August 14, 2013

Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) will welcome the Reverend Dr. John E. White as the new dean of students and vice president for student relations, starting September 1.

Mr. White is not new to Princeton. From 1992 to 2000 he was pastor of the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church. He also previously served as dean of students and vice president for student services at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He is a graduate of Pittsburgh Seminary with both the M.Div. and D.Min. degrees, and has served the Presbyterian Church (USA) in many capacities, including as vice moderator of Pittsburgh Presbytery.

“John has a real heart for students and he will bring energy and wisdom to our entire Seminary community, said Princeton Seminary president Craig Barnes.

Princeton Seminary, the first theological seminary founded by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), has a student body of more than 500 students in six degree programs. They come from 44 states in the union and from 25 countries around the world.

The Reverend Dr. Catherine Cook Davis has been promoted to associate dean of student life and director of student placement, also effective September 1.

For more information, visit: www.ptsem.edu.

Last week, Princeton Council declined to put a non-binding referendum question on the November 5 General Election ballot that would ask voters whether a portion of the former Valley Road School at 369 Witherspoon Street should be turned into a community center with space for local non-profit groups.

To get a public question on the ballot a petition must be signed by 10 percent of voters; community center advocates had presented a petition signed by more than 2100 Princeton voters to Council in July.

However, according to Council as advised by municipal attorney Edwin Schmierer, the question cannot be included on the ballot because the building is owned by the Princeton Public School District.

In 2002, Princeton Township sold the building to the School District for $1.

The Valley Road School-Adaptive Reuse Committee (VRS-ARC) wants the town to buy back the building from the School District for the same $1 amount and then lease it to them at a similar nominal rate.

In an interview on Monday, Kip Cherry, President of Valley Road School Community Center, Inc. (VRSCCI), the nonprofit organization formed two years ago to raise money for the building’s renovation, said that she did not see Council’s decision as a setback. “Regardless of whether the question of saving Valley Road School is on the ballot, the people have weighed in and they overwhelmingly want to see the historic Valley Road School saved and reused. Ten percent of all Princeton voters signed the petition. I feel that the people have spoken,” she said.

Ms. Cherry, who collected signatures for the petition, described Princeton voters as “knowledgeable” on the issue. “They have watched Valley Road School deteriorate over the years; they care about the historic fabric of our town and about the public assets that make Princeton unique; they also know that renovating a building well-suited for a purpose is less expensive than tearing it down and building a new one,” she said. “Many Princeton voters will be disappointed at not having a chance to vote in November.”

Advocates of the community center plan would still like to see a referendum and Ms. Cherry believes that there is -opportunity to do so at a future date. Undeterred by last week’s council meeting, VRSCCI, in conjunction with VRS-ARC, released details on Monday of construction cost estimates for renovating the building, along with a conceptual design.

Prepared by New York architect Cary Spiegel, AIA, the estimates puts the total cost of construction including fees and contingencies at $3.9 million, considerably less than a School Board estimate of “at least $10.8 million.”

Ms Cherry said that when her group had asked for justification of the School Board’s estimate, no documentation was forthcoming.

According to Ms. Cherry, the figure from Spiegel Consultants, was prepared under the direction of VRSCCI’s architect, Josh Zinder, AIA, and includes two black box theaters and approximately 20,000 square feet of rental space.

A Little History

Now almost 100 years old, the original two-story school was designed by Robert A. Schumann and built on land given to “the inhabitants of Princeton Township” by Ernest and Grace Richardson. It opened in 1918 and was Princeton’s first integrated elementary school.

In 2011, Ms. Cherry submitted detailed plans to the Board of Education for its adaptive reuse as a community center in a 208-page proposal.

Earlier this year, the municipality created a task force, led by Councilman Lance Liverman, to explore the building’s use with respect to a possible expansion of the firehouse on Witherspoon Street.

In May of this year, on the same day that the building was listed by Preservation New Jersey (PNJ) as one of the 10 most endangered historic places of 2013, advocates launched their campaign to put the question of saving the building on November’s ballot. PNJ had described it as “an ideal candidate for rehabilitation, threatened by poor stewardship and uncertainty of future plans.”

Earlier proposals for the building had been received by the Board of Education. In 2008, several scenarios were put forward by KSS Architects of Princeton with costs ranging from $5.5 million to $24 million depending on the extent of the renovation, from maintaining all or some of the structures to partial or total demolition.

The District’s website has a timeline summarizing the actions and decisions by the Board of Education regarding the building since October 2007.

Asked for comment on what might be next for Valley Road School, former Princeton Township Mayor Richard Woodbridge, Chair of VRC-ARC and, like Ms. Cherry, a former student at the school, said: “The one thing we have learned from most other school-to-community-center conversions (like Chatham, Mass.) is that there is normally initial resistance. The lesson is be prepared for it and keep pressing the obvious financial and social advantages. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: Never give up. Never. Never. Never … Never.”

Princeton Council will next meet on August 26. Attorney Bruce I. Afran, the lawyer for the nonprofit organization, is expected to appear before the council to discuss the referendum at that time.

Meanwhile community center advocates continue to write letters to the editor of this newspaper on the subject (see page 12).

 

August 7, 2013

The Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society, known as The Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS), has filed an appeal of the Princeton Planning Board decision approving the Institute for Advanced Study’s faculty housing project.

The appeal was expected following a ruling, in June, by the Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson against the Society’s suit to overturn the Princeton Planning Board’s decision.

On March 21 of last year, the Planning Board unanimously approved the Institute’s plans to build a group of faculty townhomes and single-family residences on its property adjacent to Princeton Battlefield Park.

“We were unlucky with Judge Jacobson,” said Princeton Battlefield Society President, Jerry Hurwitz. “With a different judge it may have gone our way. This time we will be able to critique her opinion and show its weaknesses as well as represent our case all over again. That’s a good thing.”

The appeal, which was filed with the NJ Appellate Division, will be more than a review of Judge Jacobson’s recent decision, however. It will be a de novo appeal, which means that the Society will have an opportunity to present their arguments to a panel of judges, instead of one judge as was the case with the Superior Court.

Mr. Hurwitz is hopeful of a successful outcome this time around. “I have a deep respect for what our forebears did here, men fought and died on that field in one of the principal battles of the Revolutionary War, a turning point and a brilliant move by Washington, I would say his most brilliant strategic move,” said Mr. Hurwitz yesterday. “The Battlefield Society remains steadfast in its conviction that preserving the site of the climactic counterattack is of enormous importance to the understanding of this turning point victory.”

“Without preserving the site and its natural topography and setting, still undeveloped after more than 235 years, the American people will lose a vital link to the past every bit as important to the creation of this nation as Gettysburg is to preserving it,” he said.

According to Mr. Hurwitz, the site where the Institute wants to build lies at the very heart of Washington’s counterattack, which broke the British lines. “To allow housing there would be like building over the site of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. It’s simply inconceivable,” he said. “The Battle of Princeton was General Washington’s first win against professional British regulars, unlike the Battle of Trenton where he faced only German mercenaries, and it was where the fledgling American Marine Corps suffered its very first battlefield casualty.”

Kip Cherry, vice president of PBS, concurs. “There is a great deal of evidence that if Washington had not prevailed with his winning counterattack, the American Revolution would have been lost and that’s how important we believe our legal challenge is.”

The Institute’s long-standing plans to build faculty housing are described on its website (www.ias.edu) which notes the residential nature of its scholarly community. The plan would cluster eight townhouses and seven single-family homes on a seven-acre parcel of land that sits between existing faculty homes and the Institute’s main campus. The buildings are designed to have a low profile and be screened from the Battlefield Park by trees. An additional 200-foot buffer zone alongside the Battlefield Park would be permanently preserved as open space.

But according to Mr. Hurwitz, the Institute has already done enough damage to the historic site by building over what was an orchard at the time of the battle. “They should not be allowed to destroy more,” he believes. “There is more than enough land elsewhere on the Institute’s property for faculty housing to be built,” he said.

The suit against the Planning Board’s decision, the subject of the current appeal, is one of two that the Society has brought on the issue of IAS housing. The second suit concerns a disputed default decision concerning a waiver from the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission.

PBS attorney Bruce Afran feels confident that the case against the Planning Board’s decision will have a better chance of being heard fairly when it goes before a two- or three-judge panel of the Appellate Division. Interviewed by phone yesterday, he said: “Judge Jacobson’s opinions will be scutinized. With all due respect, she made some mistakes of law and did not address some important issues. For example, the Princeton Planning Board was required to find that the Institute’s plans would not have an unreasonably adverse impact on either the site itself or on the neighboring site. The Planning Board never made that finding, in spite of the fact that there was a report on file from the State Historic Preservation Officer, Dorothy Guzzo, that said that there would be an adverse impact on the neighboring historic site.”

Mr. Afran, believes that the Planning Boards silence on Ms. Guzzo’s report is one of the reasons that its decision to approve the IAS housing should be vacated, or nullified. “That’s just one of many issues we have with Judge Jacobson’s ruling,” said Mr. Afran. Others concern zoning for a cluster development and impact on wetlands.

“It’s going to be many years before the Institute can build, if it can build at all on this site,” said Mr. Afran. “But this isn’t so much about defeating the Institute’s plans as it is about saving ground where people fought and died.”

It is clear that the Princeton Battlefield Society is prepared to take the issue all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court, if necessary.

