Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 47
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
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Joint Public Hearing on Consolidation Goes Smoothly; Arts and Transit Area Fine-Tuned

Ellen Gilbert

Discussion of the University’s plans for an “arts and transit” neighborhood and passage of an ordinance concerning the Shade Tree Commission highlighted Monday evening’s Township Committee meeting.

Prior to the meeting, a joint public hearing with the Borough Council on the filing of an application to create a Local Option Municipal Consolidation Study Commission drew only a few comments, all of them pro-consolidation.

Deputy Director of the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services Marc Pfeiffer presided over the hearing, the third and last in a series that began with the approval on October 26 by both the Township Committee and Borough Council of forming a commission.

The next step will occur on December 9, Mr. Pfeiffer said, when the application will be heard by the State Finance Board. Mr. Pfeiffer and representatives of both governing bodies will be present for the meeting, which has not yet been assigned a time and venue.

Township resident and Princeton Community Housing Director Sandra Persichetti announced that “For the third time — and there won’t be a fourth,” she was encouraging the governing bodies “to go forward.” She also expressed the hope that the Finance Committee will still be in place in January when the governor-elect begins his term. Mr. Pfeiffer said that he was was hopeful that that would be the case. If the process continues as planned, consolidation will appear on the November 2011 ballot for Township and Borough residents.

Improved Tree Care

The new amendment regarding shade trees calls for stronger standards and the development of an improved review process for assessing tree loss and providing mitigation. Planning Board Director Lee Solow noted that a draft of the ordinance had been under consideration for over a year, receiving recommendations from the Shade Tree Commission, the Environmental Preservation Commission, and other municipal boards.

Stoney Brook Millstone Watershed Association policy specialist Joan McGee applauded approval of the ordinance, thanking Mayor Bernie Miller for his leadership in seeing it through, and the Township Committee for their “environmental stewardship.”

Mr. Miller credited the Shade Tree Commission for the “hard work that they did over period of more than a year,” particularly citing the work of arborist Greg O’Neil. “The ordinance may not be perfect, but it is a great improvement over where we are today,” observed Mr. Miller.

North and South

In the “Alexander Street Zoning Goals” work session, Princeton University Vice President for Public Affairs Robert Durkee noted the “helpful conversations” he had during the last few weeks with Township Committee representatives. The university was encouraged, he said, to look at the area along Alexander Street south of the proposed arts district neighborhood with an eye toward improving traffic circulation; “preserving and enhancing the Dinky experience;” and creating a “live, attractive public space;” as well as a neighborhood “that is a model of sustainability.”

The area, which includes both Borough and Township land, is currently subject to zoning that is “very restrictive on a lot of opportunities that all of us would like to see happen in that area,” said Mr. Durkee. Proposed new zoning would allow for a separate arts and transit neighborhood to the north, with “mixed use” potential to the south, resulting in “an attractive new gateway to the Princeton community and the campus.”

Township Committee member Sue Nemeth observed that the University’s plans were “much more palatable to the community now that they include housing and mixed use,” although she still worried about the wisdom of moving the Dinky.

Mr. Miller reminded everyone that Alexander Street is no longer the “service district” it was, when characterized by businesses like a lumber yard and a car wash. Mr. Durkee concurred, saying that the area will undergo a “very exciting” change, and that “almost anything would be an improvement on what’s there now.” He reiterated the hope that people coming to the community will arrive via mass transit rather than automobile, but added that they would continue to look for ways for those coming in cars to “get into garages to minimize traffic impact.”

The Township Committee concurred with the zoning goals, agreeing to continue to work with the University, and asking Mr. Solow to begin working on the zoning aspects of the project. “Now we face the hard part,” he said.

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