Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 20
 
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
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Arguments, Counter-Arguments Continue in Debate Over Downtown Redevelopment

(3 letters)

Fire Department's Emergency Assistance After Flooding Produces Mixed Reviews

(2 Letters)

Eye-Opening State Survey Documents Excessive Costs of Princeton Schools

LAURENCE B. GLASBERG
Herrontown Road

Mayor and Borough Council Applauded for Albert E. Hinds Plaza Designation

(2 letters)


Arguments, Counter-Arguments Continue in Debate Over Downtown Redevelopment

To the Editor:

As the recipient of a double volley (Town Topics Mailbox, May 2) from Borough Council member Roger Martindell and the downtown redevelopment project developers regarding my April 18 letter, I am compelled to respond. My letter called into question the council's decision-making process and the developers' performance. It's to be expected that Borough voters' recent rejection of the school budget and an upcoming election would cause parties involved in the fuzzily financed and protracted redevelopment project to react defensively.

In their attempt to rationalize questionable performance, the developers claim that I am a long-time opponent of the project. The fact is that I have not previously expressed an opinion on the project. I am not opposed to the project per se, but object to the lack of public input and transparency that led to the current situation. It is further stated that I wrongly claimed that the developers were behind in their rent payments. Fact: I was quoting from an earlier letter from Mr. Martindell, and he ought to know.

However one slices it, income from garage parking has not been what was originally anticipated at this point, and the project itself is seriously behind schedule. I believe the interests of taxpayers would best be served by stopping the project in its tracks. The situation calls for a thorough and transparent reexamination of the arrangements made with the developer before proceeding further. The Borough administrator was recently quoted as stating "it's not black and white — there's a lot of gray area" in the Borough contract with the developers. Why? Who could draw up and sign off on such a mushy document? That's not a contract; it's a recipe for dispute, litigation, give-away to the developers, and lost revenue. Who is responsible? Neither the Borough government nor the developers have served taxpayers well in this instance.

Library parking patrons, at least, should be heartened by the developers' rosy projections of financial revenue from the project. Along with the developers' promise of imminent availability of additional parking spots in the garage's heretofore soggy lower level, it would seem that revisiting free parking for library users may be justified.

Mr. Martindell characterized my letter as "invective" rather than issue-oriented. I cited criticism of the project voiced by Mr. Martindell himself in an earlier letter, and I suggested that the Council was remiss in allowing the project to get bogged down and not keeping taxpayers fully informed. I believe that the manner in which Borough Council arrives at its decision making is a legitimate issue for public debate. Mr. Martindell seems to suggest that if critics just keep quiet and remain happily in the dark, everything will turn out fine. The taxpayers have already been down that road.

The problem as evidenced by both the developers and Council member is that they equate criticism of a poorly executed and financially unsound project and their roles in the outcome as unwarranted and unfair. But that's not how open government and democracy should work. At the end of the day, someone must be accountable.

DUDLEY SIPPRELLE
Nassau Street


To the Editor:

The recent letter to the editor by Nassau HKT principals Powell and Morrison on the downtown redevelopment project deserves a response, as it misrepresents the financial impact of the myriad of issues that have plagued the effort and wrongly characterizes my intentions.

I reaffirm the accuracy of my analysis and direct Mr. Powell and Mr. Morrison to study more carefully the March 5, 2007 financial report released by the Borough Administrator. For completeness, the original cash flow projections anticipated cumulative net revenue of $725,000 over the first four years of the project. The realized cashflows, however, total $1,237,000, a gross violation of the revenue neutral covenant between the public and Borough Council.

This represents a $1,961,000 deficit relative to projections and a total subsidy from Borough taxpayers of $1,237,000. And the expected payments from the developer to the Borough over this same period were expected to be $1,950,000. Nassau HKT was only able to compensate the Borough with $860,000 because of its unwillingness and/or inability to execute the project. Quite simply, 1.2 percent of the last four tax hikes can be attributed to the project.

The analysis is publicly available. The above interpretation of these figures has been shared in public session with Borough Council and was undisputed. Nassau HKT's failure to acknowledge the fact that the two properties were previously revenue generating assets is, at a minimum, disappointing.

My initial opposition to the project stems not from an aversion to improving downtown, but rather from: (1) the murky circumstances surrounding the inexplicable non-competitive award of the project to Nassau HKT and the PILOT designation, and (2) the contractual economics that have, from inception, generously favored Nassau HKT at the expense of Borough taxpayers. Couple these concerns with years of delays, frivolous litigation, a defective parking facility, and the aforementioned loss of revenue, and what you have is a deeply distraught resident with little recourse.

Borough Council needs to seize control of this project, negotiate more actively on the taxpayers' behalf to resolve the outstanding phase one issues, and seek more favorable terms for the remaining phases of the project — either with or without Nassau HKT.

It should also be noted that in the development/contracting business, in contrast to the investment business, past performance is an excellent predictor of future performance.