 

Hoping to attract more households to sign up for the town’s curbside organic waste program, Princeton Council approved a new fee schedule at its meeting on Monday night, allowing the initiative to be continued into 2014.

New sign-ups for the municipal collection of food waste, scraps, and other organic materials will pay the $65 annual fee, but it will be pro-rated through the end of next year. So far, 701 households have joined the program, according to Bob Hough, the town’s director of infrastructure and operations. Last month, 49 signed up for the service. Officials said earlier this year that they hoped to have 1,000 people enrolled by the end of 2013.

“One of the comments we’ve repeatedly gotten is that people don’t want to pay the $65 fee for six months or five months,” Mr. Hough said of those residents his office has spoken with about the program. “We have had a number of people say they will sign up if their $65 goes for 12 months or more.”

Under the voluntary program, participants place organic materials in a green container for once-weekly pickup by Central Jersey Waste and Recycling. Princeton pays the hauler $180 per household, a portion of which is offset by the $65 fee. The program is “somewhat of a loss leader right now,” municipal administrator Bob Bruschi said Monday afternoon, before the meeting. The town subsidizes the initiative about $2,500 a month.

The organics are currently hauled to a recycling center in Delaware. “If we find a closer location, it will be less costly for the municipality,” Mr. Bruschi said. “Part of the idea of getting the numbers up is to get someone to come into Mercer County to handle it so we don’t have to take it to Delaware.”

Council member Heather Howard commented that she wished participants didn’t have to pay a fee to participate in the program. “I hope next year we can consider lowering it,” she said. Fellow Council member Patrick Simon concurred with Mr. Bruschi about the future of the program. “The intent is to get a facility closer to here,” he said. “That’s the goal. Having a facility nearby will drive the cost of it down.”

Also at the meeting, the Council voted 3-2 to introduce an ordinance that would designate the town’s administrator as the appropriate authority over the police department. Council member Jo Butler, who voted against the introduction along with Bernie Miller, argued that the Council should be the authority because it is transparent, and therefore less political. A public hearing on the ordinance will take place at the August 26 meeting of the Council.

 

Princeton’s new boarding school, the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science (PRISMS), is getting ready for the start of its first semester at the site once occupied by the American Boychoir School on Lambert Drive, off Rosedale Road.

The school has appointed Dr. Glenn W. McGee as Head of School. Mr. McGee retired from as President of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA), which he had led since 2007.

A veteran educator, with 40 years of service from teaching to school superintendent and Superintendent of Education for the state of Illinois, Mr. McGee is a 1972 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he earned a BA in political science. He gaineed his doctorate in educational administration from the University of Chicago in 1985.

The opportunity to start a new venture from the ground up proved irresistible to Mr. McGee, who is known as “Max” to friends and former students. Eight of his IMSA graduates currently attend Princeton University, including Shawon Jackson, president of Princeton’s undergraduate student government. “When Shawon heard about my coming here, he said he’d be a frequent visitor to the new school.”
IMSA alumnae applauding Mr. McGee’s new appointment include IMSA alumnus Steve Chen, co-founder and chief technology officer of YouTube. “This school is a start up and you’re always talking about entrepreneurship and innovation, so here is your chance to practice what you preach,” Mr. Chen told his IMSA mentor.

IMSA has a record of producing high achievers with a global perspective. Alumnae like Russel Simmons, co-founder and chief technology officer of Yelp Inc. and one of the founding members of PayPal, and Sam Yagan founder of SparkNotes and now CEO of match.com, are supportive of Mr. McGee’s vision.

“The Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science is a opportunity to build a world class school that will be an exemplary model,” says Mr. McGee. “That’s not an opportunity that comes along every day and I have a chance to bring all that I’ve learned about public education to bear on the sort of education that is necessary for the future of our country and indeed for the world as a whole.”

When Mr. McGee talks about the new school, he lights up with enthusiasm. He has big goals for its student body. “Working in partnership with some of the top schools in the world, our sister schools in St. Petersburg, Paris, and Seoul, we can bring the best of American and Chinese education together. That’s something that hasn’t been done before. Uniting the intellectual rigor and academic discipline of China and the innovation, exploration, and groundbreaking research of America will provide incredible opportunities for our students.”

International Collaboration

International collaboration is a philosophy that Mr. McGee brings with him from IMSA and is a perfect fit for PRISMS which hopes to collaborate with scientists at neighboring institutions of higher learning such as Princeton University. “We want to give our students an opportunity for authentic applied research. This isn’t going to be an AP factory, we will emphasize research and global studies,” says the new school head.

“Global problems require global collaboration. We won’t be able to do this alone. The best minds from all over the globe will be needed and this school is where I hope they will start.”

At 62, the athletic educator competes regularly in triathlons “It impresses the grandchilden when I come home with a medal but the truth is that in my age group it’s not so unusual,” he laughs.

Mr. McGee’s wife, Jan, is also a prominent leader in secondary education. The couple loves to water and snow ski and are avid dancers. They have been married for 25 years and have three adopted children Joey, Jess and Mike, and four grandchildren.

Jan is currently Executive Director, Urban Education Laboratory at Naperville, Illinois and will join her husband as soon as she wraps up her work there. She has worked for 26 years with school children in high poverty areas, preparing the next generation of teachers and leaders. “Jan is my conscience, my consultant, and my chief policy adviser,” says Mr. McGee.

Preparations

There’s a lot to sort out before the first month of any school year. Even more so with a brand new school. PRISM has been hiring teachers for the start of term in September when it opens with a pilot program serving 30 students. The faculty is a mix of international and home-grown talent, at least one IMSA alumnus with a PhD in mathematics and the former coach of the Chinese Olympic mathematics team. Besides math and science, there will be faculty in biology and engineering.

The school site was purchased in January by the Bairong Education Foundation (BEF) and will serve 9th through 12th grades and may extend at some future date to include 7th grade.

According to Mr. McGee, the private international coeducational boarding school will have 80 percent residential and 20 percent day students with an even split between international and American students. It will open in the fall of 2014.

The Princeton architectural firm of J. Robert Hillier (a Town Topics shareholder) is working on a master plan, renovating two existing buildings, and designing a new classroom and laboratory building that will contain a multi-use community space.

The renovations and additions on the approximately 17.5 acre tract that was once the private estate of pharmaceutical businessman Gerard Lambert, are necessary to support a greater number of students than attended the American Boychoir School, which had a maximum of around 80 boarders.

As far as future numbers are concerned, Mr. McGee says that the ultimate goal will more likely be for 240 to 250 students rather than the 300 originally reported in the media.

Listening to the Neighbors

Neighbors have questioned the increased numbers of students at the school, some three times as many as attended the American Boychoir School, and some 40 faculty members. Some staff and the majority of students would live on campus. But so far, Mr. McGee is confident that the concerns will be addressed. As soon as he arrived, he sent a note to the neighbors including a photograph of his family, invitating them for coffee. Conversations have led, in some cases, to screens of trees being installed between the adjoining properties. “The neighbors have given us lots of ideas and filled us in on the history of the Lambert Estate,” said Mr. McGee. “Sally Sword, in particular, has been most informative. I’ve learned a lot. My sense is that they appreciate our plan to restore the beauty and create a garden campus.”

To this end Juliana Ka of The Bairong Foundation, which is supporting the school, has been leading the restoration effort. She has already installed a beautiful pond, complete with bridge and colorful koi and begun work on the once-neglected Olmsted Garden and its fountain. So far, says Ms. Ka, the restoration has cost some $2 million. The property originally cost just under $6 million and the Foundation plans on spending a total of $30 million in all.

A grand opening of the school is planned to take place on September 18.

 

July 31, 2013

In an 8-1 vote, Princeton’s Planning Board approved the revised plan that AvalonBay has proposed for the former site of the University Medical Center at Princeton. While none of the Board members professed to favor every aspect of the proposal last Thursday evening, each praised the developer for its efforts to accommodate residents’ concerns about size, permeability, sustainability, and design.

“I think this final design is a much improved design,” said former Princeton Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman, a member of the Board and a resident of the neighborhood where the 280-unit rental complex will be built. “The applicant has agreed to change some things, particularly the distribution of affordable housing, and has added very low income housing. And the fact that they will give consideration for adding a generator is important.”

“You listened to us,” said Board member Gail Ullman. “I don’t love everything about it, but you really did meet us halfway and I’m pleased to be a part of the approval of this application.”

It was in December 2012 that the Planning Board voted to reject AvalonBay’s proposal after numerous complaints and objections from neighborhood residents, particularly those who were members of the organization Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods (PCSN). The developer sued the Board and the municipality, and then approached the town about reaching an agreement. By May, Plan B was ready for a presentation to the community at Community Park School. Four special hearings in front of the Board began in late June. The final one, at which the vote was cast, was held last Thursday.

In a statement on Friday, AvalonBay’s Vice President for Development Jon Vogel said he is pleased that the company can now move forward “with a project that will transform the former Princeton University Medical Center into a much-needed multifamily apartment homes that will be well integrated into the Princeton community.”

Several modifications were included among AvalonBay’s concessions to local residents’ requests and the -recommendations of Princeton’s zoning and environmental commissions. The 56 affordable units in the complex will be dispersed throughout, with 13 percent devoted to those of very low income. The 56 affordable apartments at the complex will range in price from $310 for a studio, for very low income; to $1,088 for a three-bedroom unit, for moderate income.

