Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 46
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
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Princeton Future Says Consolidation Likely to Improve Existing Structures

Dilshanie Perera

Princeton Future met last Saturday to discuss housing, transportation and mobility, and the future of the downtown. Guiding themes included how new structures and consolidation of resources might help Princeton.

Robert Geddes, co-chair of the group, listed the three main propositions to consider, namely, the potential benefits of designating the downtown as a special improvement district, creating a public authority, and installing a development corporation.

Lawyer and redevelopment specialist Robert Goldsmith characterized the proposed ideas as “three tools worthy of consideration,” citing New York City’s Bryant Park as an example of an improvement district that worked to increase safety and beautify that particular neighborhood.

“Public authorities often have more power than municipal governments,” Mr. Goldsmith noted, adding that “money is the tool that moves things” and that funding sources exist for both of the structures mentioned above.

The meeting split into three groups to delve further into issues pertaining to the downtown, transportation, and housing, respectively, before members reconvened to report back on their discussions.

In summing up their conversation about downtown Princeton, Peter Kann reported that “overall, the existing structures were not solving all the problems” and were “working less than ideally.”

The need for residents to commute out of town for necessities, the loss of services, the system as it pertains to downtown businesses, the organization of the rest of downtown businesses beyond Palmer Square, and the high rents were all identified as areas of concern.

A special improvement district was considered useful by the group, as it could be a source of stable funding, allow for mixed-use properties, assist with maintenance, and “span the somewhat artificial divide between Princeton Borough and Township,” Mr. Kann said.

Observing that such an area may assist “businesses in navigating the regulatory process,” improve the “traffic situation,” and offer something for which Princeton University could be petitioned for funding, Mr. Kann continued: “A multi-municipality special improvement district can happen with or without municipal consolidation, but it is a logical step toward full consolidation.”

Reporting on the housing discussion, David Kinsey remarked that the “existing structures … could work better together.” Such structures include “those who build, provide, and regulate housing in the Borough and Township” like the two municipalities, Princeton Community Housing, the Housing Authority of the Borough of Princeton, and Princeton University.

“Municipal consolidation would be a positive step in that direction,” Mr. Kinsey said, adding that housing “issues should be part of public agendas in the coming months.”

In summarizing the discussion about mobility and transportation, Carlos Rodrigues echoed the theme of consolidation of resources in order to provide better services, though in regard to municipal consolidation he observed, “it would help, but nobody wants to wait for it.”

Acknowledging the work of existing organizations, Mr. Rodrigues’s group took note of the Sidewalk and Bikeway Advisory Committee in the Township, the University’s work on a bike plan, and the Borough’s Traffic and Transportation Committee, saying that the organizations lacked a “perfect alignment.”

“There doesn’t seem to be anything in place that can address local transit issues substantively,” Mr. Rodrigues said, noting that “the need for a knowledge base is felt acutely.” He also observed that assessing the transit demands of the general public would give decision-making entities “a more comprehensive idea.”

“There was a good deal of consensus … that this is something worthwhile pursuing,” Mr. Rodrigues said.

In the discussion that followed, Hendricks Davis called for a “broader conversation” regarding commerce and business development in Princeton, emphasizing that the creation of small businesses should not overshadow the neighborhoods in which they may be located.

“Who does economic development serve?” asked Mr. Davis, while adding that “the scarcity of minority-owned and woman-owned businesses needs to be on the agenda.”

Mr. Geddes added that workforce housing is another issue closely linked to small business development. “These issues are going to be part and parcel of the way we think of this kind of community,” he said.

Concerns about how the expansion of Princeton-based firms or corporations necessarily means that they move out of the town because of the high rents were voiced, as was how to make Princeton a “cooler” place for the “creative class.”

The next open meeting of Princeton Future will be February 14, 2009.

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