December 21, 2011

To the Editor:

As a long time supporter of Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, I want people to know that there is an easy way to help our local Food Bank. Shoppers at McCaffrey’s and Wegmans can participate in the “Check-out Hunger” campaign by removing one (or several) of the red, green or yellow tickets posted near each checkout register and giving it to the cashier to scan the dollar amount with their grocery order. That’s it. Couldn’t be much easier. Every dollar goes to the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank.

This program, run as a joint effort by food retailers and sponsored statewide by NRG Energy, raises funds to support the hunger relief work of the state’s food banks. In Mercer County, 100 percent of the funds raised goes to the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank.

While food donations are important, cash is the best and most efficient way to support the food bank. Every dollar donated enables the organization to distribute $8 worth of food. Last year, the food bank channeled three million pounds of food and grocery purchases into our community, supplying 60 local charities that operate food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, and meal programs with resources they need to serve the needy who come to their doors. The demand is so much greater this year.

I encourage residents shopping for holiday dinners to remember to “Check-out Hunger.”

Ann Vaurio
Valley Road

To the Editor:

On behalf of everyone at Morven, we would like to express our sincere thanks to all who helped to make this year’s Festival of Trees an unprecedented success. All funds raised will benefit Morven’s exhibitions, public programs, and historic property.

The stately mansion, once home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Richard Stockton and his wife Annis Boudinot, never looked more lovely and cheerful. Each room has one or several Christmas trees decorated by our local garden clubs, non-profit organizations, and local businesses, including Princeton Doll & Toy Museum; Viburnum; SAVE; McCarter Theatre Center; Gasior’s Furniture; LMG Design; Westminster Choir College; Green Acres; NJDEP; D & R Greenway; Keris Tree Farm & Christmas Shop; Dogwood Garden Club of Princeton; Garden Club of Princeton; Stony Brook Garden Club; and Stony Brook Watershed Association.

The preview party, which kicks-off the holiday season for many of us, was attended by 175 this year. Emily’s Café and her team did a marvelous job serving delicious hors d’oeuvres and festive holiday drinks. We are particularly grateful to the many local businesses that were this year’s Festival of Trees sponsors, including Baxter Construction; Glenmede Trust; Henderson Sotheby’s Realty; Howard Design Group; Leapfrog Advancement; PNC Wealth Management; Ronica A. Bregenzer Architect; and Wilmington Trust/M&T Bank.

The trees and holiday decorations will be in place at Morven until January 8. If you have not yet had a chance to visit, we hope you will soon.

Sally Buck, Betsy Griffith, Milly King, Daphne Townsend, Vicki Trainer
Festival of Trees Committee

To the Editor:

I write to suggest that the Borough and U.S.P.S. reconsider the pending sale of the Palmer Square post office building.

The location and placement of this post office provide an occasion to use Palmer Square for non-commercial purposes for probably a few thousand local residents on a regular basis, making it a prime example of the pedestrian lifestyle so sought after today. While a new facility may be in the same general area, it is unlikely to provide the park-like ambience of the present one with its exterior landscaping, magnificent trees, and pleasant walkways, not to mention the concerts and other community functions on the lawn.

Newly constructed post offices tend to be sterile in terms of interior design and lighting. A new facility may be unable to provide large boxes or 24-hour lobby access. Repurposing of the current building will offer additional sad evidence of what used to be but is no more. A commercial owner will be primarily concerned with conveniences for its own employees and customers, not the general public.

Palmer Square, with the current post office and Nassau Inn at its center, is a venue of unsurpassed charm. It and the splendidly successful Hinds Plaza make the Borough a special place. This post office is emblematic of our heritage — historically, architecturally, and as an expression of public service. The financial challenges the U.S.P.S. faces are not the responsibility of the employees or patrons of this particular post office. Princeton should think twice before losing this urban jewel.

James P. Murphy
Witherspoon Street

To the Editor:

In June the New York Times published a review of Stephen Holl’s design for a building in China, which is said to be “the place where architects are free to explore their most outlandish fantasies.” Of all places! It mentions only a tunneled highway as a mode of transportation to get to this “carefully engineered social machine.” What is missing is a mention of any public environmental impact review that might have occurred.

