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Borough Residents and Citizens' Group Conduct Public Forum on Downtown

Matthew Hersh

Members of Princeton Future and other Borough residents convened at Borough Hall last Wednesday night for a public forum during which participants voiced concern about current and proposed construction downtown. Princeton Future is a citizens' group that hopes to build upon the recommendations made for Downtown Princeton in the 1996 Community Master Plan, which is now being revised by the Regional Planning Board. While the agenda provided a systematic look at the impact of construction on the Borough, concerns about parking and increased automobile traffic were what ultimately prevailed by the end of the evening.

The forum included representatives of neighborhoods that are most affected by future growth in the downtown, specifically the John-Witherspoon neighborbood which lies adjacent to it.

Princeton Future co-chairs Sheldon Sturges and Robert Geddes moderated the forum along with architect and School Board member Michael Mostoller. The three prepared data on five zones identified for study that extend beyond the central portion of downtown. Issues discussed included current or proposed projects in each of the zones, data on how construction in one area affects another, and preservation tactics.

The meeting's goal was to bring together resident representatives of the five zones in order to achieve citizen consensus on growth and development in the Borough. Of particular concern was the already-approved plan to build 97 apartment units on Palmer Square North and the current construction of the $18.7 million library and 500-space parking garage on the site of the former Park and Shop lot.

Princeton Future began this initiative three years ago in response to a changing downtown. Its founders believed the Borough needed a strategy of development through obtaining input directly from neighborhoods impacted by downtown re-development.

Former Princeton Township Mayor James Floyd, of Harris Road, emphasized the impact of poorly planned development on parking. Mr. Floyd also mentioned that this problem was not only having an impact on the Witherspoon corridor (Zone 4) but on all neighborhoods in the Borough. "We are speaking as residents of the zones and I don't necessarily want to hear about architecture," Mr. Floyd said when referring to the physical layout of planned construction.

Robert Goheen, co-president of Princeton Future and a former president of Princeton University, called upon the Borough to move forward with a more active role in the Hulfish North development process. He referred to a "logjam" that is keeping the principal powers from moving forward.

"Palmer Square is in no hurry to build, particularly because of the affordable housing issue," Mr. Goheen said, referring to the 97 units that are planned for construction in Palmer Square North. Borough ordinance requires that 20 percent of the housing units be set aside as affordable housing. However, Palmer Square Management and the Borough have been in a dispute for many years over how this ordinance should be applied to these units.

"Get the Borough Council to do something aggressive about this," said Mr. Goheen, adding that the Council is "unwilling to do that."

The housing planned for Palmer Square and its effect on the Paul Robeson Place corridor (Zone 2), was also of concern to residents of the upper John Street region. The zone contains some of the last undeveloped space in the Borough and has been the focus of suggestions as to how to properly use the space.

It has been Princeton Future's position to slow traffic along Paul Robeson Place and keep it from functioning as a high-speed throughway. Residents have complained that the street is difficult to cross, and needs good walking links between the western portions, where the YMCA lies, and downtown. However, several residents of the neighborhood at the Wednesday night meeting suggested that the space should remain untouched.

The focus of the discussions eventually found its way back to the traffic issue. Hendricks Davis, of John Street, reminded the panel that "nobody has suggested how to reduce traffic while proposing projects that create traffic."

Alan Hegedus, of Armour Road, used Mr. Davis's point to pose a question of finance, "Who's going to pay for it? The streets are in disrepair." Mr. Hegedus suggested that the money being used for development should instead be used to pave some of Princeton's corridors.

"Road repair money is partially in the library, and partially in a garage to be built. Roads have been scheduled for repair because they're really not safe," Mr. Hegedus said.

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