Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 13
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
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In Zoning Discussion, Borough Contemplates University Requests for Arts, Education, Transit

Dilshanie Perera

Borough Council considered Princeton University’s proposed rezoning of the region at the intersection of Alexander Road and University Place at its meeting last week. Staff presented their perspective on zoning in the area and gained Borough input while Council members voiced their opinions on future development and the municipality’s relationship with the University.

With the current zoning in the Borough at the location encompassing the E1, E2, NB, and R3 zones, representatives from Princeton University have proposed that the Borough implement a new zone, the Arts Education Transit (AET) Zone, to blanket the area.

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi said that while the University’s original proposal entailed rezoning approximately four acres to the AET zone, under the Borough’s plan, only 1.4 acres would fall under the AET purview.

Municipal staff proposed that Council consider leaving the homes along Alexander Road as they are currently zoned, make the zoning around Forbes College consistent with that of Princeton Township (E2), and to also think about making the property surrounding McCarter and Berlind Theaters an E2 zone. “We’re restricting what we need to deal with,” Mr. Bruschi explained.

The AET zone would “permit educational, retail, and transit uses, and would permit outdoor dining as a conditional use,” Mr. Bruschi said, adding that staff is looking to make the AET zone in the Borough and Township as consistent as possible.

Questions posed to Council included whether a 10-foot building setback from the property line would be adequate and appropriate, whether there should be a minimum requirement for open space and public access, and whether the zone should articulate a minimum or maximum amount of commercial use. Parking is another issue to be considered within the area.

Council member Jenny Crumiller was in favor of commercial space within the zone, as was Roger Martindell, who characterized retail as providing a “symbiotic relationship.” Planning Director Lee Solow pointed out that as restaurant and retail spaces increase, more parking is required to be provided.

Mayor Mildred Trotman asked whether there was a standard for public accessibility, while Kevin Wilkes and Jo Butler both noted concern over the University’s proposed height allowances.

Mr. Martindell requested a list of benefits and impacts of the proposals and data to support the claims to further the discussion. Members of the public emphasized the importance of the Dinky.

Calling for Borough independence from the University, Ms. Butler pointed out that in the January 31 joint municipal meeting Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman had alluded to the possibility that the “PILOT payment was hanging in the balance.” She was referring to the payment in lieu of taxes that the University gives to the Borough yearly. The amount totals over $1 million and goes up for renegotiation at the end of 2011.

“This is not the only time we’ve heard that message,” Ms. Butler said, adding, “Whatever the $1 million is to the University, it is a critical part of our operating budget …. As we sit here simultaneously considering our budget and considering a zoning change, there is a very real chance the University would withdraw their $1 million.”

Ms. Butler suggested that while painful, the Borough should consider levying a tax on its citizens in order to free itself from the uncertainty of the University’s PILOT payment. “Financially, it is imprudent not to plan for the worst-case scenario,” she said.

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