Princeton University has brought a Stephen Holl-designed Arts and Transit Hub proposal to the two town councils [Borough Council and Township Committee] that will be impacted by its implementation. After five years of public debate the councils passed zoning ordinances that allow the University to build as it pleases.

Some may charge that this is an example of the bureaucratic tyranny of democracy shackling “private” enterprise. I applaud the hard work of the public servants who claimed the plan did not answer essential questions concerning the growing “village” off campus — questions that need to be answered by a higher authority. That authority was once NJ Transit. Apparently the University has purchased this authority to answer all transit questions by and for themselves.

The present rail transportation function of this “hub” project should be promoted not diminished. I hope the council’s opinion inspires all those who are on private and public payrolls to listen up to those leaders on the other side of Nassau Street and think globally, then act locally. Out of the dissonance there now should come a harmony of purpose not just for Princeton but in relation to the private mobility networks that now threaten the health of the world.

A Special Improvement District much greater than all of the Princetons should be created to engineer the increasing of rail ridership and the building of a separate transportation network for the pedestrian-based communities that are beginning to reappear everywhere. This is the missing link in the development of the plan. May the councils’ voice be heard in the final day of review of what is to become the Princeton Arts and Transit Hub and let’s hope the construction will have a return on investment for the next 150 years for the station that has just been reopened after 25 years of irresponsible neglect.

James Harford Jr.
Lake Drive

To the Editor:

I am writing in support of the Institute for Advanced Study’s faculty housing proposal under review by the Planning Board. As a direct neighbor of the Institute, I can vouch for their integrity and sensitivity to land use issues. In the five years that I have resided on Battle Road, they have never embarked on a change that might affect me without notifying me in advance. They have been responsive to any concerns I have had and have responded promptly to my requests for amelioration. The Institute is exceedingly respectful of the community. As a member of the Executive Committee of the Friends of the Institute, and a former environmental regulator, I have been impressed with the thoughtfulness with which they have developed this project and I am certain that they will honor their commitments. Few people reside as close to this project as do my wife and I and, after careful consideration, I believe this project meets the objectives of respecting the neighborhood, the Battlefield, and the essential needs of my good neighbor, the Institute of Advanced Study.

Michael E. Morandi
Battle Road

To the Editor:

On behalf of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, I am writing this letter in support of the Princeton Battlefield Society and its efforts to protect and preserve the lands surrounding the Princeton Battlefield State Park. As guardians of George Washington’s home and legacy, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association shares the Princeton Battlefield Society’s desire to educate the public about the American Revolution. Our organizations also share a commitment to fostering awareness about the character and leadership of General Washington, who celebrated one of his greatest military victories on that very battlefield.

During the American Revolution, Washington’s triumph at Princeton in January 1777 energized the floundering American cause and forced the British to rethink their quick dismissal of the Continental Army. Following on the heels of his surprise Christmas Day attack on Trenton, the Battle of Princeton was Washington’s first victory in open combat against British regulars. Washington’s leadership on the battlefield inspired his fellow patriots, bringing about an impressive turnaround that ultimately led to American independence.

Like the Princeton Battlefield, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens is located in a densely populated region. In northern Virginia, just as in New Jersey, land comes at a premium and preservationists often find themselves at odds with developers. Although Mount Vernon’s record of passionate commitment to historic preservation stretches back more than 150 years, predating some of the development pressures faced in today’s time, it serves as a prime example of how historic sites play an important role in their communities. They create a sense of place and character. They fuel civic pride, and they drive economic development and job creation through travel and tourism.

Although we applaud your past success in preserving some portions of this battlefield, we recognize that only a small percentage of the grounds on which Washington and his troops outmaneuvered the British forces are currently protected from development. Keys to understanding the events of that pivotal battle and additional evidence of Washington’s heroics still likely lie buried under the soil. If the proposed development is allowed to continue, these secrets of the past will be lost.

After surrendering at Yorktown in 1781, Lord Cornwallis is reported to have told Washington, “Your Excellency’s achievements in New Jersey were such that nothing could surpass them.” As decision-makers, influencers, and leaders, I hope that the same can be said of your achievements in New Jersey as you recognize that preservation, too, is a form of progress.

Respectfully,

James C. Rees
President Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association,
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate,
Museum & Gardens

To the Editor:

I am writing in response to Mark Scheibner (“Opponents of IAS Housing Plan Downplay Finding of Over 700 Agricultural Artifacts,” Town Topics, December 14, 2011). There are several issues in this letter which should not remain unopposed.