In response to complaints that the original design was for one “monolithic” building, the development now promises two large buildings and three smaller townhouse clusters. A public park at the site has been enlarged. The developer has made a $70,000 contribution to the Arts Council of Princeton for the acquisition of artworks that will be placed throughout the complex.

“We have made numerous modifications,” said AvalonBay’s lawyer Robert Kasuba. “I think that is obvious to anyone who has looked.”

During the 17-month process, members of PCSN were particularly vocal in their objections to some aspects of AvalonBay’s proposal. But the group formally withdrew its opposition to the plan because of the expenses incurred for the services of an environmental attorney. In a statement on Friday, the group’s trustees acknowledged the efforts of its supporters.

“We want to thank the hundreds of citizens who were catalyzed to research, consult, speak at public hearings, write to the press, and donate funds,” the trustees said. “PCSN, together with community pressure, gained us Plan B: five buildings (not one), which include two large buildings and three townhouse buildings on Franklin Avenue. A new private drive connecting Henry Avenue to Franklin with a semi-public piazza, adds permeability to Plan B, and the pocket park that was moved to the corner of Witherspoon and Franklin.”

Mr. Vogel also thanked residents and government officials, “for keeping an open mind during this entire process and allowing AvalonBay to listen and respond to local sentiments,” he said.

Board member Cecelia Birge cast the lone vote against the proposal. “It’s a tough vote for me. Generally I’m a person who likes to say yes. But I can’t vote for it,” she said, citing concerns about preserving the character of the town and respecting the environment.

 

Details of a plan for a monument to those who died in the September 11 World Trade Center attack were presented to Princeton Council at its July 22 meeting. While no action was taken, the Council expressed enthusiasm for the proposal, which would place the sculpture on Monument Drive outside the former Borough Hall.

Mayor Liz Lempert encouraged Deputy Chief of the Princeton Fire Department Roy James to present the plan to the town’s Historic Preservation Commission as the next step. Mr. James has been advocating for establishment of a monument since securing a 10-foot long, two-ton steel beam from the ruins of the World Trade Center in March 2010. The beam was brought to Princeton from Brooklyn last year on a flatbed truck by first response vehicles and motorcyclists.

Architect Pam Rew of KSS Architects and sculptor Pietro del Fabro, who have been working on the project, said they want to place the monument in a spot that would afford privacy for visitors, but could also be seen from the road. “We wanted people to be able to memorialize loved ones, but we don’t want the site to be a museum piece,” Ms. Rew said. She looked at designs of memorials by architect Philip Johnson, among other artists and architects, in coming up with a plan for the memorial.

The column of steel would be encased in limestone forms that are broken at the top, Mr. del Fabro said. Information about the memorial, including poetry, would be placed on a stone walkway. The material for the memorial would be the same as that of the existing Battle Monument near the site. The sculptor also said that the public would be encouraged to participate in the memorial by etching their own messages onto another beam at the site.

“History will always repeat itself if we forget,” Mr. James said. “We’re trying to make this memorial different from what you’d normally see.”

A point of concern about the steel beam salvaged from the Twin Towers is that it has a hole in the shape of a cross carved into one side. Some members of Council said that the cross could be seen as a religious symbol, which would violate the separation of church and state. “We know our community was affected by these tragic events,” said Council member Heather Howard. “But we have to do our due diligence on the legal end with issues if government is promoting one religion over another. There may be legal risks.”

Mr. James said he feels the cross, which was likely carved by a worker at the disaster site, is part of history and should not be hidden. But if obscuring the cross is a condition of getting the project in place, he is willing to accept it. Mr. James would like to have the steel beam in the ground by September 11 for a small ceremony, to be followed a year later by a more extensive unveiling of the memorial.

The memorial would cost between $76,000 and $100,000. Mr. James said he wants to start fundraising once the proposal is approved by Council. Asking if the town could help with excavating, he said Princeton University has offered to donate bluestone and possibly limestone. He added that he could borrow the money from Council and pay it back once donations are secured.

 

Citizens concerned about the effects of the proposed Transco pipeline addition on the Princeton Ridge met earlier this month with officials from The Williams Company, which wants to implement the project. The gathering included a two-hour walk through the area in question and left residents breathing easier about environmental and safety issues associated with the plan.

Officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), Mayor Liz Lempert, and a representative from Representative Rush Holt’s office were among others who attended the meeting, according to Barbara Blumenthal. of the Princeton Ridge Coalition, a citizens’ group. The Oklahoma-based company wants to expand the existing natural gas pipeline that runs through a 1.3 mile section of the ridge between Coventry Farms and Cherry Valley Road.

Since the announcement last February of the company’s proposal, residents of the area that would be affected and other local citizens have been vocal in their concerns about blasting, the effects on the natural environment, and other related issues. Public meetings have been held by Williams and FERC, inviting citizen input. About 25 members of the Coalition were on hand for the most recent gathering, Ms. Blumenthal said.

“Williams presented their plan, which has been revised to try and do what we’ve asked them to do, which is to minimize the need to cut out trees,” she said on Monday. “Rather than assuming they would take a 50-foot corridor of new clearing, they’re going to try and work within the existing footprint. In some places, they may have to take out some trees. But the worst possible option is no longer on the table.”

The walk through the ridge was followed by a two-hour meeting at the Williams regional office on Farber Road. Williams spokesman Chris Stockton said the level of cooperation between the citizens’ group and the company is an example of what the pre-filing phase, which FERC instituted a decade ago, is supposed to do.

“There was a time when we’d just file an application and say, ‘This is what we want to do.’ And then people would say we didn’t consider their perspective,” Mr. Stockton said. “But that has changed. FERC created the pre-filing stage to facilitate early interaction between pipeline companies and interested stakeholders to make sure issues would be addressed early rather than sneaking up on us later. This is where a company needs to get on the ground and walk the route and identify potential solutions to lessen impact.”

Ms. Blumenthal said there are still issues to be considered. “They addressed an important one, which is the footprint,” she said. “But we still have very serious safety concerns about boulders and wetlands. We are waiting to get more information from them to run past our outside advisors so we can be reassured that the specific plans they haven’t figured out yet will be safe.”

One safety concern Williams has considered has to do with ground penetrating radar. “We’re happy we’ve been able to work with them and actually improve some of their plans on this,” Ms. Blumenthal said. “The big issue is that it’s unfortunate that the pipeline is in this location in the first place. Because if they were planning a new one today, they would not be putting it in the Princeton Ridge. There was discussion about this, and FERC officials made it clear they’d be looking at alternatives as part of the process.”

Mr. Stockton said Williams is currently in the design phase for the project, and plans to file its proposal with FERC this fall. The agency will then conduct a thorough review that will take approximately eight to 10 months before making its final decision.

“We’re happy that we engaged with them early,” said Ms. Blumenthal. “We sent a very powerful message about how important this is to Princeton.” 

July 24, 2013

At a meeting of the Planning Board last Thursday, Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods (PCSN) announced it was no longer opposing developer AvalonBay’s proposal for 280 rental units at the former site of the University Medical Center at Princeton. In a statement this week, PCSN supporters said the abrupt about-face was due to mounting legal and professional fees incurred over the past year and a half.

“The Trustees continue to carry a significant legal financial responsibility for full payment of debts,” the statement reads. “Presenting a case at the Planning Board meeting on July 18 would have involved yet further, sizable attorney and expert fees.”

The initial announcement, which was in the form of a letter from PCSN’s attorney Robert Simon, was read by Planning Board chair Wanda Gunning at the meeting, the third devoted almost solely to the AvalonBay proposal. At the final meeting this Thursday, the Board is expected to vote on whether to approve the company’s plan, which has been revised since the Board voted to reject it last December.

After that rejection, the developer filed suit against the town and the Planning Board. Meetings were then held between the town and AvalonBay in an effort to come to an agreement, and avoid litigation. Since then, the developer has been presenting its revised case to the Board. The major objections to the proposal, voiced by citizens in numerous meetings of Princeton Borough Council last year, had to do with environmental issues, the height of the buildings, issues of permeability, and public space, among other concerns.

Despite PCSN’s formal withdrawal of opposition to the plan, there were plenty of people on hand at the most recent meeting to express their doubts. Resident and retired plumber John Armonia said the current site plan does not adequately address the issue of basements on Henry Avenue that have been flooded with raw sewage — a problem that has disappeared since the hospital vacated the site last May but will return if the complex is built. “This problem is definitely going to come back if nothing is done,” he said. “The entire AvalonBay complex is going to tie into our Henry Avenue line, which is crazy.”

Harris Road resident and architect Dan Shea said AvalonBay’s plan would deliver a “destructive, pervasive impact” to the neighborhood. “I have never before witnessed such blatant disregard for design regulations,” he said. Others showed power point presentations focused on the size of the buildings. Evan Yassky of Hawthorne Avenue said the Planning Board should not be pressured into approving “an unsympathetic and overscaled proposal.”

Shirley Satterfield, who lives on Quarry Street and is a longtime resident of the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood adjacent to the hospital site, read a statement saying the complex would change the economics of the area and force residents to move out of town. “Developers come to Princeton with no interest or respect for residents and descendants of those families who have lived in Princeton for generations and who cannot afford to remain or return,” she said …. “The working class and laborers who, for generations, have serviced the well-to-do Princeton residents, have been forced out of Princeton because of the the lack of affordable housing.”

