January 16, 2013

Task Forces Formed, PU Payment Approved At Council Meeting

Two task forces have been created to help map out the future of two key properties on Witherspoon Street. At its meeting Monday night, the Princeton Council approved the formation of a hospital rezoning task force, which is to begin meeting this week. A second committee was formed to look into expanding the fire station adjacent to the Valley Road School property.

Council President Bernie Miller will head the group studying the hospital issue. The Planning Board voted last month to reject a proposal by the developer AvalonBay for a rental complex on the site. The property is currently under two zoning ordinances representing what were until recently the Borough and Township. A single ordinance representing consolidated Princeton could replace them.

Mr. Miller said he hoped the modifications to the ordinance will be created “in a manner that reflects the values of the Princeton community.” Serving on the task force are Mayor Liz Lempert, Planning Board member Marvin Reed, Council member Jenny Crumiller, resident Joseph Weiss, architect and Site Plan Review Advisory Board member Bill Wolfe, architect and Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods member Areta Pawlynsky, and Planning Director Lee Solow.

Council member Jo Butler asked whether a representative from the University Medical Center of Princeton, which moved to Plainsboro last May and still owns the property, had been invited to join the task force. Mr. Miller replied, “There was some concern that it would not be appropriate. However, the meetings are open to the public and they are welcome to attend.”

The group charged with resubmitting a proposal on the fire station expansion, which would consolidate Princeton’s three existing fire stations, includes Mr. Miller and fellow Council members Ms. Butler and Lance Liverman. A new proposal is needed because of changes to the original proposal, which would have moved teen counseling center Corner House and the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad {PFARS} into an expanded facility at the Valley Road School building. Since then, PFARS has opted to enlarge its existing location on Harrison Street, and Corner House is set to move into what was formerly the Borough’s municipal building. The deadline for the new proposal is April 8.

Also approved at the meeting was an ordinance to establish a fee of $65 a year for participation in Princeton’s food waste compost program. Up to 1,000 households can take part in this year’s program, a previous version of which served more than 400 members. Premier Food Waste Recycling, a division of Central Jersey Waste and Recycling, was the hauler hired for the new program last month.

There were heated exchanges when the topic of Princeton University’s voluntary payment to the town for 2013 came up. A resolution for a contribution of $2,475,000 in unrestricted funds was approved after much discussion about how the PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, was negotiated and whether the process was sufficiently transparent. The total is the same as last year’s, but the 2012 amount included $500,000 earmarked for consolidation. The current agreement also includes $20,000 toward expansion of the Princeton firehouse.

The tensions arose when Ms. Butler suggested there was a conflict of interest in Ms. Lempert’s negotiating with the University since Ms. Lempert’s husband is a member of the faculty. Ms. Butler also questioned whether the agreement was for one or two years, and asked for a copy to inspect. Ms. Lempert said the agreement was oral. Kristin Appelget, the University’s director of community and regional affairs, stepped up to the microphone to explain that when the agreement was made for 2012, the idea was simply to extend it into 2013 because members of the governing body would be busy adjusting to consolidation. She added that a multi-year agreement is planned to be negotiated once the University selects a replacement for outgoing president Shirley Tilghman.

After Council members who served on the previous Township Committee and those who were on Borough Council mentioned how such business was handled in the former municipalities, Mr. Miller said he hoped future discussions would be geared toward the present instead of the past.

“This is the first business meeting of the new year, and I’m wondering how long we’re going to be reminded that this is not the way we did it in the Borough,” he said. “The Borough is gone. The Township is gone. This is the new Princeton. We need to look forward, not backward.”

The measure was approved with Council member Heather Howard recusing herself, Ms. Butler abstaining, and four votes in favor.

The next meeting of the Council is January 28.