The Princeton Battlefield was not preserved for agricultural history; there are thousands of farms in New Jersey alone which would better suit such interests. What sets the Princeton Battlefield apart from other land in the state is the significance of George Washington’s victory over the British and the incomprehensible sacrifices which occasioned that campaign. The American Republic, as well as George Washington, was either going to live or die on that battlefield on the morning of January 3, 1777.

There is a glaring historical error in Mr. Sheibner’s letter concerning the common burial site of the battle’s dead. It is commemorated by a plaque in the park, but the grave itself is located on the southern side of the northernmost of three ponds near Drumthwacket. Its location might have been lost, as would the battlefield itself, if not for the foresight of Moses Taylor Pyne. Besides his interest in creating Princeton University from the foundering College of New Jersey, Pyne had an abiding interest in preserving the Princeton Battlefield. He saved it from developers in 1913. His granddaughter Agnes Pyne Hudson donated the land which became the Battlefield Park in 1946.

As a FitzRandolph descendant, the fact that my ancestor’s bones were excavated during the construction of Holder Hall and placed into its walls I find to be less offensive than the IAS plans. Woodrow Wilson displayed affection for the memory and the legacy of the FitzRandolphs. The IAS plans amount to desecration, as well as the destruction of an incalculably significant relic of American history — one that was carefully and almost miraculously preserved by generations of Princetonians. The IAS plan is at best self-interested and insensitive, if not a deliberate act of desecration. If the Battlefield’s use as farmland somehow diminished its sanctity, as Scheibner contends, a similar argument might be made that Arlington has lost its claim as sacred ground because its grass is mown. As for commemorating the sacrifices that bought America its liberty, the Battlefield at Princeton serves as no better example. The IAS ought to respect American history, preserve its dignity, and employ its intellectual resources to discover an alternative.

William Myers
Highland Park

December 15, 2011

To the Editor:

Now that the vote for consolidation of the Princetons is past us, we must remember that when municipal governments are combined, State law (N.J.S.A. 40A:65-28) provides procedures to ensure that property values be assessed and taxed uniformly, a constitutional requirement. Unfortunately, the systematically flawed revaluation of 2010 does not provide a basis for uniform taxation of a consolidated Princeton. Examination of that revaluation continues and is now in the courts. Consolidation gives us another chance to avoid the same mistakes. With proper citizen scrutiny of the process, we must get it right this time.

Neither the appeals, which changed perhaps three percent of the assessments, nor the assessor’s compliance plans to readjust some districts, gave any significant relief to the flawed revaluation of 2010. It still discriminated against lower and moderate income families and against elderly and minority residents all over town. Meanwhile property tax relief for the wealthy went unchallenged by your elected officials.

As a result, Princeton Fair Tax Revaluation (PFTRG) members will continue to be out in the field for the next two weeks seeking additional plaintiffs for the lawsuit. That suit was filed November 4 to ensure equal taxation of citizens. There is no risk in being a plaintiff. It’s merely standing up for rights guaranteed you by the New Jersey State Constitution. Come join in with us in this special case to show the politicians that the proper collection of taxes is just as important as the spending of your tax dollar. We at PFTRG seem to learn every day how unfair advantage has been taken of those least able to pay their taxes. We want your individual stories in brief for the courts to review. It will help us make the case.

If one of our members contacts you, they may also ask for a contribution. Many have given $100 or more, some $1000, but feel free to join us and give what you can, even if you can only afford less. Virtually all the funding goes to the lawsuit. Our lawyers are donating a significant portion of their time in the public interest. You don’t often get a chance to stand up and be counted like this right in your home town of Princeton.

Grossly unfair assessment increases in the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood first got the attention of the town. But we all came quickly to understand that the pattern was repeated elsewhere all along the boundary line of the Borough and Township in otherwise homogeneous neighborhoods of similar housing stock. That includes Harris Road-Carnehan, Jefferson-Moore, Linden Lane-Hawthorne, Franklin to Clearview and Hamilton, Snowden Lane-Deerpath, Riverside-Prospect-South Harrison, and all along the lake-front. This is why a revaluation must be done correctly this time. You cannot consolidate municipalities without guaranteeing equal tax treatment. It will take careful scrutiny and not just a gloss over by the elected officials. Make them take notice of you. For more information please feel free to contact myself or Jim Firestone at (609) 647-9802.