Speaking in favor of the complex, resident Christine Keddie said it would make Princeton a more walkable community. “Either we allow more apartment housing to be allowed in town or we might as well draw a big red line around Princeton and say, only upper and upper-middle-class residents are welcome,” she said.

Kim Pimley of Library Place, who is chair of the Princeton HealthCare System Foundation Board of Directors, urged the Board to approve the proposal, as did resident Maria Juega, who said it brings much-needed affordable housing units to the town (the proposed complex includes 56 affordable housing units).

PCSN’s statement thanked those who have supported their efforts over the past 17 months. “In addition to PCSN’s overall accomplishments, we should all be proud of PCSN’s work in securing AvalonBay’s commitment to provide 13 percent very low income units that will house families in seven units of the 56 affordable units if AvalonBay’s Plan B is approved by the Planning Board,” it reads. “The inclusion of very low income units in a private development is unprecedented in Princeton.”

The statement also says supporters “should be equally proud that PCSN has secured AvalonBay’s commitment to donate $70,000 to the Princeton Arts Council — funds that will be dedicated to the acquisition and placement of public art throughout the AvalonBay development if AvalonBay’s Plan B is approved by the Planning Board.”

The final meeting of the Planning Board on AvalonBay is this Thursday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m.

 

Princeton’s cooling stations saw their share of use during last week’s heat wave. but the Princeton Public Library, the “community’s living room” and a cherished refuge during Hurricane Sandy, was forced to close early Friday and Saturday and all day Sunday.

The library had already suffered through a week without air-conditioning, June 26-July 2, while a new compressor was being installed.

With the heat index over 100 through the weekend, the timing of Friday’s blow could not have been worse. A temporary fix allowed the library to open on Monday, but the final repairs could not be made until later that night, with work completed around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday morning the library was back to normal.

“It had nothing do to with the new compressor, which has been doing fine,” said Ms. Burger, who thinks the failure most likely resulted from stress on the system due to last week’s extreme heat. “It got so hot on Friday that the chiller tower went into the alarm mode, which tripped a switch that shut down the cooling. The chiller is on the roof, exposed to the sun. It turned out that we needed a new switch, which had to be ordered, and then repair people were busy with other heat-related emergencies.”

Having always been dedicated to making sure the library lived up to its role as the community’s living room, Ms. Burger expressed something not unlike any homeowner’s frustration (if on the grand scale) with parts that needed ordering and workers busy with other heat-related tasks.

“People were upset to find that we were closed,” Ms. Burger said Monday, speaking from her office on the third floor where the lights were low and fans were whirring. As she spoke, the rain began. Though Monday’s cloudburst may have signaled the end of the heat wave, she was still brooding over the weekend’s closings. “We do anything we can to stay open,” she said. “But it was just too hot in here for the staff to work.”

As for other cooling stations, Sgt. Michael Cifelli reports a constant flow of people finding relief in the Princeton Police Department. “We went through four cases of water,” he said.

Mauri Tyler, program director at another cooling station, the Suzanne -Patterson -Senior Resource Center behind Monument Hall says people came looking for both relief and recreation, since computers are available. “We had a larger than expected turnout for our Wednesday afternoon showing of Hyde Park on the Hudson.”

Craig Gronczewski, MD, the chairman of Emergency Medicine at UMCPP, reports no unusual spike in heat-related illnesses. “A few a day, that’s all,” he said. “Most people are pretty well educated by now.”

A Record July

Rutgers meteorologist Dave Robinson summed up by suggesting that July 2013 will likely rank as one of the five warmest New Jersey Julys on record. He also pointed out that with July 2013 on the top 10 list, five of the hottest Julys on record will have occurred since 2006. He also noted that while no daytime records were set, the air at night has been so humid that most nighttime temperatures failed to drop below 70 degrees.

With a petition signed by some 2,100 Princeton voters, citizens who want to turn the oldest part of the Valley Road School building into a non-profit community center appeared before Princeton Council Tuesday night to request that a referendum be put on the ballot in the November election.

But the town’s attorney told the Valley Road Adaptive Reuse Committee (VRS-ARC) and The Valley Road School Community Center Inc. that since the building is owned by the Princeton Public Schools, the municipality does not have jurisdiction over the property, and therefore does not have the authority to place a question on the ballot asking voters whether they support the idea of a community center.

“The initial problem we have is that this government does not own the Valley Road School building,” said lawyer Ed Schmierer. “The old 1924 deed conveyed it to the inhabitants of Princeton. It was amicably resolved 10 years ago when the deed was given to the School Board.”

There may be discussions by the governing body and the Board, he continued. “But there is no closure on any of these discussions. This is the legal hurdle that has been here from the very beginning. It’s still up in the air.”

The groups are proposing leasing the now-vacant section of the building at 369 Witherspoon Street for $1 a year over a period of 100 years. Two black box theaters, a cafe, and a box office are part of the plan, which was presented with renderings by architect Joshua Zinder. Non-profits would be able to use the spaces, and interest has already been expressed by McCarter Theatre, the after-school program Princeton School Plus, and Bryn Mawr Wellesley Books, said Kip Cherry in her remarks to the Council.

Ms. Cherry said that a preliminary cost estimate for the renovation and adaptive reuse is a total of $3.9 million, compared to the $10.8 million estimated by Princeton schools officials. The money would be raised from private donors, Ms. Cherry added.

Jim Firestone, also in favor of the proposal, said, “I think there is a misunderstanding. The Board says their estimate is $10.8 million, to renovate the building to prime space. But it doesn’t have to be [prime space].” Renovating for use as a school does require prime space, he said, while for the purposes of a community center, a different, less costly standard would apply.

Resident Dick Woodbridge, the first of the supporters to speak, asked Council to negotiate with the school district. Resident Claire Jacobus said each of the organizations that would use the proposed community center have their own boards, and know how to raise money. “Pretty soon you would have an army at the school. A lot of people are willing to give money for a community center that would be in the middle of town …. Please think hard and use your influence with the Board. Don’t let this building rot or be demolished. It would be a scar on this community far bigger than a pile of rubble on Witherspoon Street.”

Tim Quinn, president of the Board, stressed that finding a use for the portion of the building at 369 Witherspoon Street is a high priority and that the Board has not abandoned the property. “Specifically, the Board seeks a solution that will not put it in the legal or practical position of acting as landlord, but does allow it to retain a legal interest in the land should its facilities’ needs change at some point in the future — some point far sooner than 100 years,” he said.

The solution should also have no or minimal financial impact on the Board, should serve the best interests of the school district and the community and be “demonstrably viable from architectural, engineering, legal, logistical, and most importantly, funding perspectives,” he added. The Board rejected the community center proposal in March because the group had not raised funds for the project. “Given the total absence of any evidence of the group’s ability to fund its proposal, the Board arguably would have been in breach of its fiduciary responsibility to this community had it given the property to VRS-ARC on the terms proposed,” he said.

The municipality has been considering other uses for the property. The Council formed a task force early this year to explore the idea of using some of the land the building now occupies to expand the firehouse that sits next door. The town’s three volunteer fire companies merged into the firehouse’s main location after consolidation, and space is tight.

Council did not act on the issue at the meeting, but said they would like to be able to have a plan in place to present to the Board this fall.

 

July 17, 2013

The heat is on, and Princeton residents are cooling off in record numbers at the Community Pool. While there is room in the water for the 1,600 or so who are patronizing the Witherspoon Street complex each day, parking is another story. Anyone who has cruised through the lot, which serves the municipal building as well as the pool, knows that a spot can be a precious commodity during peak hours.

“Parking is far from perfect,” said Ben Stentz, Princeton’s recreation director. “The consolidation of the town’s operations and the fact that court has been expanded to two days a week has a lot to do with it. And those factors combined with a popular pool can make it a little bit crazy.”

Mr. Stenz said the town has emailed regular pool customers to alert them of overflow options, which include the lots at Community Park School and the park’s tennis courts. “I think for the most part, the pool patrons have done a good job of finding them,” he said. “But on days when court is in session, the full municipal staff is working and people want to swim, it creates a bit of a log jam.”

There are alternatives to driving to the pool. “We’ve tried to spread the word about use of the FreeB, which does stop at the complex, though I know that doesn’t work for everybody,” Mr. Stentz said. “But we try to encourage it. We also love it when people walk or ride their bikes, and we have plenty of bike racks.”

Attendance at the pool all summer has been “remarkable,” Mr. Stentz said, averaging about 1,600 visitors a day. The number can be deceiving, though. “All of those people aren’t here at the same time. We have programming, with specific hours for the master swimmers, the swim team, and swim and dive lessons,” he said. “We don’t open to the public until noon, so there is a kind of ebb and flow to the attendance.” The pool stays open until 8 p.m.

The American Red Cross has warned that excessive heat can be deadly, and urges those without air-conditioning to patronize area cooling stations during the warmest part of the day. The Princeton Police Department at 1 Valley Road, the Suzanne Patterson Center behind 1 Monument Drive, and the Princeton Public Library at 65 Witherspoon Street are designated local cooling stations. The Patterson Center is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The library’s hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday, till 6 p.m. Saturday, and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Never leave children or pets in the car, stay hydrated, avoid extreme temperature changes, avoid wearing dark colors because they absorb the sun’s rays, avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day, and check the contents of an emergency preparedness kit in the event of a power outage, the Red Cross recommends. Watch for signs of heat exhaustion — cool, moist, pale, or flushed skin, heavy sweating, headache, nausea, and dizziness. Call 911 if the person becomes ill or begins to lose consciousness.

