoon Street. Or, bring it with you to the noon ceremony on June 14 at the Township Municipal Complex. Everyone is invited.
If you have any questions, please call (609) 683-4008 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and ask for Ray.
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