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Vol. LXV, No. 46
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
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Planning Board Approves Rezoning Of Arts Neighborhood

Anne Levin

Following a review of the issue of new zoning for the $300 million arts neighborhood proposed by Princeton University, the Princeton Regional Planning Board adopted ordinances to rezone the area at its meeting on Thursday, November 10. Two separate ordinances were needed because the area in question is located in both the Borough and Township.

Princeton Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman and Mayor-elect Yina Moore were the only two Planning Board members to vote against the ordinances, which will be referred back to Borough Council and Planning Board. A final vote will be taken after public hearings are held.

Representatives and consultants from Princeton University presented their findings on traffic and other issues at the meeting. The controversial plan involves moving the Dinky station 460 feet south of its present location, which University officials say is necessary to create a second access road to its large parking garage, and to make the plan work overall. To be completed in phases, the arts plan includes construction of theaters and other buildings.

Before introducing experts who detailed their traffic studies about the area, University vice-president Robert Durkee told the Board that traffic congestion at peak hours would be lessened by the rezoning. Studies looked at background traffic and future traffic; what would happen if the existing zoning was left in place, and if it was changed. “The key point is this: If you change the zoning and allow development of the arts, it brings down the amount of traffic,” he said.

The addition of new performance halls would increase off-peak traffic, but that could be handled, he said. A roundabout to be installed at Alexander Road and University Place would increase the efficiency of traffic flow and make the area safer, the Board was told.

Borough Council and Planning Board member Barbara Trelstad expressed disappointment with the changes and revisions to the ordinances since they were first introduced. “When I read this report, I was extremely disappointed because it’s not what my colleagues and I were looking for,” she said, adding that she was worried that the traffic studies relied too heavily on figures from the Department of Transportation.

Marvin Reed of the Planning Board said that while he agreed with the key recommendations of the report, there is a need to continue the traffic studies. The Planning Board needs to do its own study instead of just relying on those done by the University, he said. Princeton Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi reminded Board members that as part of the Memorandum of Understanding recently signed between the University, the Borough, and the Township, funding will be made available for traffic studies.

That agreement would also create a new right-of-way for a future transit system such as light rail or streetcars. At the Borough Council meeting on Wednesday, November 10, Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller proposed creating a transit-only zone that would preserve the public right of way for rail transit. “It protects the straight-shot right-of-way and still allows you to build the arts center,” she said.

The Council was warned by special transit attorney Robert Goldsmith that such zoning could leave the Borough vulnerable to a lawsuit for spot zoning. Councilman Kevin Wilkes said preserving the existing right-of-way would not provide a straight shot to Nassau Street because of existing University buildings that stand in the way.

The Council decided to pursue legal advice before voting on the issue, which they plan to revisit at their meeting November 22.

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