At Community Park Pool, attendance is expected to spike this week as the heat wave continues. “We know that the numbers will jump,” Mr. Stentz said. “But listen, that’s why we’re here.”

 

At the second of four Planning Board meetings last Thursday devoted to AvalonBay’s plan for a rental complex at the site of the former University Medical Center of Princeton, the developer presented the latest refinements to their proposal. The changes are in response to complaints from local residents and suggestions by environmental and zoning officials about the look and size of the buildings and openness to the public.

Following the presentations, several members of the public voiced their continued concerns about the project. A few others expressed support for the plan, urging the Planning Board, which voted to reject AvalonBay’s original plan last December, to vote in favor of it this time.

Bill Wolfe of the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB) showed drawings detailing the roof lines of the two large buildings, using roof forms closer in size to the surrounding residences in the neighborhood. “I came to the conclusion that there was a real opportunity in these buildings to break up the masses,” he said. “I’m glad the applicant is still working on this, but would like them to think more about scale by changing the roof lines.”

AvalonBay’s architect Jonathan Metz, who is with the firm Perkins Eastman, said he tried to respond to Mr. Wolfe’s recommendations, showing fewer gables and dropped rooflines. “We feel we have addressed all of the [design] standards,” Mr. Metz said. The three most important requests from the public, he added, were for a range of styles and heights, avoiding a monolithic appearance, and permeability.

“We don’t believe it’s a gated community,” he said, adding that the only restricted area in the complex is a courtyard for residents only. “I think the rest of the site is completely open, more open than a private home would be.”

Tweaks to the plan also included more bicycle racks, and some alterations to the landscaping to reflect changes in the design. In addition, the 56 affordable housing units in the 280-unit development were redistributed among the two largest buildings of the complex.

Using a power point presentation, architect and local resident Areta Pawlinski expressed her disappointment with the plan during the public comment portion of the meeting. “Reading words in our local press, I was anticipating great changes from last fall’s AvalonBay Princeton Plan A to today’s Plan B,” she said. “Weeks after so many glowing words were released, looking carefully at the materials presented, I don’t see a submission that complies with the 2006 ordinance. Remember, it is all parts of this ordinance that govern the old hospital site …. It’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The surrounding neighborhoods are being ignored.”

Resident and environmental attorney Vincent Giordano suggested keeping the number of affordable units while lowering the number of total units, in order to adhere to the design standards in the ordinance. Resident Marco Gottardis was another member of the public to say that the buildings are too big and do not comply with the site plan ordinance. “Our residents have been sold out,” he said. “This was a bait and switch and you’ve allowed the hospital to do the planning for you. It’s still a private gated community.”

Research physicist and climate scientist Steven Griffies, another local resident, urged more comprehensive testing for mercury at the site. AvalonBay proposes testing for contamination by scent. That won’t work, he said, because mercury is odorless. “We cannot risk the lives of Princeton residents by hiding our heads in the sand,” he concluded.

Local resident David Keddie spoke in favor of AvalonBay’s plan. “Princeton needs housing,” he said. “It needs apartment housing most of all. Density is not our enemy. I would also say that this development is good for the environment. If it’s not built here, it will be built somewhere else, maybe on a farm field.”

Also voicing support was former Princeton Borough Council member Barbara Trelstad. “Approve the plan,” she urged the Board. “This is much smaller than the current hospital building. This is not a private gated community. This is a residential place with a back yard. Let’s move forward and welcome this development into our community.”

The two remaining Planning Board hearings are Thursday, July 18 and July 25 at Witherspoon Hall. Both begin at 7:30 p.m.

 

In the epilogue to his 2011 book Lessons Learned, former Princeton University President William G. Bowen, who was awarded a National Humanities Medal last week, quotes Greek poet C.F. Cavafy’s poem, “Ithaka,” to make a point about the way academic institutions help students and faculty see education as a “‘long journey,’ enormously consequential in its own right.”

Had it not been interrupted by illness, his own journey, “full of adventure, full of discovery,” would have taken the 79-year-old Bowen all the way to the White House July 10. David Bowen accepted the medal from President Obama on behalf of his father, who is said to be doing well now and looking forward to new projects. Princeton’s new President Christopher L. Eisgruber called Mr. Bowen “one of the great figures in American higher education” whose “legendary leadership of this University simultaneously elevated Princeton’s stature and strengthened its core values.” Other Princetonians receiving the Medal are former faculty member and historian Natalie Zemon Davis and sportswriter Frank Deford ’61.

Mr. Bowen has a special relationship with Cavafy’s poem and its “many a summer morning when/with what -pleasure, what joy,/you come into the harbors seen for the first time.” At Opening Exercises in the University Chapel, September 14, 1981, then-President Bowen read his faculty colleague Edmund Keeley’s translation of “Ithaka” in full, emphasizing the poem’s relevance “for the beginning of the academic year — and especially for those of you who are freshmen.” First-Lady-to-be Michelle Robinson ’85 was presumably among the students beginning “an entirely new journey” that day. The poem, Mr. Bowen went on to say, “reminds us of the need to have destinations in mind so that we do not simply wander aimlessly — so that we have at least some general sense of why we are here. Each of us is left, however, to determine his or her own Ithaka, which is as it should be.”

Mr. Bowen’s Ithaka is higher education. No wonder, then, that Cavafy’s poem surfaced again when his journey took him from Princeton to the presidency of the Mellon Foundation (1988-2006), where, according to the Mellon website, “his special interest in the application of information technology to scholarship led to a range of initiatives, including the Foundation-sponsored creation of JSTOR (a searchable electronic archive of the full runs of core journals in many fields), ARTstor (a repository of high-quality digitized works of art and related materials for teaching and research), and the destination to which the others lead, ITHAKA. After stating its mission, to help “the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways,” the website presents Cavafy’s poem in full under the heading, “Our Inspiration.”

Editor to Author

“Ithaka is a metaphor that means something very special to him,” says Mr. Bowen’s longtime friend and editor, Princeton University Press Director Peter Dougherty, who credits him for “singlehandedly” helping create the Press’s outstanding list of books on higher education: “He sees it as the vanguard, the leading edge.” Referring to his author’s “laser-like attention” to the subject, Mr. Dougherty describes him as a “very clear writer, and an extraordinary organizer of people who have worked with him. He knows what questions to ask and how to ask them, and he’s good at pulling together all this energy toward answering those questions.”

The NEH makes special mention of the book coauthored with former Harvard president Derek Bok The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions (Princeton 2000), which Mr. Dougherty says “cemented” his editor-author relationship with Mr. Bowen. Described as “a landmark in the national debate over affirmative action,” the book’s “overall conclusion is that race-sensitive admissions policies are effective and deserve the support of society.”

In addition to The Shape of the River and Lessons Learned, subtitled Reflections of a University President (2011), some recent Princeton University Press titles among the 20 books Mr. Bowen has written or co-written, include Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities (2009), Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values (2005) and this year’s Higher Education in the Digital Age, which focuses on the economic challenges facing higher education and how technology might help address them. Fittingly, this most recent post from Mr. Bowen’s “long consequential journey” was co-published with “the online scholarly project incubator” (in Peter Dougherty’s words) named for Cavafy’s “Ithaka.”

Born in Cincinnati, Mr. Bowen completed his college degree at Denison University in Granville, Ohio in 1955 and earned his PhD in economics at Princeton only three years later. He joined the Princeton faculty as a labor economist, becoming a full professor in 1965. In 1967, he was appointed provost, helping President Robert Goheen oversee the University’s transition to coeducation. In 1972, the year Sonia Sotomayor arrived as a freshman, he became, at 38, the University’s president. How he dealt with the challenges of that tumultuous time is described in Lessons Learned.

On that September morning in 1981, Mr. Bowen ended his evocation of “Ithaka,” his “text for the day,” with reference to the “harbors” of Princeton and the “encountering of a new idea, wrestling with it, turning it over in your mind, testing your comprehension of it — and, finally, if you are fortunate, coming to understand it and to appreciate its beauty. But you have to be open to such experiences; no one can force them on you. Don’t miss, please, the pleasure, the joy of learning.”

 

July 10, 2013

Ask any farmer if they’d rather have a dry year or a wet year, and the answer is likely to be the same: Dry. “You can water, but if you have too much rain, you can’t take it away,” says Gary Mount of Terhune Orchards in Lawrenceville, one of several local farms that has been affected by drenching rains in recent weeks. The wet weather, which abated over the July 4th weekend while the heat continued, has had farmers scrambling to rescue crops in their most important planting season.

“There’s just too much rain,” Mr. Mount said last week. “Extra moisture encourages diseases on plants. The ability to deal with it is related to how long it goes on. It’s only been wet for two and a half weeks. If it goes on all next month, that will be hard to deal with. But usually, we go through a wet or dry spell, and then things change.”

The driving rains were also unwelcome at Great Road Farm in Skillman, which supplies some of the produce to the Witherspoon Street restaurant Agricola as well as farmers’ markets in West Windsor and Brooklyn.

“It could be a record in June for rainfall in New Jersey,” said farm manager Steve Tomlinson. “We’re struggling to get our succession planting in. We plant every two weeks, or at least every month, so we have a constant supply. Right now our greenhouse is backing up with plants that haven’t been able to get out into the field. Our tomatoes are looking pretty stressed.”

