Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 18
 
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

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Downtown Redevelopment Contractor Defends Corrective Work on Project

ROBERT S. POWELL JR.
JACK MORRISON
Nassau HKT Urban Renewal Associates, LLC
Pine Street

First Aid & Rescue Squad Is Rescued by Fire Department's Hook & Ladder

PATRICK DEALMEIDA, President
FRANK SETNICKY, Director of Operations
Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad

Borough Expected Better Than It Got in Downtown Project, Says Councilman

ROGER MARTINDELL
Member, Princeton Borough Council
Prospect Avenue

Corner House Benefit Raised $80,000 to Fund Center's Treatment Services

THOMAS M. PINNEO
President, Corner House Foundation
GARY J. DeBLASIO
Corner House Executive Director

Lesson One from School Budget Vote: Cut Spending on Unneeded Amenities

JIM McKINNON
Edgerstoune Road

Lesson Two from School Budget Vote: Tax Borough and Township Differently

SCOTT SILLARS
Jefferson Road


Downtown Redevelopment Contractor Defends Corrective Work on Project

To the Editor:

Two recent letters to the editor from long-time opponents of Princeton's Downtown Redevelopment Project (Mark Alexandridis and Dudley Sipprelle) were so flawed in their facts and analysis that a response is needed to correct the record.

There is no question that the project was delayed as a result of the financial problems our general contractor experienced in 2005. But Nassau HKT, the Borough's partner in the development of the project, addressed those problems head on, and at its considerable financial expense. We posted $2 million in additional cash with the Borough in 2005 to protect the taxpayers from any of the risks associated with our contractor's problems. All the lawsuits with the subcontractors were settled by us last year. Contrary to Mr. Sipprelle's claim, we have always been, and remain, current on all land rent and tax payments to the Borough for Phase I of the project.

We experienced problems with water seepage in the lower level of the garage shortly after it opened in 2005, and immediately took steps to assess the cause of the problem and then paid from the developer's funds to have the problem corrected by installing additional anchor "tie downs" to stabilize the slab. While the corrective work was being done, we agreed with the Borough to defer the closing of the Tulane Street surface lot (and thus delay the start of our second residential building) to insure that the downtown would have sufficient parking during the period of the corrective action. The corrective work is nearing completion this week, and we anticipate the lower level of the garage will reopen to the public in the next several days. As additional protection to the Borough's taxpayers, we have agreed to provide the Borough with an extended warranty for the garage slab, secured by a cash bond.

Mr. Alexandridis would have Town Topics readers believe that during this period the garage was not self-supporting from project revenues, and that the taxpayers were subsidizing the development. In fact, as the Borough Administrator's recent financial report confirmed, the revenues from the garage, land rent for Witherspoon House (our first apartment building), and our payments in lieu of taxes for 2006 (the first full year of project operations) exceeded the operating costs and debt service for the new garage and plaza by $384,000.

And over the coming decades, the financial results of this project for the Borough's taxpayers are only going to get better. We are ready to break ground on the construction of our second building on Spring Street, which will contain 53 apartments (including 10 units reserved for low and moderate income tenants). When this final element of the project comes on line next year, it will generate an additional annual revenue stream to the Borough of $388,000, with escalations built into the agreement that will grow that figure substantially over the long term.

The opponents of the project several years ago predicted darkly that few people would actually use the new garage, that the project was too big and unattractive for the downtown, and that it would not pay its own way. We see now that all those arguments were wrong, and that the Mayor and Council which had the foresight to move forward with the development were correct in their vision for the next stage in the downtown development.

The garage, by all accounts, has been extremely well received by the public, and has dramatically eased the parking pressures historically experienced by residents and visitors. That structure, over the next 50 years, may well become one of the Borough's most valuable financial assets, as revenues continue to grow, but costs remain relatively flat.

The downtown project, of course, was more than just about addressing a parking problem or generating cash flow to the Borough. The new Public Library has been a resounding success, has received national acclaim, and is now a valued and integral part of the fabric of our downtown. Let's not forget that this magnificent new Library is here today in large part because the Mayor and Council took the tough steps five years ago to create the additional parking which was a pre-condition for the Library to remain in the central business district.

And the Plaza next to the Library has in many ways become the new center of town, especially on sunny spring and summer days, as hundreds of citizens and visitors gather there to talk, have a sandwich, and enjoy the views. (And yes, the pergola is finally on the way. After 18 months of wrangling over the removal of a telephone pole in its alignment, we are finally ready to install the final piece of this marvelous public space.)

