AND AMY LANSKY
To the Editor:
The public should be concerned about the process the Princeton Regional Planning Board is taking to address the master plan and zoning issues that have resulted from the University Medical Center's decision to leave its current site and build a new medical campus. There are two problematic areas: 1) lack of transparency and the potential for inappropriate influence upon the Planning Board, and 2) the efficacy of decisions about zoning and land use by members of the Board who participated in the Health Care Task Force (HCTF) and who will vote on matters of enormous importance to the community.
The Health Care Task Force conducted four public meetings at which members of the community expressed their ideas and thoughts about the hospital's leaving. The Health Care Task Force also held 11 additional meetings that were not open to the public. The content of these discussions, and who was in attendance, cannot be determined because no minutes were taken. It is therefore difficult to determine if entities other than the hospital, that may have a personal or financial interest in the outcome of the redevelopment and zoning of the hospital site, have had undue influence. Did the HCTF conduct private meetings with representatives of Princeton University or architects and developers in arriving at its conclusions and recommendations to the Planning Board, Borough, and Township?
In the public's interest, members of the Princeton Regional Planning Board who served on the Health Care Task Force should be recused from the deliberations and voting on the changes to the Master Plan regarding the hospital site. Their participation by fact of their having served on the HCTF and having arrived at conclusions and recommendations about the hospital site cannot be without prejudice or bias. Their having participated in non-public meetings with parties interested in the hospital site increases the likelihood that these members' opinions and judgments have been unduly influenced.
To the Editor:
With the adoption of Princeton Borough's 2005 Municipal Budget, Mayor and Council have fulfilled a pledge made last year, and have set a course for greater fiscal stability in the future. While I respect Councilman Roger Martindell's choice to oppose the budget for what he calls a "narrow reason" (that Mayor and Council have not yet required of the library a timetable for when its endowment will begin to offset operational costs), I chose to support the budget because I believe it meets important policy goals.
Last year's budget was hotly debated, as well it should have been. It contained a 12.5 cent property tax increase. But in the course of that debate, Mayor and Council made a pledge that we would keep the overall budget for 2005 lower than 2004. This was a real challenge, and some doubted it would be possible. But through staff reductions and other cost-cutting measures, we have achieved that goal. Our Borough staff deserves much credit for continuing to provide the level of service residents expect and deserve, while recognizing the burden rapidly rising property taxes place on our community.
Additionally, the 2005 budget goes a long way toward fulfilling the long-term policy of building a surplus that will stabilize our tax rate. When the Borough was hit with unexpected costs in 2004, it had nowhere to turn but higher property taxes. Our "rainy day fund," our surplus, was so depleted as to provide little relief. Our budget is riddled with uncertainty: state aid and grants that may not come, projected fees we may not collect, insurance costs that may rise unexpectedly. That is why I believe when we set taxes at the lowest possible rate, at the expense of building our surplus, we play dice with the people's money. Better, I believe, to build our surplus to a level adequate to cover unexpected costs by setting the lowest responsible tax rate, which I believe the 2005 budget does.
So let's stay focused on priorities. While I believe the library must fulfill its commitment to build an endowment to offset operating expenses, let's not let that discussion overshadow the larger achievement of the 2005 budget. Mayor and Council kept their promises to hold down expenditures, and set a course for greater tax stability in the future. Let's continue our work to preserve a Princeton where everyone, regardless of means, can afford to live.
To the Editor:
In response to Mr. Hillier's tentative plans for the hospital site, we, residents of the hospital neighborhood, feel that the plans are designed with the community in mind but miss the mark in several important ways.
Of course, all interested parties fully understand that Princeton HealthCare System (PHCS) needs to get the best value for its land, and that maximal occupancy and density bring economies of scale to potential buyers. Mr. Hillier's plan to aim the housing in the current hospital building at "empty nesters" is clever, as it will increase the Borough's tax base without adding additional strain on the school system while addressing the community's request for senior housing. His plans for mixed-use sites, neighborhood stores, public parks, and open space are also appreciated, as they speak to points made by the community in recent public meetings.
However, Mr. Hillier's plans fail to address the residual impact that the added density will have on the surrounding community's atmosphere.
