June 17, 2020

Council Passes Ordinance to Facilitate Reopening

By Anne Levin

At a special meeting Monday, June 15, Princeton Council voted in favor of an ordinance to expand outdoor restaurant dining areas on Hinds Plaza, close a portion of Witherspoon Street to accommodate outdoor dining, and designate curbside pickup areas.

Put together quickly to help return the downtown to normal, or near-normal, following the COVID-19 shutdown, the ordinance temporarily relaxes certain requirements pertaining to sidewalk cafes and outdoor dining areas, parking, and pedestrian and vehicle circulation. The biggest changes are being implemented along Witherspoon Street between Nassau Street and Princeton Public Library. Vehicular traffic is now one-way northbound from Nassau to Spring streets.

Sidewalks will remain open for pedestrians, and there will be designated outdoor dining areas for restaurants and general seating areas for takeout dining. Queueing areas and bike parking areas are being designated. The ordinance is effective for 120 days, after which it will be evaluated.

On Nassau Street, the plan calls for the loss of no more than two parking spots per block. Pickup and waiting zones will be shared by multiple businesses. On both Nassau and Witherspoon streets, the area of the sidewalks closest to the building fronts will be used for seating, while the street side will be used for pedestrians. The left turn from Nassau Street onto Witherspoon Street will still be permitted.

Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros, who has been closely involved in the plan, thanked the municipal staff and business owners for their assistance in making it possible. “You have all been instrumental in putting this together,” she said. “It has been a big move for Princeton [making the street one-way].”

The Arts Council of Princeton is helping create signage and way-finding along a common theme. “They are really bringing together a branding strategy,” Lambros said. “We don’t want it to look like a construction zone.”

Mayor Liz Lempert said the plan is a work in progress. “We want to hear your feedback,” she said. “Tell us what is not working and if you’re excited by
something, let us know, too.”

Council also passed a resolution authorizing the installation of “slow streets” during the current pandemic. “The concept grows out of the fact that at the same time we’ve had less automobile traffic, we’ve had more pedestrians and bikes,” said Council President David Cohen. “We have an increased need for social distancing. People have been seeking alternatives to the sidewalks.”

The town’s Bike Advisory Committee and Sustainable Princeton have been identifying streets around town that are not main arteries, and might be appropriate for closure to through traffic. Among those being considered are John Street, Linden Lane, Patton Avenue, Dempsey Avenue, Clay Street, part of Library Place, Ridgeview Road, Hutchinson Drive, and part of Littlebrook Road.

The municipality will host a special Zoom meeting to answer questions and hold a discussion about the slow streets on Tuesday, June 23 at 7 p.m. Information about attending will be posted on princetonnj.gov.

Cohen said a questionnaire will be created for residents, and there will also be a process for other streets if residents want them to be considered for the designation. Informational flyers will be distributed and there will be outreach via email. “We anticipate residents are mostly going to love this,” said Cohen. “But I expect we will hear some negative feedback from drivers who like to cut through on these roads. We’ll see.”

Council introduced an ordinance to address the requirements of the Fair Housing Act and the Uniform Housing Affordability Controls, to comply with the town’s affordable housing obligations, and another to make accessory dwelling units a permitted accessory use in all residential zones. Public hearings will be held at Council’s June 29 meeting.

Mayor Lempert reported that Princeton Public Library is working on a multi-phase reopening plan, called “Reopening by the Book.” The first two phases are to be presented to the library’s Board of Trustees on June 17. The first phase will allow people to return materials that have were taken out before the pandemic, while the second phase involves contactless pickup on Sylvia Beach Way. The building is still closed.

While outdoor dining has now resumed and retail stores have begun limited reopening, Lempert cautioned residents to remain vigilant about COVID-19. “I just wanted to put out a call for people to interpret this reopening not that the pandemic is over, rather that we are trying to have a balance between dealing with the pandemic and not so severely damaging the economy,” she said. “It’s more important than ever that people wear masks, remain socially distant, and try to be careful. This is the most critical period, and it will determine whether as a community we can stay open in a safe way.”