Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 21
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
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Township Attorney Says Memorandum Is Valid

Ellen Gilbert

At its Monday evening meeting, Township Committee heard Attorney Edwin Schmierer describe the Arts and Transit Memorandum of Understanding currently under consideration as “a very valid and good instrument.”

Following up on Mayor Chad Goerner’s request that he review and comment on the proposed agreement between the University, Township, and Borough, Mr. Schmierer said that he concurred with the Borough Attorney’s findings, and that the proposed agreement would be a “fully binding” one that would survive future changes in governing bodies, including potential consolidation in 2013. Borough Council has already introduced an ordinance to approve the Memorandum, which is scheduled to be reviewed by the Planning Board on June 2.

Mr. Schmierer gave a brief rundown of the conditions established by the Memorandum, which would be implemented upon Planning Board approval. Highlights include the stipulations that the University will assume responsibility for opening up the Dinky waiting room on at least a part-time basis and that it will encourage New Jersey Transit to provide additional Dinky services, while promoting increased Dinky use by the community. Ample parking would be made available, and after the proposed 450 foot move south, the University would agree not to move the Dinky again as long as there is heavy rail service in the area.

Other conditions include the creation of a task force, which will comprise Township, Borough, and University representatives, that would examine other transportation options for the future. A floating easement, enabling the implementation of light rail service, would remain in place for 50 years.

It’s “a good foundation for writing down on a piece of paper the understanding that the three entities have reached, particularly with respect to the Dinky,” concluded Mr. Schmierer.

Although the Borough and the Township have the ability to condemn public property “for a public purpose,” Mr. Schmierer indicated that the use of eminent domain, which has been suggested as a means of preventing the University from proceeding with plans to move the Dinky Station, was a rarely-used and not particularly desirable step to take. “In the Princeton community we have rarely used, and would not encourage using, eminent domain to take private property,” he said. “There would have to be a relatively important public purpose to be achieved. The power of eminent domain is there, but I would caution elected officials to be sure that there is a public purpose to be achieved.

Instead of resorting to eminent domain, Mr. Schmierer suggested that a “more factual, legal” tack would be to refer the question to the Planning Board for consideration as part of the Master Plan. Master Plan inclusion would provide for “a leg up,” he suggested, adding, however, that “I candidly don’t think we’ll ever get to that point.” 

Nor did Mr. Schmierer believe that down-zoning, in which a transit zone would be carved out in lieu of creating an entire arts and transit zone, would be “defensible.”

Although no formal action was taken after Mr. Schmierer’s comments, Township Committee members indicated their willingness for Mayor Goerner and Committee member Bernie Miller to “continue to reach out” to the Borough and University in an effort to reach agreement on the Memorandum.

In other actions Monday evening, Township Committee unanimously approved a resolution “supporting voter approval for new charter schools.” Committeewoman Liz Lempert noted that the resolution and pending legislation on this issue would not impact the existing Princeton Charter School or the already-approved Princeton International Academy Charter School. It does, however, recognize “that especially in a town like ours, there are pros and cons with another charter school coming,” so it gives voters “the power to decide whether or not to open a new charter school in the community,” she said. The Board of Education passed a similar resolution at its last meeting.

Among Committee members’ reports was Mayor Goerner’s announcement that a major leak had recently occurred at the Community Park pool, causing water to drop about eight inches. He noted that Public Works responded to this emergency by bringing in a back hoe and digging to a depth of about nine feet. Concrete slabs needed to be lifted in the process, and it was not 100 per cent clear that the source of the leak had been identified. Mayor Goerner said that the Recreation Department hoped to “have things patched up by Memorial Day for the opening of pool.” 

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