Jim Floyd
Harris Road

To the Editor:

My son Christopher Reeve, the actor and activist who grew up in Princeton, has been nominated for inclusion in the 2012 New Jersey Hall of Fame. He was nominated in the Arts and Entertainment category, which also lists Alan Alda, Michael Douglas, Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie and The E-Street Band, all of whom have a connection to New Jersey, as do the other nominees. The other categories with similar lists of well known people with a New Jersey connection are sports, enterprise (i.e. business), historical and general.

Anyone can vote for their favorite candidate in any of the categories using the internet link njhalloffame.org. The deadline is December 31, 2011. Your email address is the mechanism by which they make sure you only vote once for a particular candidate, but you can vote for more than one candidate in a category and for candidates in other categories as well.

Since learning of Chris’s nomination from the Reeve Foundation in October, when the nominations were announced, I have told a few friends about this honor and left it at that. I’m taking this further step of calling attention to it and to the opportunity to vote for Chris because I think many Town Topics readers might want to vote for him and thus assure that he has a good showing from his hometown.

Barbara L. Johnson
Wilton Street

To the Editor:

I fully support the Institute for Advanced Study in its plan to expand its faculty housing. It is essential for communities to give proper weight to former fields of battle while balancing remembrance with the requirement to maintain rational and eminently reasonable development.

The Institute needs to provide affordable housing for its unique community of scholars, and I have to believe that all Princeton residents can appreciate the need for affordable housing. The recent demands that Institute land should not be developed because it is “hallowed ground” simply stretch credulity.

Over 234 years have passed since the guns fell silent on the Princeton Battlefield. The hallowed ground is the common grave on State Park land, holding the mortal remains of 15 American and 21 British troops. Much of the battlefield has been preserved — the expansive fields, the common grave, the Clarke House, the Washington Oak, and the young Mercer Oak.

We Princetonians take seriously our charge to be faithful guardians of our heritage for future generations. The current State Park, coupled with efforts of such groups as the Princeton Battlefield Society, Spirit of Princeton, and the Princeton Regional Schools have fully integrated the battle into the life of our community, and in so doing Princeton benefits profoundly.

Opponents to the Institute’s plans highlight the fact that some 52 battle-related artifacts were found in a past survey on the land in question, while downplaying the fact that over 700 agricultural artifacts were also found. After the battle, the fields reverted to their original agricultural use — so much for the “hallowed ground” argument.

In Europe, no stranger to wars, fields are tilled where battles once raged. Cities, once scourged by house to house fighting, now ring with the laughter of children. Battlefields serve as a memento mori and as a cautionary tale, with the enlightened understanding that the human landscape is far more important than the topographic. Princeton Battlefield State Park as currently constituted ably fulfills both duties.

Communities must have the flexibility to grow, or they run the very real risk of stultification and decline. We must not let our society become a cult of the dead, especially at the expense of the living; nor should we allow our future to be held hostage by distorting the past.

Mark Scheibner
Prospect Avenue

To the Editor:

On behalf of Save the Princeton Dinky, I would like to thank Borough Council for its thoughtful attention to the community mobility issues raised by the proposed relocation of the Dinky. When it approved the E-5 arts campus zoning at its December 6 hearing, Council sent a clear message that the University’s plan to move the Dinky terminus away from the town center reflects bad public policy.

The E-5 zone approved by Council permits development for the arts, but, as Council has recognized, the new zoning does not require relocation of the Dinky. In fact, no member of the public who spoke on December 6 in favor of passing the zoning now, without immediate protection for the Dinky right of way, argued that moving the Dinky is a good idea. Our community has a strong commitment to the arts but it has an equally strong commitment to sustainable development. It believes that mobility is valuable and worth preserving. The community sentiment is clear: Princeton supports the University’s arts campus. Princeton does not want the University to move the Dinky downhill and away from Nassau Street.

As the process continues, let us hope that the views of the community and of Borough Council will encourage the University to re-imagine its arts campus as one that can go forward by embracing the Dinky, not displacing it.

Anita Garoniak
Harris Road