Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 39
 
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
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Improvement District Suggested and Debated by Princeton Future

Ellen Gilbert

Princeton Future Chair Robert Geddes introduced “someone from the outside” at the group’s Saturday meeting in the auditorium of the Paul Robeson Center. Morristown-based lawyer and redevelopment expert Robert Goldsmith would, Mr. Geddes said, describe “three new tools that might be useful to us as a community,” after eight years’ worth of what he described as “what if” conversations.

Leading the rest of the first part of Saturday’s meeting, Mr. Goldsmith’s answer to solving Princeton’s problems was the creation of agencies that work “within the parameters of state government” to “get things done.” By way of example he pointed to Morristown’s parking authority, which he said, has considerable authority over downtown activities, including flexibility in negotiating contracts. Also proposed were “improvement district” structures, which are, he said, “useful tools” that offer mechanisms to “provide supplemental resources to downtown areas in their efforts to address local needs.” Mr. Goldsmith noted that there are currently 80 improvement districts in the state helping to achieve economic and social revitalization in places like Red Bank and Morristown. A third option — development corporations — is, he said, “more amorphous,” but works to achieve similar goals.

Borough Councilman Roger Martindell asked Mr. Goldsmith about how it “works out” when an improvement district is “imposed” on a community. Mr. Goldsmith suggested that improvement districts are “not imposed,” but created by the area’s governing body or bodies. As such, he said, they should include the mayor, or the mayor’s representative. Mr. Martindell went on to wonder about the efficacy of creating additional governing bodies when “the fundamental issue” concerns “existing structures that don’t work.” Mr. Geddes did not reply to Mr. Martindell’s question about whether or not Princeton Future would address the ongoing structural problems in Princeton’s governance.

During the “Community Conversation” that served as the second part of Saturday’s meeting, Princeton University Secretary Robert Durkee observed that the question of Borough/Township consolidation “seemed to generate the most conversation,” and wondered why it was not being discussed. Mr. Goldsmith responded by saying that the current conversation was about “functions,” adding that he feared that “spending the next year arguing about consolidation wouldn’t solve existing problems.”

Noting that the community has faced the “same issues over the years,” Mr. Goldsmith suggested that the problems lie in how the community “works together.” He suggested the creation of a task force to examine the “potential structure” of new municipal bodies that might better address ongoing issues. Neither he nor Mr. Geddes described how this task force might be created.

The next Princeton Future meeting will be on November 8 at the Princeton Public Library.

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