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Vol. LXV, No. 19
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
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Community Delivers Mixed Response To Dinky Move, Arts and Transit Proposal

Dilshanie Perera

Over 25 residents voiced their opinions at last week’s Borough Council meeting regarding the status of the Dinky vis-à-vis Princeton University’s proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood plan. Some were against the development and some for it, but most seemed to advocate for a conclusion to the protracted debate.

Anita Garoniak, Carlos Rodrigues, and Alain Kornhauser representing the group Save The Princeton Dinky spoke in favor of leaving the Dinky terminus where it is currently located. Mr. Rodrigues characterized the matter at hand as “a private developer’s ability to vacate an existing railroad right-of-way in order to build on it,” referring to the University exercising its “rights as a landowner.”

Mr. Rodrigues said that allowing any developer to build on a rail right-of-way would be “a spectacular mistake with respect to public policy. If it is lost, it would be difficult to replicate.” Instead, he urged Council to consider moving the “transit to where the bulk of the population is.”

According to calculations done by Save the Princeton Dinky, approximately 24 percent of the potential Dinky ridership would slip out of the walking radius if the Dinky were to be moved the proposed 460 feet away from the downtown. Mr. Rodrigues also claimed that the arts part of the proposal “will do nothing for transit.”

Mr. Kornhauser challenged the premise of the memorandum of understanding and the claim that the Dinky terminus must move. He pointed out that in the 1984 sales agreement between New Jersey Transit and Princeton University, the University bought the land and station for $893,700, while NJTransit moved the Dinky south 185 feet. He suggested to Council that the community could enact an eminent domain claim on the land, or buy back the right-of-way from the University.

“The most important thing is that we could control our own destiny … we would be back in control of what is a public necessity,” Mr. Kornhauser said, further suggesting creating a transportation and parking authority, or enacting a public-private partnership, which would result in “zero financial exposure to the community” in acquiring the right-of-way.

University alumnus Henry Posner III has expressed interest in partnering with the Borough in doing so, according to Mr. Kornhauser, and he is expected to attend the open public meeting of the Borough on Tuesday, May 24 at 7:30 p.m. in Borough Hall.

Princeton University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee pointed out that the University has no plans to build on the right-of-way, adding that “we are serious about our commitment to the Dinky, because more than half the riders are University-related.”

Area resident Anne Neumann said that moving the Dinky back one block and adding steps would make it difficult even for those in the area to walk to the train, while another resident suggested that the University contribute a larger payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT).

“We have the power to prevent any further development within Borough limits,” Peter Marks urged, adding that “if we spent six million dollars on a swimming pool, we can spend one million, or two, or three” on the Dinky.

Planning Board member Yina Moore suggested that the memorandum “lacks structure” as a document, and noted that it is unusual to lead with the interests of the developer in such an agreement.

Resident Jim Hartford, Jr. suggested that Council merely alter the plan as it stands by moving the train underground, while Carolyne Wass pointed out that the University “is stepping up to spend a substantial amount of money,” and that as a commuter herself, she predicted that the “impact will be relatively minor.”

Ted Mills also voiced his support for the project, saying that the long discussion was “holding up a project that would employ people and enliven the arts in this community.”

Borough resident and local business owner Mimi Omiecinski emphasized her support for the Arts and Transit proposal and added that improvements to transit connections within town, including the fact that the Tiger Transit shuttle would meet incoming Dinky trains under the memorandum agreement, would benefit “mass transit in Princeton,” which she called “extremely important.”

Teri Mcintire said she was in support of the University’s proposal, but pointed out the fact that most other parents with school-age children do not have time to come to Council meetings to make their voices heard. “You are missing hundreds of people who are in support of this project,” she said.

Resident Kip Cherry underscored the fact that “there is a major economic reason to be connected to the mainline” Northeast Corridor trains, and requested that Council wait to decide about the new Dinky station until after a full transit study has been completed.

Discussions and decisions are ongoing.

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