First, the plans call for the surface parking lot on Franklin Avenue to be converted to between 30 and 56 market rate units in addition to the 280 additional units in the hospital building itself, bringing potentially hundreds of additional cars and a steady river of traffic. This massive increase in traffic will flood the streets around the hospital, including Harris, Jefferson, Moore, Franklin, and Henry at all hours of the day and night. None of these roads is currently wide enough to support the already significant volume of traffic that travels them daily.
Second, to accommodate our new neighbors, it is easily imaginable that traffic signals will be installed at the corner of Franklin and Witherspoon, and at the corner of Franklin and Jefferson, effectively making Franklin Avenue a traffic funnel into the neighborhood. Franklin Avenue is currently a pedestrian artery, followed by our school children on their way to Princeton High School, John Witherspoon, and Community Park schools. Increased traffic flow will not only be unpleasant and inconvenient for residents and drivers, it will be dangerous for pedestrians.
We understand that PHCS's interest is in rezoning its land to be as profitable and attractive to potential developers as possible. We further understand that the Township's and the Borough's interests are aligned with PHCS, in that more owners and residents will contribute much needed tax revenue. However, to rezone or develop the land in such a way that it destroys the quality of life in a quiet, residential neighborhood is not simply impolitic, it's un-neighborly. We ask that the Borough, the Township, and PHCS (a) reconsider developing on the Franklin surface lot, and (b) create alternate traffic patterns to ease the strain on a neighborhood unequipped to deal with traffic volume 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
AND AMY LANSKY
To the Editor:
Something new and wonderful has come to Princeton under the banner of the New Jersey Opera Theater. The performance of II Trovatore in concert at Richardson on Friday, May 6, was more than spectacular, with stars from the Metropolitan Opera, a 55-piece orchestra, and a chorus under the leadership of Maestro Michael Recchiuti, a seasoned opera conductor who has conducted companies in Venice and other European and American venues. When one can not only follow the story line in Italian with no prompts but is kept on the edge of his seat for the whole performance it can only mean that one is in the presence of overwhelming talent. And overwhelming it was, with the likes of Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs as Leonora, Allan Glassman as Manrico, Peter Castaldi as Conte di Luna, and Eugenie Grunwald playing the gypsy Azucena.
This company has scheduled Figaro, Barber of Seville, and Cherebin with costumes, staging, and a full orchestra for this coming August in the Berlind Theatre. If the quality of these productions is anywhere near what we saw at Richardson, Princeton is in for opera rivaling that seen in New York and Philadelphia.
Perhaps the most incredible part is that this new company was founded just three years ago by Scott and Lisa Altman, both seasoned performers but neither of whom had run an organization like the New Jersey Opera Theater. Yes, I know they had assistance from a board and some helpers, but it was the Altmans who provided the drive and the inspiration for the project.
We are blessed to have such talent and devotion.
To the Editor:
Editor's Note: The following is an open letter to members of the Regional Planning Board of Princeton.
The Planning Board has scheduled a public meeting for May 26 to discuss the future usage and suitable zoning of the Merwick property after its intended sale by the Princeton Medical Center to an as yet unknown new owner. Because personal obligations prevent me from attending the meeting, I would like to present my comments and suggestions here.
The Merwick property includes nine acres of land. The present building is considered outdated and should be demolished. Second thoughts should be given to the possible preservation of some historic parts of the building and its chapel. Most of the Merwick property is open land and contains some beautiful old trees.
Considering Princeton's functioning as a community, what is the Merwick area specifically suited for and what are the community's greatest functional needs?
I propose that tax income, low income housing, and housing for seniors within our community are the greatest needs. Preservation of the historic character of our community is important, too. I propose that the Merwick property is specifically suited for senior housing. I propose that it can be subdivided such that some of the old trees are preserved, possibly with the creation of a gardening area. A walking connection to the downtown areas should be created, and about five or six acres set aside for mixed density senior housing, yielding possibly as many as 50 to 60 units for different levels of income and need.
We presently marginalize our seniors. The well-to-do can move to Montgomery's Stonebridge. The low income seniors can go to Elm Court, too far from downtown for walking. The middle income seniors must move a large distance from Princeton. This is functionally undesirable for a healthy community and unfair. Senior living within walking distance to the center of town is necessary for all levels of income.
