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Vol. LXV, No. 43
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

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Township Approves Memorandum of Understanding

Ellen Gilbert

At the Monday evening meeting, Township Committee approved a revised memorandum of understanding (MOU) detailing the creation of Princeton University’s proposed Arts, Education and Transit (AET) neighborhood in the Alexander Road/University Place corridor.

Committee members also agreed to introduce an ordinance that would establish the AET zone.

Mayor Chad Goerner’s early observation that “it promises to be quite a long agenda” was proven correct amid discussions of fly tower height, potential availability of housing for undergraduate students, and of course, the University’s plan to relocate the Dinky. Regional Planning Board Director Lee Solow described the Board’s suggested changes to the memorandum, which include open rail station buildings furnished with rest rooms, and assurances that store frontage would soften the appearance of parking garages. Concern was also expressed about the memorandum’s consistency with Princeton’s master plan for development. A copy of the revised memorandum will be posted on the Township’s website shortly.

Opposition to the relocation of the Dinky remains strong. Activist Kip Cherry said that the MOU has “major deficiencies” and described its approval as “a huge step backwards.” Attorney Virginia Kerr called the MOU “a troublesome document,” and wished that Township Committee would spend more time evaluating it. The ”sticking point,” she noted, “is not the arts plan; everyone loves that. The sticking point is moving the Dinky, which is also loved by the community.”

Republican Borough Council candidate Peter Marks expressed displeasure with the handling of the negotiations, and Yina Moore, Democratic candidate for Borough mayor, described a “process fraught with problems.” Township resident Chip Crider cited the “Twilight Zone”-like atmosphere of the Planning Board meeting where the MOU was discussed.

However, in the face of the apparently legal right of the University to move the Dinky, Committee members as well members of the audience counseled conciliation. “I’m not sure why the University is unwilling to build an Arts plaza elsewhere,” observed Deputy Mayor Sue Nemeth, “but the prospect of a train running through the new complex is scarier than a horde of angry citizens. The MOU makes the best of a bad situation.” 

“It’s not perfect, but it’s better than doing nothing,” said Mayor Goerner, describing the MOU as a solution offering both “short- and long-term transit pluses” that will “help us move forward.” In his introductory comments, Committeeman Bernie Miller, who was part of the negotiating team that worked on the MOU, noted that “we do not have the latitude of accepting some aspects and rejecting others.” He described the AET as representing an “exciting opportunity” for both Princetons and the University. He cited improved transportation, better pedestrian safety, and an opportunity for the University “to create a beautiful new arts campus” as pluses, and urged his colleagues to approve the MOU.

Earlier in the meeting, Township Committee heard a special presentation on PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) arrangements from economist and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy visiting fellow Daphne Kenyon, who recently coauthored a white paper, “Payments in Lieu of Taxes: Balancing Municipal and Non-profit Interests.”

Noting that the nonprofit sector has seen significant growth in recent decades and currently accounts for roughly one-tenth of the U.S. economy, Ms. Kenyon described varied ways in which non-profits can make “voluntary” payments to municipalities as a substitute for property taxes.

She encouraged governments and non-profits to take “a collaborative approach” in creating PILOTS that “serve mutual interests.” Ms. Kenyon noted that publicly shaming non-profits into making contributions to a community may actually make them more reluctant to help. PILOTs, she said, should be created with systematic, long term collaborations in mind.

For more information on the Lincoln Institute visit www.lincolninst.edu. 

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