MARK G. ALEXANDRIDIS
Princeton Avenue


To the Editor:

In sorting out the various claims regarding the status of Princeton's downtown redevelopment project, it is clear that the project to date has resulted in something far more valuable and attractive than the parking lot that once was there. Several other conclusions can also be fairly reached.

The developer is years late in completing Phase 1 of the project;

The Borough has received hundreds of thousands of dollars less than it anticipated from the developer, both in land rents and other payments; and

The cost of the project to date has substantially exceeded original estimates, including the cost of building and operating the garage and administering the project as a whole.

In connection with negotiating Phase 2 of the project, which is the construction of 77 residential units and a commercial space in the current Tulane Street parking lot, there are a number of issues about which the Borough should be very careful. They are:

Obtaining from the developer payment of its overdue obligations to the Borough;

Ensuring that the developer, before breaking ground on Phase 2, provides the Borough with sufficient security that it will meet its Phase 1 and Phase 2 obligations;

Not acceding to the developer's request for additional parking in the municipal garage dedicated to the developer's use, absent adequate additional consideration to the Borough; and

Conducting a thorough and transparent review of the negotiations so that Borough taxpayers have confidence that they have not bailed out the developer.

The negotiations would result in a better deal for the Borough if the Borough were willing to consider making the completion of the development open to competition from entities other than the present developer.

ROGER MARTINDELL
Member, Borough Council
Prospect Avenue

Fire Department's Emergency Assistance After Flooding Produces Mixed Reviews

To the Editor:

Thank you, to so many members of the Princeton community who assisted me during the time my family was evacuated from our home due to flooding from the Nor'easter.

Particular recognition is due the Princeton Fire Department, specifically members of Station 62, who pumped water from my basement for two consecutive nights. Thank you to the Urisko family, Jeff Bergman, and Lori Simon for all of their extraordinary efforts on my behalf. Many thanks go to the Moran family for their hospitality. Special thanks go to the Kleinbart family for their unwavering friendship and remarkable support. Additionally, so many neighbors and friends offered their homes and their assistance to me and I am thankful for their caring. I am deeply appreciative of all that has been done for my family during this difficult time.

ROBIN HAUER
Dodds Lane


To the Editor:

Following the recent deluge in Princeton, which left many homes flooded, and a state of emergency declared throughout the State, I discovered ten inches of water in my basement, an unprecedented occurrence for that site in the Township. As a result, my furnace was knocked out and the house deprived of all heat and hot water for over two days.

On Monday, I heard a rumor that the Fire Department was helping citizens pump out their basements and so I called them. They promptly sent two firemen who checked to see that no gas or electric hazards were present in the basement. However, they didn't utter a word about pumping it out. I assumed that the rumor was baseless. However, I heard it mentioned again and called the Fire Department again. This time I enquired about having the basement pumped out and was told by the male voice on the other end of the line that the Department was not pumping out basements "at this time." I asked what that meant, and was told that there was a list of 150 basements to be pumped out and priorities had to be assigned. He told me in deadpan fashion that I should call again if I developed an additional ten inches of water in my basement.

I tried to call the Fire Department again the next day to see if I could get on the list. Alas, there was no answer. I was able to contact the Township Administrator who referred me to Borough Hall, which, she said, was supposed to be coordinating Fire Department activities for both municipalities. Unfortunately, Borough officials didn't seem to know this. The Borough referred me to their Fire Safety Department, which seemed totally unaware of their coordinating role. I was then referred to the Borough Police who denied that the Borough was coordinating the relief effort, and I was referred to the Township Police, firmly and impatiently. The Township Police dispatcher informed me that he would take my name. When I asked what I might expect next he became exasperated. The County was coordinating the effort, he said, and he had no further information about the matter.

That the Township Police Department knew nothing about the flood relief effort being coordinated by the County of Mercer seemed to pose no irony for him. Frustrated, I called the Township Mayor's office. That office had no information about the relief effort. However, the Mayor's spokeswoman was rather pleasant, keenly aware of the irony of her ignorance, apologetic, and the most empathetic of the long list of officials with whom I had spoken.

This post-9/11, post-Katrina farce was worthy of the most impoverished Third World country. So much for disaster preparedness in Princeton, in the era of global warming and terror.

GERALD GROVES
Cherry Hill Road

Eye-Opening State Survey Documents Excessive Costs of Princeton Schools

Editor's Note: The writer of the following letter is a former Mayor of Princeton Township.

To the Editor:

Like many of my fellow citizens, I have watched with concern as school taxes have rapidly grown over the years, far exceeding the growth in the Consumer Price Index. For example, school taxes grew more than 47 percent during the six-year period 2000-2006, despite an increase in State aid to our School District of 35 percent, while the CPI went up approximately 18 percent over that time.

I've noted recent comments made by others on this matter. Some suggest that the real issue driving taxes higher is a lack of adequate funding support from the State. Others seem to feel that these cost increases are simply reflective of the investment required to achieve outstanding educational results. I believe that there is another factor at play as well. We have a significant school cost problem and it is largely a result of decisions made locally. The solution to this must be found in Princeton.

