August 25, 2021

Council Delays Plan For Return to Meeting in Person

By Anne Levin

Princeton Council is putting off a tentative plan to resume in-person meetings next month, instead continuing via Zoom until the rising number of COVID-19 cases goes down, it was announced at the Council meeting Monday, August 23.

The governing body also heard reports on proposed changes to sustainable landscaping, plans for the upcoming Sukkah Village event, and the latest updates on the Witherspoon Street redesign plan, which was followed by a lengthy discussion. Several resolutions were passed and ordinances were considered.

Municipal Administrator Bernie Hvozdovic  delivered the news about in-person meetings. “The numbers were really good at that time,” he said of original plans to resume the gatherings. “But we’ve always understood it would be a fluid situation. So now that the numbers are up, we will continue to meet remotely, at least for the near future.”

Councilman David Cohen said he was interested in having a hybrid of in-person and online meetings in the future. “Nobody else in the state is doing it, but to me that doesn’t conclude the discussion,” he said. Council President Leticia Fraga added that it is important to hear from the Princeton Board of Health before making a final decision.

Councilwoman Eve Niedergang updated Council on proposed changes to regulations on the use of landscaping equipment. Among them are elimination of a registration fee, revised dates for use of gas-powered and electric leaf blowers and chainsaws, and changes in enforcement.

“We are looking to educate people into compliance, and not fine them into compliance,” Niedergang said of enforcing regulations once an ordinance is passed.  Specific details of the proposed plan are available on the municipal website at Niedergang said she hopes to have a final proposal for Council to consider sometime in September.

Municipal Engineer Deanna Stockton delivered an update on the Witherspoon Street design plan, which the staff hopes to put out to bid for construction early next year. There was considerable discussion about when to move the bin blocks that have been lining the street since the pandemic, which allow for outdoor dining. Relocating meters, the size of a bumpout at Nassau Street, traffic mitigation, and having a split loading zone were the topics discussed among Council members and residents who called in to the meeting.

Councilwoman Mia Sacks said there needs to be a focus on cleanliness of the area where outdoor dining takes place. Trash bins are overflowing with takeout containers and other items used by customers of restaurants and takeout establishments, which need to monitor the trash instead of leaving it to the town’s public works department, she said.

“If you look at that trash, it is all generated by the restaurants,” she said. “So I would like to see a plan or ordinance whereby individual enclosures have their own trash cans that they clear throughout the day. Can we put together something?”

Details of the Witherspoon Street plan can be found on the municipal website.

Architect Joshua Zinder provided details of Sukkah Village 2021, planned for September 19-30 at several locations around town.  A sukkah is a temporary, three-sided hut topped with branches, and  constructed for the week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot. Zinder said he got the idea for a festival in Princeton after seeing a similar event in New York City in 2018. He and the late Rabbi Adam Feldman planned to have one in Princeton in 2020, but Feldman’s death in December 2019 and the pandemic brought the idea to a halt.

Now revived, sponsors include the American Institute of Architects New Jersey, the Arts Council of Princeton, and the Jewish Center of Princeton. Twelve sukkahs are being designed by architects and will be built at locations including the lot at Cedar Lane and Nassau Street, Palmer Square, Trinity Church, the Arts Council, and St. Paul’s Church.

“For a week, Sukkot reminds us of our fragility,” Zinder said. “It addresses the issues of homelessness, hunger, and even affordable housing. The Sukkah Village takes architecture to bring attention to these issues.” Each hut will be partnered with a not-for-profit partner.

Council passed an ordinance abolishing the Local Assistance Board, transferring general assistance cases to Mercer County instead of handling them locally. Fraga said she wanted to assure residents that Princeton’s Human Services Department will continue to provide help to those who are applying for public assistance. John Heilner, who has chaired the Local Assistance Board, said the case load has declined significantly, so he is comfortable with the change.

Council introduced an ordinance establishing a new affordable housing overlay zone along portions of Witherspoon Street from Green Street to Valley Road. The zone is “to encourage development of affordable housing and mixed use,” said Princeton Planning Director Michael LaPlace. “It also gives added density in return for preserving facades along Witherspoon that are important to the Witherspoon-Jackson Historic District, but allows for growth.”

A public hearing on the ordinance is September 13. Among the  resolutions approved by Council was the appointment of David Errickson as new executive director of Corner House, succeeding longtime director Gary DeBlasio, who is retiring.