The proximity of the proposed senior living area to downtown the YMCA, the library, Princeton University, restaurants, shops, the Arts Center, McCarter Theatre, and many other cultural activities is strikingly attractive.
In sum, I propose that the Merwick property be zoned for 14-units-per-acre maximum density, restricted for senior housing, all taxable.
An implementation of the proposed concept should offer a variety of senior living arrangements, from low-income studio apartments to two-bedroom market rate accommodations. A central office for a nurse or emergency medical assistance would be desirable. Parking should preferably be underground.
A purchase of the property by Princeton University and restriction of its usage to University purposes at worst, tax exempt is undesirable for our community.
To the Editor:
Although further details are still to be defined, we wish to express our initial favorable reaction to the thoughtful plans outlined by the Hillier firm for mixed use of the current University Medical Center at Princeton site should the hospital move from its current location.
The Hillier proposal incorporates a continuing-care retirement community including "independent," "assisted living," and "nursing care" which would allow seniors to "age in place." Seniors would also be able to walk to many in-town facilities rather than having to drive from a more remote location.
This proposal contrasts with a current one put forth by the Hovnanian company to build "age restricted" senior units. These units would not have the benefit of the onsite continuing-care medical facilities of the Hillier proposal to allow seniors to remain in place as their medical conditions change from "independent" status. In addition, the Hovnanian plan would be more remotely located on Bunn Drive on the Princeton Ridge, necessitating motor vehicle trips for all offsite requirements. It would also require the destruction of a 1,700 tree woodland fostering increased flooding and other environmental degradation, whereas the Hillier plan makes practical use of existing structures.
One item missing from the Hillier plan is provision for a free standing medical clinic/emergency facility, similar to the one now maintained by the hospital, for all Princeton residents who could experience difficulty traveling to the Medical Center's new location. Such a facility was endorsed in the report of the recent ad hoc Princeton Healthcare Task Force. The Medical Arts Building, proposed by Hillier for demolition, would be an ideal site for such a clinic, which would also be of great benefit for residents of any continuing-care retirement community.
In general, however, we wish to commend the Hillier company for its proposal.
To the Editor:
Is it time to resurrect an economic Plainsboro-Princeton Dinky?
I have long been a proponent of the two-mile Dinky extension from Princeton Junction into Plainsboro. The purpose of a Plainsboro Dinky Station would be to permit train access for residents, workers, and reverse commuters, via interconnection, to New York, Philadelphia, and beyond, for residential and Forrestal commercial seniors communities. It would also permit excellent access to Newark Airport. Taxpayer and corporate money currently spent ferrying passengers to and from Plainsboro to Princeton Junction, New York City, and the airports, could more cost-effectively be spent on a Dinky to Princeton Junction.
This could occur within existing right-of-way with a refurbished railbed. Over the past 18 years I have tried to effect a public-private partnership with Merrill Lynch, New Jersey Transit, and Plainsboro Township. I believe we could add additional progressive corporate partners such as Bristol-Myers Squibb and Forrestal Center. The new owners of the Merrill property should recognize the obvious benefits of being able to entertain guests, conferences, and training opportunities via the Dinky to its doorstep.
I believe we need to put money toward actual construction, instead of studying it ad nauseam. George Warrington, Executive Director of New Jersey Transit, is the former president of Amtrak. Amtrak controls the right of way and its current financial plight presents a unique opportunity.
The key? A public-private partnership which will bring our business and residential communities together with untold benefits.
Continued existence of the Dinky is based on the argument that it feeds additional passenger revenue into New Jersey Transit/Amtrak. It provides improved access between and among the communities of Princeton University, Princeton Borough, Princeton Junction, and Plainsboro. Such an expansion meets that economic test. It also permits the equipment to be more effectively utilized during extended periods of downtime awaiting the arrivals/departures of trains at Princeton Junction.
In light of ever-increasing energy and transportation costs, this might be an excellent time to revisit this idea. The universe of those who would benefit from this extension has expanded. We have many area transportation consortia, planners, and community leaders who might scrutinize this. The planners have had their way for 20 years; now it is time to do something.
I would like to invite area leaders to look at this two-mile extension to see if the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
PETER R. WEALE
For information on how to submit Letters to the Editor, click here.