July 30, 2014

Council Tackles Crowded Agenda

A packed agenda of controversial issues drew a large crowd to Princeton Council’s meeting on Monday night. Many showed up to comment on four topics explored in work sessions: The town’s response to the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) on proposed third-round regulations, efforts to harmonize parking ordinances of the former Borough and Township, limits on the hours of retail business operations, and efforts to harmonize the town’s leaf and brush pickup schedule for 2015.

Late into the meeting, Council voted to introduce two ordinances. One would ban fracking in the municipality. A public hearing on the measure is set for September 22. The other  ordinance, which will have a public hearing on August 25, addresses compensation and salaries of town employees not represented by labor unions, giving them a 1.6 percent raise for 2014 retroactive to January 1.

But first, the governing body took a few minutes to honor the Princeton Police Department for its recent Accreditation Award. Harry DelGado, Accreditation Program Manager for the New Jersey State Chiefs of Police Association, presented the award to Chief Nick Sutter. At a press conference earlier in the day, Mayor Liz Lempert called the accreditation “a huge accomplishment for the department, reinforcing the fact that they’re running the most professional police organization possible.”

Mr. DelGado said the process is rigorous, with fewer than 130 departments across New Jersey being accredited. “For two departments to merge into one [following consolidation] and achieve accreditation in a year is simply remarkable,” he said before presenting the award to Mr. Sutter, who stood with Lieutenants Chris Morgan and Sharon Papp and Sergeant Steve Riccitello.

“I am very proud of our entire department as each and every member was involved in this process in some way,” said Mr. Sutter, who was named chief earlier this year after former chief David Dudeck stepped down following accusations by police personnel of harassment and making inappropriate sexual remarks.

COAH Regulations

The new regulations proposed by COAH and presented to Council last month by the town’s COAH adviser Shirley Bishop, would lower Princeton’s set aside for affordable units from 20 percent to 10 percent and give the town “zero obligation” to build more affordable units, among other changes. These do not sit well with members of the governing body or many area residents. The Council has until Friday,
August 1, to send its comments back to COAH.

Several members of the public encouraged Council to oppose the proposals. Marietta Taylor of the organization Not In Our Town suggested the governing body insist that two lots on Franklin Avenue, adjacent to the former Princeton Hospital, be set aside for affordable housing. Resident Kip Cherry urged Council to fight to retain the 20 percent set-aside. “People are squeezed in Princeton,” she said. “We constantly are losing people who can’t afford to be here anymore.”

Overnight Parking

Princeton’s Land Use Engineer Jack West opened the discussion on overnight parking by saying he originally thought it would be easy to harmonize the ordinances that existed in the former Borough and Township. “It isn’t,” he said, eliciting some laughter. Parking is restrictive in the former Borough, but not in the former Township. Mr. West asked Council to advise him on whether to pursue a hybrid situation, where in high-density areas overnight parking could possibly be allowed with restrictions.

Steve Weiss of Madison Street said his property is one of at least seven others on his street with “impossible parking situations.” Some residents of Maple Street said Princeton University employees often take up all of the parking spots, making it difficult for residents, some of whom pay for parking permits. Maple Street resident Alexi Assmus suggested the town have different parking regulations for different neighborhoods.

Limiting Business Hours

The question of whether to introduce an ordinance imposing limits on hours of retail business operations near residential zones drew the most comments, many of which came from business owners opposed to such a measure. The Ivy Inn and Hoagie Haven stay open the latest, until about 2 a.m., which was the time being discussed as a possible mandated closing. Some who live near those establishments spoke in favor of a restrictive measure, citing loud noise and sometimes unruly behavior late at night.

That neighborhood is also where a 7-11 store is planning to locate, in the former West Coast Video property at 259 Nassau Street. The store would be open 24 hours, which worries some of the area’s residents. But Robert Bratman, who owns the long-empty property and is anxious to move the 7-11 in, said he thinks being open 24 hours will actually make the neighborhood safer. Lighting and surveillance cameras would be installed, “so instead of creating crime, it would reduce crime, if there is crime,” he said.

John Marshall, president of the Princeton Merchants Association, argued that imposing restrictions in designated business zones would harm the community. “The ordinance is overly restrictive,” he said. “It discriminates against small businesses and adversely affects downtown businesses.” Restauranteur Jack Morrison called the idea of restricting hours “economically dangerous.” Barry Sussman of The Peacock Inn said he sometimes has customers on late flights checking in as late as 2 a.m. “Restricting really hurts,” he said.

Area resident Andrea Stein spoke in favor of the proposed measure. “People do tend to dally around their cars, slam their doors, and that kind of thing. As much as I support the businesses in town, we deserve to have some sort of a break from commerce.” Councilwoman Heather Howard said, “Common sense codification of existing policies is the way to go,” while Councilman Patrick Simon suggested, “Maybe we should just beef up our noise ordinance. I’m still weighing the options of this overall.” The topic will be revisited at the next Council meeting August 25.

Leaf and Branch Collection

Robert Hough, the town’s Director of Infrastructure and Operations, presented to Council the proposed leaf, branch and log collection schedule for 2015. After discussion and comments from the public, the governing body decided to send it back to Public Works Committee for further consideration.