We're proud of the results we have achieved downtown. We hit some rough spots two years ago, but we did not walk away. We have stood by our commitments to the Borough and are committed to the successful completion of the project.

ROBERT S. POWELL JR.
JACK MORRISON
Nassau HKT Urban Renewal Associates, LLC
Pine Street

First Aid & Rescue Squad Is Rescued by Fire Department's Hook & Ladder

To the Editor:

Last week's torrential rains wreaked havoc to area businesses and residents. The Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad was not immune to the storm's onslaught, and multiple leaks were detected in the Squad's headquarters on Sunday afternoon. All of the leaks were in crew quarters of the building, with the most serious requiring us to disconnect electrical power after water was found dripping through the electrical panel. With our building temporarily uninhabitable, the Squad's crews needed an alternative location to stage between the numerous calls for assistance we received on Sunday and Monday.

Princeton Fire Department's Hook and Ladder graciously extended the use of their building and apparatus bay for our crew and first-line ambulance. Hook and Ladder welcomed us into their home, and extended our crews full use of their computers and bunk rooms. In addition, they offered the Squad the ability to hold its general membership meeting in their meeting room.

The Squad extends its sincerest appreciation to Hook and Ladder for the hospitality they provided us during our time of need. Having a warm dry place to stay between calls was a huge asset for our busy crews during this disaster.

PATRICK DEALMEIDA, President
FRANK SETNICKY, Director of Operations
Princeton First Aid & Rescue Squad

Borough Expected Better Than It Got in Downtown Project, Says Councilman

To the Editor:

In response to Dudley Sipprelle's recent letter (Town Topics, April 18), I suggest that if we stick to discussion of the issues we will have a useful and much-needed debate.

Only by focusing on the issues will we encourage those in charge of the information flow to share their information, improve the quality of the decision making in Borough Hall, help the public follow and participate in the debate, and prevent Borough taxpayers from digging even deeper into their wallets than they are now.

I was the sole member of the governing body to vote against the initial development agreement and to vote against its refinancing in 2006, yet I had no philosophical opposition to the downtown development or the developer. I simply thought the Borough could get a better development agreement than it did.

Now, as we approach Phase 2 of the project, I am committed to help the Borough negotiate more aggressively with the developer than it has in the past. Why? Because it is clear that the completion of our downtown development is in everybody's interest. But the development agreements reached so far have not produced what the Borough expected and deserved.

So, how do we go about negotiating Phase 2 of the project?

In my view, negotiations about Phase 2 should not be completed until, among other things, the present developer meets its Phase 1 obligations, including the payment of overdue rent to the Borough. Phase 2 negotiations should not proceed with our taxpayers paying Borough attorneys to assist the developer in its refinancing efforts while the taxpayers are simultaneously paying Borough attorneys to defend the Borough against the developer's lawsuit. Further, negotiation with the present developer should be held in the context of considering other developers to complete the project. Competition hones better deals.

But whatever negotiating strategies we adopt, it would be helpful if those who share these concerns would address the issues and avoid invective.

I voice this concern not to protect any office holder who has any responsibility for the development. I do so in recognition of the fact that there are four votes on the Borough governing body that need to be won to authorize commencement of Phase 2. It will be more difficult to win those votes unless the debate centers on issues. The debate we should have is not just about election politics. It is about the future of our town.

ROGER MARTINDELL
Member, Princeton Borough Council
Prospect Avenue

Corner House Benefit Raised $80,000 to Fund Center's Treatment Services

To the Editor:

We would like to acknowledge the hard work and broad community support that resulted in a very successful event to benefit Corner House Counseling Center on April 10, 2007 at McCarter Theatre. Board members of the Corner House Foundation, along with corporate and individual donors, enjoyed a festive reception followed by a sold-out, crowd-pleasing concert by Princeton native, Mary Chapin Carpenter. The event raised $80,000 for much-needed, accessible, and affordable substance abuse prevention and treatment services for students and families in the Greater Princeton area.

Benefit co-chairs Marie Burnett, Candice Walsh, and Carol Weg did an outstanding job of organizing the event, with help from the benefit committee. Special thanks go to Tillie's Nassau Street Caterers, Megan Johnston and Christine Murray at McCarter Theatre, and LeFleur Princeton Flower Shop.

