January 30, 2019

Council Tables Witherspoon Parking Ordinance

By Anne Levin

Having received numerous emails and listened to concerns from business owners and residents about an ordinance which would make meters along Witherspoon Street in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood available for all-day parking, Princeton Council opted to delay discussion and action on the measure.

Several members of the public took to the microphone at Council’s meeting on Monday, January 28, to air their views about the proposal.

Additional topics included the delay in restoration of Dinky service, and a bill, scheduled for Senate vote, that would give public utilities and cable companies the authority to cut down trees on public and private properties during extreme weather events.

Regarding the Witherspoon Street parking ordinance, Mayor Liz Lempert said a public hearing is still set for February 11, but action would not be taken at that time. “The reason why we are doing this is to help our businesses,” she said. “It helps to hear from all of you when we aren’t helping. It helps to hear there has to be turnover in that section. We issued a public notice for the ordinance hearing next month. So we’ will still hold that public hearing, but we won’t act on the ordinance when it comes up.”

Part of the controversial parking overhaul that has been the subject of much discussion, the Witherspoon Street meters currently allow parking for three hours. Making them available for all day, likely to be taken by employees of businesses on Nassau and neighboring streets, would have a negative effect on Witherspoon Street businesses. Jackie Fay, owner of the  Grit + Polish beauty salon at 160 Witherspoon Street, said that if short-term parking is taken away,  her customers will have nowhere to park.

“I understand the big parking problems in the uptown section, but  your ordinance will barely make a dent in things, affecting 30 spaces while forcing me and others out of business,” she said. The parking spots would be taken by 9 a.m., well before her salon’s peak hours of 12 to 5 p.m. “As of now, my business requires five to seven
parking spaces in the afternoon, Wednesday through Saturday, to meet my customers’ needs,” she added. “It is not reasonable to expect people in pedi slippers to walk long distances to their cars.”

Fay suggested the town use an open lot on Franklin Street for all-day parking until the lot is turned into a site for affordable housing two years from now. Resident Leighton Newlin did not share enthusiasm for that idea. Instead, he said, the town might consider allowing employees of local businesses to park in a Princeton University lot on Washington Street and take shuttle buses to Nassau Street.

“The Witherspoon Street corridor is as integral to the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood as Nassau Street is to the central business district,” he said. “Why the municipality feels the need to help provide employee parking for businesses, I’m not really sure why. It should not be at the cost of negatively impacting another district, especially the Witherspoon-Jackson historic district, which has retail traffic and parking needs of its own.”

Former Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore said the town has disregarded neighborhoods in the study and planning of the parking overhaul. No officials have attended the meetings of the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood association to get input, she said, adding, “I’m as concerned about the process as I am about the outcome.”

Princeton resident John Heilner asked that Council take into account the day laborers who wait for work each day in front of a business on Witherspoon Street. If the parking spaces in front of the store are taken, then potential employers would not be able to pull over to confer with them about working, he said.

The Dinky

NJ Transit announced last week that the Dinky train, which connects Princeton to Princeton Junction on the Northeast Corridor train line, will not be restored until “the second quarter of 2019,” because of “a continuing shortage of locomotive engineers, as well as equipment availability, as Positive Train Control (PTC) installations, maintenance, inspections, and testing continues.”

Since October, the trains have been replaced by buses, which lengthen the trip. The line was originally projected to be back in service by mid-January. Lempert and Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson and Assemblyman Roy Freiman have been trying to convince NJ Transit of the urgency of restoring the service, especially since a portion of Alexander Street is scheduled to be closed on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. starting February 14, to allow for work by PSE&G, Comcast, and Verizon.

Lempert said she is particularly frustrated by the news that the 10 percent discount that commuters have been given during the shutdown is to be discontinued January 31, while the 25 percent discount given to commuters in Atlantic City, where another closure is in place, will continue. “It just isn’t fair,” she said. “I welcome everybody to call NJ Transit” to complain. At a press conference earlier in the day, Lempert said she had heard from Benson’s office that a formal request was being made to keep the 10 percent discount in place for Dinky passengers.

Tree Bill

Council sent a letter to Senator Kip Bateman urging him to vote against the Vegetation Management Response Act. The bill would give public utilities and cable companies full authority, without complying with municipal laws, to cut down trees and shrubs if they are disrupting electric power supply during extreme weather events. The Assembly recently passed the bill and it is scheduled for Senate vote later this week.

Lempert said earlier on Monday that the bill has been hanging around for years but recently picked up steam. “Trees are one of the things that give Princeton a sense of place,” she said. “It’s hard to believe there is full understanding of the impacts.” At the meeting, she added, “This is a huge concern to Princeton. We’re hoping to help raise awareness in other communities as well.”