I recently benchmarked the Princeton Regional School District's cost structure to those of other districts, both in Mercer County and surrounding areas, using the annual New Jersey School Report Card. Available via the Internet, this database has information comparing all State school districts in a number of key areas. The attributes I looked at included the cost of educating one student for a year, the number of administrators as compared to the student population, and the cost of non-classroom support services.

The Report Card shows:

The Princeton Regional School District has the highest cost per student of all school districts in Mercer County. Princeton also has the highest cost per student as compared to outstanding school districts in neighboring counties. Princeton's costs are substantially higher than the average for all school districts in the State.

In Princeton the cost per student was $14,645 in 2005, which was 16 percent higher than West Windsor/Plainsboro ($12,653), 10 percent higher than Hopewell ($13,335), 43 percent higher than Montgomery ($10,261), 26 percent higher than South Brunswick ($11,645), 25 percent higher than Bridgewater/Raritan ($11,750), and 29 percent higher than Bernards ($11,328).

Princeton Regional has the largest number of administrators relative to the student population of all school districts in Mercer County, neighboring outstanding school districts, and the State average.

Princeton had 149 students per administrator in 2005. This was 28 percent more administrative staff than West Windsor, 26 percent more than Montgomery, 9 percent more than South Brunswick, 47 percent more than Bridgewater/Raritan, and 30 percent more than Bernards. The only school district that had a similar administrative burden was Hopewell, which recently announced a reduction in administrative staff.

In the area of non-classroom support services (social work, health, guidance, library), costs at Princeton Regional far exceed those in neighboring communities, including outstanding school districts. These costs were 50 percent higher than West Windsor/Plainsboro, twice as high as Montgomery, 88 percent higher than South Brunswick, 54 percent higher than Hopewell, and 41 percent higher than the State average, among others.

The indicators are clear. We need to do a better job in getting our school costs under control, while maintaining an outstanding educational program. The residents of this community should expect a better return on our educational investment.

LAURENCE B. GLASBERG
Herrontown Road

Mayor and Borough Council Applauded for Albert E. Hinds Plaza Designation

To the Editor:

Princeton has honored another native son, a son of a former slave, who was born on Witherspoon Street, worshipped and attended school on Witherspoon Street, and lived his life as a humanitarian and advocate for the rights of all people. The similarities of Paul Robeson and Albert Edward Hinds are extraordinary.

Mr. Hinds touched the lives of countless residents and non-residents of Princeton. He made it possible for vehicles and pedestrians to travel on a paved Nassau Street; for Edgar Palmer to have uninfested wood for the buildings at Palmer Square; for young children to learn about their community and to value their education; for university students to receive first-hand Princeton history for their research papers; for senior citizens to learn how to play bridge and to keep physically fit through his teachings; for reporters and researchers to converse with him about 100+ years of his life; and for the Princeton community to appreciate his wisdom, friendship, humor, and independence.

Five years ago, when I proposed that a building, square, or street be named after Mr. Hinds, the suggestion was endorsed by many Princeton residents. My rationale for requesting that the square adjacent to the Princeton Public Library be named after Mr. Hinds was to honor a native Princetonian, to recognize his contributions over 90 years of service to the Princeton Community, and to pay tribute to a resident who was a true historian of the Princeton community. Naming the Library square after Mr. Hinds is a way to join and bond the obvious division between uptown (now called downtown) Princeton and the Witherspoon-Jackson Community, and to honor an ordinary man who has done more for our town than any president, diplomat, or famous person in Princeton.

I wish to publicly thank Mayor Mildred Trotman, Mrs. Wendy Benchley who gave her unconditional endorsement, and the three other members of Borough Council who voted "Yes." To all those who gave their support, I thank you. I also thank the Historical Society of Princeton for agreeing to rename the walking tour of the Witherspoon-Jackson Community the "Albert E. Hinds Memorial Walking Tour of African American Life in Princeton."

Mr. Hinds would often end his conversations with the phrase, "Keep breathing." As long as we keep breathing, we and our descendants will forever remember Mr. Albert Edward Hinds.

SHIRLEY A. SATTERFIELD
Quarry Street


To the Editor:

On Tuesday, April 24, Princeton Borough Council officially designated the public plaza next to the Princeton Public Library The Albert E. Hinds Community Plaza.

Perhaps you signed the petition, wrote a letter, or appeared at a Borough Council meeting urging the plaza designation. Perhaps you called a neighbor encouraging him or her to persevere in the effort. Whatever your participation was, we sincerely appreciate it. A special thanks is extended to the four Council members who voted in favor of the designation. To Councilman David Goldfarb who dissented, and Councilman Roger Martindell who abstained, we trust that you will join us in enjoying the Albert E. Hinds Community Plaza together.

JAMES FLOYD
Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association

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