June actually did set a record as the wettest on record in New Jersey since 1895, according to information from the New Jersey state climatologist. The heavy rains damaged crops like blueberries, squash, and tomatoes.

“The only thing that doesn’t mind the water is sweet corn,” said Judee Deficcio, whose Pineland Farms in Hammonton supplies her stand at the Trenton Farmers’ Market. “We have sandy soil, which drains well but tends to wash away nutrients when there is that much water. Blueberries just keep absorbing water, and they get soft. The other problem with blueberries is that you don’t want to pick them when they’re wet. There were days when we’d pick for an hour or two instead of the usual 12. Also, you don’t want to pick in the extreme heat, and we’ve had plenty of that, too.”

Farmers know to prepare for heavy rains by planting raised beds. “This prevents the plants from getting over-saturated. It really helps us a lot,” said Mr. Mount. Planting varieties that are resistant to diseases caused by extra moisture is another form of insurance. More applications of fungicide can also help.

“It’s nobody’s favorite job, but you have to know that a rainy year requires more,” Mr. Mount said. “Most commercial farmers now use a monitoring system to help judge when they need more and when they don’t. In a wet year, more has to be used.”

The sweet cherries at Terhune are very susceptible to rain, but covering them to keep moisture out has saved this year’s crop. “It was a problem, but fortunately we had a way of dealing with it,” Mr. Mount said.

Ms. Deficcio watched an entire field of squash “just melt” in the rain, she said. Squash is one of the most easily damaged by saturation, and not just the summer varieties. “It may affect the pumpkin crop for the fall, because this is the time when pumpkin is planted,” she said. “There’s still some time to get them in, but we’ll have to see.”

Peaches, so prized in New Jersey toward the end of summer, should be okay, Ms. Deficcio added. Mr. Tomlinson said his Swiss chard, usually an easy crop, was showing signs of damage from the rains. There are concerns about tomatoes, which can be wiped out by a disease called late blight. “There are rumors that it’s going around,” he said. “It wiped out the entire tomato crop in 2009 for the organic farmers. That’s a huge money-maker. We are not certified organic, but we practice organic procedures.”

While the weather has done its damage, farmers aren’t ready to write off the summer of 2013 as a loss. “In New Jersey, we’re fortunate because we usually get an adequate amount of rain,” Mr. Mount said. “But too much is too much. So we do have to work extra hard. But if it doesn’t continue the way it’s been, we should be okay.”

 

Hoping to encourage Princeton residents and visitors to shop local, the Princeton Merchants Association (PMA) has announced a new debit/credit card that can be used at establishments in town and some of the surrounding area. The “One Princeton” card, introduced at a meeting of Princeton Council Monday night, will be officially launched in September, according to PMA president Carly Meyer and member John Marshall, who owns Main Street Bistro in Princeton Shopping Center.

The Council meeting also included a report by Captain Nick Sutter about a town-wide police survey conducted earlier this year.

The refillable debit/credit card and parking smart card will save money for merchants by allowing them to avoid traditional bank fees, which can be as high as three percent. Instead, through an agreement with Heartland Payment Systems, merchants will pay a fixed fee of five cents for each transaction. One percent of that transaction will be donated to a local non-profit, which the cardholder can choose. Should a customer fail to designate a non-profit, the donation would be evenly split among participating organizations.

“We do a heck of a lot of credit card processing in Princeton, and it’s very expensive for merchants,” Mr. Marshall said. “We want to keep credit card processing fees from going out of town.”

Mr. Marshall said that about $600,000 in those fees currently go to banks outside of Princeton. “This would provide a new funding stream to the local economy,” he said. Ms. Meyer called the card a hybrid, adding that a smart phone version will be part of the plan.

Customers would apply on line for the card, which would be linked to their primary checking accounts. A system of loading fixed cash amounts to the card is also planned. The card will also include a parking chip to allow use at meters, and could be reloaded at local parking garages.

A version of the plan is already in place in San Francisco, Ms. Meyer said after the meeting. But the local card will be unique. “It’s kind of like a local stock market where we’re re-investing in the community,” she said. “Princeton will be kind of a test case.”

The Council was impressed with the idea. Calling it a “loyalty card,” Mayor Liz Lempert said the card would keep money in the community while helping out local non-profit organizations.

Police Survey

Reporting on the police department’s survey, Captain Sutter told the Council that there was “zero” feedback from the local Hispanic community. As a result, the department is launching an outreach program to try and engage those residents and hear their concerns. Earlier in the day, he said the lack of response “spoke volumes” about fears that members of the Hispanic community have about interacting with law enforcement officers. Current policy is that Princeton police enforce local and state laws, but not federal immigration laws.

In an effort to reach out to the Hispanic community, which represents about eight percent of the total Princeton population, the department is meeting with church groups and neighborhood leaders. “We’re looking for more involvement; more feedback,” Mr. Sutter said. “Two of our Spanish-speaking officers with strong contacts in the community have stepped up.”

The survey, which was conducted between February and May, included door-to-door sampling and questionnaires, in English and Spanish, on the internet. There were 394 responses. The most common concerns expressed by participants were maintaining a police presence on foot or on bicycles, traffic enforcement, and speeding, Captain Sutter said.

Following this summer, the department plans to hold community meetings in each of the five sectors of Princeton that were polled, starting with a big meeting that may be held at Princeton Public Library, Captain Sutter added. Another survey and a re-evaluation period will follow.

 

Merwick Care and Rehabilitation in Plainsboro has added an outdoor dimension to its physical therapy treatments with a 7,500 square foot garden designed with a purpose.

The therapy garden, the first such in the northeast, allows patients undergoing rehabilitation to enjoy nature while they receive physical therapy. As well as flowers and a fountain, the garden boasts paths made of sand, gravel, brick, and asphalt that afford patients the challenge of walking on various surfaces as an aid to recovery. Raised planter beds for gardening and benches of differing heights ostensibly offer recreational opportunities with recovery in mind. A gazebo features a door for those who need practice with manual dexterity. There is also a putting green and a parked car that patients can practice entering and exiting.

“The new physical therapy garden is not only beautiful, it includes practical objects to ensure patients practice real life skills to regain their strength and flexibility,” said Michael Jacobs, vice president at Windsor Healthcare.

In 2011, Merwick Care and Rehabilitation moved from its longtime Princeton location to a new 200-bed facility overlooking the Millstone River near the new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro hospital off Route 1.

The therapy garden adds to the existing state-of-the-art rehabilitation gym, called the Luxor Pavilion. The garden can be viewed from the gym’s two-story glass window.

Outdoor therapy benefits patients preparing to return home through activities that they will likely use once they leave Merwick.

When the garden opened last month, West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hseuh and Plainsboro Township Deputy Mayor Neil Lewis were among those who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony along with Hyman Jacobs, president and CEO of Windsor Healthcare, Merwick’s parent organization and a family-owned business.

“We are very excited about the new therapy garden. As a company dedicated to healing and providing patient-centered care, we are pleased to offer this unique outdoor therapy setting to our residents and patients,” said CEO Jacobs.

“Many of the things that happen inside can happen outside,” said Jack Carman, a landscape architect with Design for Generations, who devotes his practice to designing therapy gardens. “Nature is a positive distraction. You accomplish so much more being out in the garden. It’s a value to the patients, as well as the community.” The Merwick therapy garden will be the only one of its kind in the region, Carman said.

According to Merwick Administrator Lesley Vodofsky, the new therapy garden is designed to help patients get back into their homes and will have “almost every obstacle a person can encounter,” in everyday life. The idea is that patients will be distracted by the setting and won’t realize they are getting therapy. As patients use the garden, walk, sit on benches, or hang clothes on the clothesline, therapists will be able to assess their progress.

The garden not only benefits those outdoors but also those who are working indoors at Merwick. Mr. Carman cites studies showing that patients who can see nature from their hospital room heal faster and feel less pain than patients who don’t. Looking at nature, it seems, helps to lower blood pressure and reduce stress.

Merwick Care & Rehabilitation Center is part of Windsor Healthcare, a family-owned business. The 200-bed facility overlooks the Millstone River at 100 Plainsboro Road off Route 1, near the new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro. For more information, call (609) 240-6886.

 

July 3, 2013

Six Mercer County mayors met for breakfast last Thursday morning at the Hyatt Regency Princeton to discuss regional issues with each other, with representatives of local businesses, and with members of the public.

In addition to Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, the town’s first post-consolidation mayor, the panel comprised Mayors Janice Mirnov from East Windsor, Paul Anzano from Hopewell Borough, Vanessa Sandom from Hopewell Township, Anthony Persichilli from Pennington, and Shing-Fu Hsueh from West Windsor.

The mayors answered questions put to them by moderator Frank Lucchesi, of PSE&G, which sponsored the event hosted by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The meeting was held to promote regional thinking and cooperation on such problems as traffic and transportation, residential development, economic growth, emergency preparedness, among others.

“The challenges faced by our municipalities are not unique and the collective impact is felt by all of us,” said Peter Crowley, president and CEO of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce. “We believe that solutions are reached earlier, answers more easily resolved and outcomes implemented more quickly when we work together.”

PSE&G has organized similar events in the past in other counties, said Mr. Lucchesi, and found the discussions to be successful in providing an opportunity for mayors to talk about issues affecting all of their municipalities. “The roundtable is a forum for mayors to work on a regional basis and for members of the public and the business community to learn the distinct nature of each municipality.”

