July 16, 2014

Individual Neighborhoods Would Have a Voice Under Planning Program

The consolidation of Princeton Borough and Township last year left some fearing that individual neighborhoods would lose a voice when decisions about zoning and other key issues are on the table. In response, the town created a special task force, which recommended to Princeton Council Monday night that it adopt a Neighborhood Planning Program to allow different districts to have their say.

Council member Jenny Crumiller gave a status report on the work done over the past year and a half by the Advisory Planning District Task Force, on which she serves along with Councilman Patrick Simon, Planning Board chair Wanda Gunning, and residents Ryan Lilienthal, Valerie Haines, and Bill Harla. The matter is tentatively scheduled to be further explored at Council’s September 17 meeting.

Also at the meeting, Council voted to approve an ordinance introduced last month concerning landscaping registration and workers’ compensation. The governing body also voted for a resolution requesting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) require further environmental and safety assessments from the Transco Leidy pipeline expansion project, which is proposed for a section of the Princeton Ridge.

At the time of consolidation in January, 2013, the issue of advisory planning districts was recommended but not confirmed. The task force has been working to develop a plan since then. “We support this. We want to involve residents early in the development process,” Ms. Crumiller said. “We struggled with things like boundaries, representation, and who would make decisions. The main stumbling block was, if there wasn’t a consensus, who would make a decision?”

Members of the public voiced their support for such a measure, praising the Witherspoon/Jackson Neighborhood Association as a model for other parts of town. Council President Bernie Miller pointed out that other neighborhood groups in Princeton have existed over the years. One formed around the issue of development near Smoyer Park, and another in the Riverside area was focused on the TRI Princeton development site.

Alexi Assmus, who lives on Maple Street, said she has done some informal research on the way neighborhoods are represented in Charlottesville, Virginia, a university town with a slightly larger population than Princeton. “When developers come to town, they recommend these neighborhood associations as players in the projects,” she said. “One can see from the Charlottesville municipal website what an important role these associations play.”

The issue of whether members of neighborhood groups should pay a fee was raised. “My concern is the little guy,” said Councilman Lance Liverman. “They might not be able to pay a fee. There should be transparency, and no favoritism. We have to be very careful about this.”

Harris Road resident Paul Driscoll suggested that members of the Planning Board attend meetings of neighborhood groups. “Sometimes it appears that developers are being rubber-stamped,” he said, referring to developers’ attorneys at public meetings “to intimidate the Planning Board into getting what they want.”