Corporate sponsors for the event include President's Circle members McCain Foods Limited and PNC Wealth Management. Supporters are Bloomberg; N.T. Callaway Real Estate, LLC; Coleman's Hamilton Building Supply Co.; Fox Rothschild LLP; Latent Technology Group, LLC; Mason, Griffin & Pierson, P.C.; G. R. Murray Insurance; Nexus Properties; Pinneo Construction; and the Yedlin Company.

Community Partners are Ronald Berlin Architect, PC; Cardinal Partners; Domanski Plumbing Heating & Cooling Inc.; Dr. Lekha Tull; Hedy Shepard, LTD; Hillier Architecture; Nick Hilton Princeton; Peter Clayton; and PS Books.

Funds raised through the annual benefit help provide essential services at Corner House Counseling Center, located at 369 Witherspoon Street. Each and every day, Corner House connects to the community through effective prevention, education, treatment, counseling, peer leadership, and peer modeling programs. We are proud of our 35-year legacy of helping teens deal with substance abuse and other emotional issues, and thank everyone who supported this year's benefit for being a part of our success.

THOMAS M. PINNEO
President, Corner House Foundation
GARY J. DeBLASIO
Corner House Executive Director

Lesson One from School Budget Vote: Cut Spending on Unneeded Amenities

To the Editor:

In commenting on the recent defeat of the school budget, Superintendent of Schools, Judith Wilson attributed the loss to "the frustration of the New Jersey taxpayers." I believe she was being disingenuous. In fact, 78 percent of the school budgets in the state were approved, the highest in many years. This was a protest by Princeton taxpayers saying "enough, no more."

Does maintaining "the Princeton difference" imply a blank check? The proposed budget for 2007-08 at $16,966 per pupil is 20 percent higher than the $14,098 actually expended last year ('05-'06) and 35 percent higher than West Windsor-Plainsboro and the state average. Interestingly, a smaller than average percentage of the budget is actually allocated to classroom instruction, while allocating 50 percent more than the state average for the combination of support services, operation and maintenance, and extra-curricular activities.

Ms. Wilson seems to believe that the solution resides in Trenton, but this too is disingenuous. The money has to come from taxpayers one way or another and, as she said, "every taxpayer in New Jersey has limits." Is it realistic to believe that taxpayers or legislators statewide will be more willing than Princeton residents to support one of the most extravagant school systems in the state?

The only remedy is for the School Board to rein in expenditures and concentrate on the real needs of the school system rather than the amenities; in short, better management of the resources available.

JIM McKINNON
Edgerstoune Road

Lesson Two from School Budget Vote: Tax Borough and Township Differently

To the Editor:

I have two issues with respect to our recently-defeated school budget.

First, with respect to the Borough, our ratables are going down and our school population is going up, according to Superintendent Judith Wilson's March 28 Budget Newsletter. The Borough's "no" vote on the budget is a strong indication that its residents can no longer afford excellence at this price. On the other hand, the wealthier Princeton Township, with its larger student population and growing ratables, voted in favor of the budget. Either the Township should settle for a budget that the Borough residents can afford or they should opt to pay more on a per-pupil basis. On the other hand, we could consolidate the Township and Borough and both save lots of money elsewhere.

Second, The School Board should take its "Focus on Excellence" phrase to heart in crafting the budget and communicating with the taxpayer. Their eight-page March 28 glossy mailing was an affront to those of us who would like to "be well informed about the public school budget," to use Superintendent Wilson's phrase — long on pictures and pabulum and short on budget details. Opaqueness is usually used to hide the truth whereas transparency is a sign of honesty. The School Board would serve its community and students well to adopt the following practices:

Enumerate the details of its budget in plain English, using per-employee, per-teacher, and per-student metrics, trending several years and benchmarking against other districts in order to demonstrate the core discipline that went into the budgeting process;

Hold public information sessions at the Public Library at several convenient, well-published times to explain its budget to the community;

Finally, to again quote Superintendent Wilson, since the budgetary "challenges are not much different from yours as you manage your home," do what households must do: live within your means. Proposing a 9-plus percent increase in salaries and benefits as this budget does is over the top. It makes me wonder if this year's budget is being padded in anticipation of next year's legislated four percent cap.

SCOTT SILLARS
Jefferson Road

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