Mr. Lucchesi asked the mayors to describe the greatest challenges facing their towns and the region.

The first response came from East Windsor Mayor Janice Mirnov, who unhesitatingly launched into a description of New Jersey’s “onerous property tax system.” “The tax burden is our primary challenge,” she said, noting that more people were leaving New Jersey than any other state probably because of the property taxes. She also described the “dramatic effect” of the expansion of the New Jersey Turnpike on her town.

Hopewell Borough Mayor Anzano concurred with Ms. Mirnov on the tax issue, as did all other mayors on the panel, and added that affordable housing was a problem for first time homeowners and for seniors wishing to remain in their homes.

Mr. Persichilli raised what he called the elephant in the room that is Trenton. “It hurts me to see what is happening there,” he said. “Something has to be done to revive the city.” Mr. Persichilli’s remark drew a round of applause from the audience of some 40 individuals. Mr. Lucchesi commented on the untapped resources of Trenton as a waterfront city, expressing the hope that one day it might turn around much as Pittsburgh has done.

Liz Lempert commended the business community for providing an example of consolidation for Princeton when the Borough and Township Merchants merged their organizations. She acknowledged that other towns were viewing Princeton’s recent consolidation and spoke about the need for municipalities to work together to improve bicycling networks between towns. She was well aware that Princeton’s street closures during its annual Town and Gown celebration, Communiversity, had an effect on the “fragile road network” through and around Princeton where traffic in one town causes back-ups in neighboring towns. “Traffic is a regional issue that we need to work together on; it’s not a problem each town can solve independently.”

She mentioned a database of statistical information compiled by regional planner Ralph Widner, who was in the audience, that would be a tool for planning the future not only of the newly consolidated Princeton but also the town in relation to Greater Princeton and beyond. Mr. Widner is a member of the National Academy of Public Administration and a moving force in the group Princeton Future.

In March, Mr. Widner unveiled “A Statistical Portrait” of Princeton, using data from the 2010 U.S. Census and the 2007-2011 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census.

Ms. Lempert went on to describe Princeton’s free Jitney service with links to the Dinky and Princeton University’s Tiger Transit. Regarding Mr. Persichilli’s remarks on Trenton, she said: “We are the capital county and we need to be there to support Trenton.”

West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh spoke on the region’s potential as an “economic engine” for the whole of New Jersey. But to achieve this, he said, local municipalities need to partner with the state and deal with the systemic problem of property taxes since the current system presents a significant obstacle to collaboration because municipalities need to fund many services at the local level through property taxes.

As municipalities come to realize that they are unable to solve their own problems without “regional thinking” and collaboration, a new collective approach will have to be adopted “of necessity,” said Mr. Anzano.

“It’s already happening in Mercer County,” said Ms. Mirnov, noting a trend prompted by common interests that she hopes will continue.

Asked about the lessons learned from Superstorm Sandy, the mayors agreed that communication is a crucial element of emergency preparedness, an important function of which, said Ms. Sandom, was educating homeowners on their responsibilities, since local governments cannot be expected to handle everything. Improved communication with residents prior to an emergency would allow families to plan ahead and have supplies such as water and food on hand. Princeton residents were encouraged to sign up for the town’s reverse 911 system.

During a moment of levity, Mr. Hsueh said that he hadn’t realized until Superstorm Sandy just how powerful he was. Some residents of his constituency, he told his colleagues, had called him to ask why he had allowed the storm to come to West Windsor.

Mr. Widner commented by phone, Monday, on the two principal issues discussed, namely the state’s tax structure and common traffic problems. “New Jersey is divided by many small local governments. Clearly its time for initiative at the local level,” he said. “Rather than reacting to what comes out of Trenton, municipalities should form their own ideas about these two issues and take their plans to the state. In particular a workable tax structure that is not so heavily dependent on property taxes. There needs to be leadership from the ground up. Princeton is particularly well-placed, especially after consolidation, to take a leadership role here because of its rich intellectual community and because of its history as far back as the Revolutionary War.

As made clear by Thursday’s mayoral gathering, problems faced by local municipalities are not confined to their respective municipal boundaries.

A second roundtable with the remaining mayors of Mercer County municipalities will take place in the fall to coincide with Trenton Small Business Week. It is hoped that such mayoral gatherings will become annual events.

—Linda Arntzenius

 
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MIXING IT UP: A view of the townhouses at the corner of Franklin Avenue and the eastern access to the parking garage, which is part of AvalonBay’s revised proposal for a rental community at the former home of the University Medical Center of Princeton. The new design calls for five buildings instead of one. (Rendering by Tangram 3DS)

AvalonBay brought its revised plan for the former Princeton Hospital site back to the Planning Board last Thursday. With greater permeability, five buildings instead of one large edifice, a scaled-down swimming pool, and other adjustments, the developer is hoping to gain the approval of the Board, which rejected its initial plan last December.

The developer sued the Board and the town to reverse that decision, but a settlement was worked out to allow for a revised proposal. The Board must approve the reworked plan if AvalonBay has met their legal obligations, attorney Gerald Muller said in his opening remarks.

The hearing was the first of four to be devoted to the proposed 280-unit rental development. The next meetings will be held July 11, 18, and 25 at the Witherspoon Hall municipal building. Members of the community have been especially vocal on the issue since AvalonBay was first contracted to purchase the site on Witherspoon Street in 2011.

Just before last week’s meeting, representatives from Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods (PCSN) and members of the property service workers union 32BJSEIU held a rally outside the municipal building to protest AvalonBay’s proposal. As rain began to fall, some 30 protesters gathered to complain that the newly revised proposal is too similar to the original. Among the speakers were local residents Shirley Satterfield, Kate Warren, and Alexi Assmus.

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, union representative Ben Bennett expressed concerns about AvalonBay’s fire safety record over several objections by the developer’s attorney that the comments were inappropriate. When the Board decided to hear Mr. Bennett out, he told them that he wants a public safety monitor on the construction site. He said that a fire at an AvalonBay construction site in Edgewater 13 years ago destroyed the project along with nearby single family homes. But Mr. Muller advised the Board that they should disregard Mr. Bennett’s testimony because it was not relevant.

Earlier in the evening, the Board heard from PCSN attorney Rob Simon on some of the organization’s objections to the plan before listening to reports from the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB) and the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC) about the revised proposal. Both groups recommended approving the plan, but with several conditions based on design standards and other matters. Increased bicycle storage, better distribution of the 56 affordable housing units throughout the complex, and the adoption of food waste composting were among SPRAB’s recommendations. The PEC agreed with those suggestions, adding that the potential contamination of the former hospital site be addressed, more energy-efficient windows be used, all appliances be Energy Star certified, and only native and adaptive plantings be used in the landscaping.

PEC member Wendy Kaczerski also suggested that AvalonBay treat the property as a green building site, making it an example of how a construction project can be done. “The PEC wants to commend AvalonBay for all the green improvements it intends to make,” she added. “They’ve come a long way.”

The public first heard about AvalonBay’s revised proposal at a community meeting in May. The plan calls for 24 studio apartments, 104 one-bedroom units, 120 two-bedroom apartments and 30 three-bedroom units. Building heights will be lower than in the original plan, and range from two to five stories. On the Franklin Street side of the development, three townhouse buildings with stoops and porches are in the design. A garden walk separates the largest building from the main parking garage.

Affordable housing units are in the two largest buildings as part of the plan. A public road will cut through the development, and a public park, larger than in the original plan, will be on the corner of Witherspoon Street and Franklin Avenue. “The new plan responds to comments from 2012,” said Jon Vogel, the AvalonBay vice president now in charge of the project. “Permeability was a main theme.”

—Anne Levin

 

The doors to the Princeton Public Library’s Community Room aren’t normally open to Hinds Plaza. But on Monday of this week, day seven of no air-conditioning in the building, the doors were flung wide despite the beginnings of a drizzle outside. The few people listening to a man at the lectern sat fanning themselves in the steamy heat.

A 4,200-pound compressor unit is at the root of the problem. The library is replacing the existing compressor in it’s nine-year-old building, a process that is taking longer than expected. But a measure of relief has arrived: Some temporary units were installed Tuesday while work on the compressor continues. And library executive director Leslie Burger is hoping to have the issue resolved by the end of this week.

“Several times last summer, the compressor unit that runs the air conditioning system failed. After doing trouble-shooting and diagnostics, the recommendation from our contractor was to replace it,” she said Tuesday. “So it took a while to secure a commitment of funding, and then to put it out to bid according to state requirements. Once we did all that, then it was 10 weeks to manufacture the part.”

The part finally arrived, and the installers were scheduled. “We knew we’d be running close to cooling season, and then everything took longer than we expected,” Mr. Burger continued. “Last week was when we could get the compressor and the installer in the same place. Unfortunately, that happened to coincide with the worst weather.”

Hours have been curtailed at the library as the temperature and humidity have risen. The building was not open on Sunday except for one program, and closed at 2 p.m. Monday. It was scheduled to remain open until the normal closing time of 9 p.m. on Tuesday.

Attendance was noticeably down on Monday afternoon. The parking garage, normally packed by lunchtime, was filled only to the second level. Fans whirring inside the building were doing little to relieve the heat. But not everyone was bothered.

“When you’re on the computer, you don’t really notice it,” said Archer Ayres, 8, whose mother, Blair, read in a chair nearby. While somewhat more uncomfortable than her son, Ms. Ayres was philosophical about the situation.

