February 6, 2013

Arts and Transit Plan Subject of New Appeal

A group of local citizens opposed to Princeton University’s Arts and Transit project planned to file an appeal in Superior Court yesterday [February 5] challenging several aspects of the proposal, which the Regional Planning Board approved last December.

Two previous lawsuits have been filed regarding the Arts and Transit proposal, which many object to primarily because of it’s relocation of the Dinky transit station. Lawyer Bruce Afran, who is representing the plaintiffs, said there are several points to the current appeal.

“Essentially, the application came in with many of its material elements missing,” he said Tuesday of the Arts and Transit proposal. “One reason for the appeal is that the new ramp at the Lot 7 garage creates an inherently dangerous situation, none of which exists now. Also, no conclusion was reached about the impact the development will have by destroying the 19th century neighborhood on Alexander Street. Then there is the fact that the Board failed to study the impact of putting four pedestrian crossings where right now there is just a traffic light.”

Mr. Afran added that the resolution was introduced to the Planning Board “on three hours notice. This was a 45-page resolution. It was really an effort just to ram this thing through.” He also said that former Borough Council member Jenny Crumiller, who was critical of the plan to move the Dinky terminus, improperly recused herself from the proceedings, and that the lawyer who told her to do so had his own conflict of interest because his firm represents NJ Transit. “She was an elected official,” Mr. Afran said, “which means her job is to ask questions and bring up any concerns that she has.”

The $300 million Arts and Transit plan covers a 22-acre site that is to include theaters, rehearsal spaces and education buildings. A new building for the Wawa market will be near the relocated Dinky station, which is to be 460 feet further away from downtown Princeton. The current station buildings will become a restaurant and cafe. University officials say the move is necessary so that a second access road to Lot 7 can be built. They do not want a train track cutting across the campus. Several alternatives have been proposed over the past few years, but none were deemed feasible by the University.

Among the claims of the current appeal is that the Planning Board did not do a finding of fact about the historic value of the Dinky station and the buildings in the surrounding neighborhood that are to be demolished. The appeal also says that no study has been done as to pedestrian safety issues concerning the transit plaza that is part of the plan. The University plans to do traffic and transit studies in the future.

“The study has to be done now, not later,” Mr. Afran said. “The lot holds 780 cars, and the Board’s transit expert said that virtually all of those cars will use the new ramp. That means at least 1,500 vehicles a day will be passing through in the path of pedestrians. No safety study was done. It is improper for the Board to approve this saying they could do the study in a year. It’s a major change, and it creates an inherently dangerous situation. Right now, pedestrians at the station have no contact with cars.”

Bob Durkee, University vice-president and secretary, said Tuesday that the suit has no merit. “This is a proposal that was very, very thoroughly reviewed by the staff, considered at three lengthy meetings after a very long period leading up to the presentation,” he said. “If you read the memorial resolution, it is a very thorough analysis of the project and the vote was nine to one. I continue to think that the most unfortunate aspect of this is that it will require the municipality to spend money defending against what I think is in the end going to be a very frivolous lawsuit. It’s a shame to impose those kinds of costs on the municipality.”