“It’s not as bad as it could be,” she said. “It reminds me of being in Manhattan, where I used to live. You just deal with it. This is an amazing library, so how can we complain? We’re spoiled. We can tolerate a little unpleasantness.”

Ms. Burger said the goal, while the work continues, is to keep staff and customers as comfortable as possible. “This was obviously not our plan, but that’s the way it worked out. We could have waited, but then we ran the risk that it could break down. It’s a delicate balance. But people have been very understanding about it.”

—Anne Levin

 
June 26, 2013

At a special telephone meeting yesterday of New Jersey Transit’s board of directors, a resolution was approved to transfer property between Princeton University and the transportation agency in connection with the University’s arts and transit project.

The meeting came one day after a federal petition was filed by national and local advocacy groups to try and halt the relocation of the Dinky train station, which connects Princeton with the Princeton Junction train station on the Northeast Corridor line. The University wants to move the station 460 feet south as part of the development project.

The public could listen to the call by attending the meeting at NJ Transit’s headquarters in Newark. During a public comment period, five people from Princeton and two from the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers spoke against the move. But the deal was approved without deliberation, according to Princeton Council member Jenny Crumiller, who attended.

“I was really disappointed, especially hearing there were no comments [from the board],” she said. “I felt it was obviously already decided and the meeting was a total waste of time.”

Ms. Crumiller is among those in favor of keeping the Dinky rail station in its current location. The University’s move of the station would provide a second access road to its parking garage. Advocates for keeping the station as it is have proposed a way to enter the garage from University Place, but officials at the school have said that plan would not work.

Reached yesterday, Princeton University Vice-President and Secretary Bob Durkee said the session in Newark was held simply to come to a final agreement on price. “Today’s meeting is really about money, and agreeing to a price on the land that’s being sold, and figuring out how to determine the price on the replacement of the old easement with the new easement. That’s something that normally happens at the end of the process.”

According to an agenda released by NJ Transit, the agency will sell a 0.84-acre parcel, located in what was formerly Princeton Township, to the University. The land will be used to build parking for the new Dinky station. NJ Transit will purchase a .06-acre parcel, also in what was formerly the Township, to facilitate the realignment of the existing tracks.

The University will pay $185,000 to NJ Transit, the agenda states, along with an amount between $88,000 and $480,000 for the difference between the values of the easement interests, to be determined by a certified appraiser. The arrangement also moves NJ Transit’s easement area and reduces it in size.

Petitioning the STB

The New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers (ARP) and the National Association of Railroad Passengers filed their joint petition with the United States Surface Transportation Board (STB) on Monday. The object is to keep NJ Transit and Princeton University from “cutting back the Princeton Branch from its current in-town terminal,” according to a press release.

The petition asks the STB to declare its jurisdiction over the Dinky line, and requires that any reduction in its length be undertaken only with the agency’s approval. Phil Craig, a director of the New Jersey ARP, said more is involved than cutting back the track by 460 feet, “which is what the University has asked the public to believe,” the release reads. “The current station is approximately 1,300 feet from downtown Princeton; the new location would be 2,000 feet by foot from Nassau Street and a half-mile from Palmer Square, Princeton’s focal point.”

Moving the station, Mr. Craig continued, would be a detriment to passengers, especially senior citizens and the disabled. “The longer uphill walk will be especially difficult during inclement weather, when many passengers have to slog through snow, ice, or rain,” resulting in a loss of passengers.

Mr. Craig also said that the relocated station will be more isolated, creating difficulties for those who use the train at night. Mr. Durkee countered that the new station will be adjacent to the relocated Wawa market, which is open all night and staffed. “The Princeton Planning Board looked a lot at safety issues, lighting, and the design, and were fully satisfied that this was a very safe location,” he said. “There will be lots of evening pedestrian traffic because of the arts complex. There’s going to be life in this area.”

Jack May, vice president of the New Jersey ARP, said in the release that the University and the railroad “grew up together. There is no reason why the University cannot accomplish its goals while preserving the Princeton station in its current, accessible location. New Jersey Transit is the guardian of the interests of New Jersey’s traveling public. It should not be attempting to hand Princeton University this valuable public transportation asset.”

The petition is one of the legal actions which have been filed to try and halt the Dinky station relocation. “There are several lawsuits pending, so it will be interesting to see if any of them has traction,” Ms. Crumiller said.

 

The Princeton Battlefield Society received a setback Friday in its attempt to halt the Institute for Advanced Study’s (IAS) building plans. The Society had sued to overturn the Princeton Planning Board’s March 21, 2012, approval of the Institute’s plans to build a group of faculty townhouses and single-family residences on its property adjacent to Princeton Battlefield Park.

The Society claims that the site is an important part of the 1777 Battle of Princeton during the Revolutionary War. But Judge Mary Jacobson ruled against the suit.

“The Institute welcomes Judge Jacobson’s decision, which confirms that the Princeton Regional Planning Board acted appropriately more than a year ago in unanimously approving the Institute’s faculty housing project. We look forward to moving ahead with the project and to meeting our commitments to the Planning Board with respect to historic preservation and interpretative initiatives,” said IAS spokesperson Christine Ferrara on Monday.

The Institute has agreed to enhance signage for visitors to the Battlefield Park.

According to Kip Cherry, vice-president of the Princeton Battlefield Society, the issue may not yet be over. The Society is “prepared to appeal immediately,” Ms. Cherry said Monday.

As yet, however, no official action has been taken and the Society’s board has yet to deliberate the issue. Board members were expected to have a conference-call late last night after Town Topics press time.

On Monday, Battlefield Society President Jerald Hurwitz said: “It was a disappointment but we are resolved to continue the fight to save the Princeton Battlefield.”

Mr. Hurwitz criticized Judge Jacobson’s ruling and the lengthy review she gave of her reasoning in a case that she described as “not difficult but important.” Judge Jacobson spoke for over two hours. “Such decisions are highly dependent on the individual judge, and we were prepared for this,” he said.

Not surprisingly, Institute attorney Chris Tarr had a different response: “In all my 40 years, I have never heard a judge give such a careful, clear, and thoughtful review of her deliberation. The Princeton Planning Board decided this unanimously and since there were no variances, this was a simple case. Judge Jacobson had to decide whether the Planning Board acted reasonably or was their action ‘arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable’. After a thorough review she concluded that they acted reasonably.”

According to Mr. Hurwitz, the judge’s ruling comes with a silver lining in that the Battlefield Society will now have an opportunity to present all of the evidence for its case at the Appellate Court level where it will be reviewed by three judges. “We may get a fairer result,” he said, adding that his organization had budgeted for this contingency at the end of last year. “We have a lot of supporters who have contributed to us from all over the country, people from Virginia to California who care about American history and the future of our battlefields.”

The Institute’s long-standing plans to build faculty housing are described on its website (www.ias.edu) which notes the residential nature of its scholarly community.

The IAS plan would cluster eight townhouses and seven single-family homes on a seven-acre parcel of land that sits between existing faculty homes and the Institute’s main campus. The buildings are designed to have a low profile and be screened from the Battlefield Park by trees. An additional 200-foot buffer zone alongside the Battlefield Park would be permanently preserved as open space.

Mr. Hurwitz, however, likens the Institute’s plans to building on Gettysburg. “This is where an historic counterattack took place in the Battle of Princeton, a turning point in the Revolutionary War,” he said. “The Institute has already destroyed much of the battlefield by building over what was the orchard, they should not be allowed to destroy more.”

In 2003, IAS presented its plan to the (then) Princeton Township Site Plan Review Advisory Board, which made suggestions to lessen the impact on the Princeton Battlefield and surrounding area. “The Institute has taken these suggestions very seriously, as well as the comments and concerns of all those who, like the Institute, greatly value the Princeton Battlefield,” states the website, which describes the plan as preserving the natural surroundings and respecting its historic setting.

The website also notes the connection between the Institute and the Princeton Battlefield State Park, which “it helped to create and expand” by the sale of land to the State of New Jersey for the purpose of Battlefield preservation.

In 1959, the Institute donated the former Mercer Manor portico that now stands on the northern part of the Battlefield as a memorial to the unknown American and British soldiers who died there.

In 1973, IAS sold a further 32 acres to the state, increasing the size of the Battlefield Park by 60 percent. According to the IAS website, this sale was made on the basis of a specific commitment by the State in 1971 that the Institute’s field east of the new Battlefield Park boundary could be used as the site for new faculty housing.

Mr. Hurwitz also said that the Institute could not go ahead with its plans without a waiver from the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission (DRCC) and that is not something they have in hand. If necessary the issue could go all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court, he said. “We are not done.”

According to Mr. Tarr, attorney for the Institute, “such statements are just foolish. The DRCC recommended a waiver and it was automatically approved,” he said.

So far, the Princeton Battlefield Society and its attorney Bruce Afran have brought three suits that could stall the Institute’s plans, including an appeal of the DRCC default decision.

 

A meeting of Princeton Council on Monday, June 24 was focused on the future workings of the town’s police department. Discussion centered around a new agreement with the Police Benevolent Association and a contract to hire a consulting firm that would examine the department’s workings from top to bottom.

The Council plans to vote at its July 8 meeting on whether to hire The Rodgers Group, of Toms River, for the police organization study. The proposed contract, which is for $11,495, would include several focus group meetings with members of the public as well as an online survey for the department. Four focus groups are planned, but Princeton administrator Bob Bruschi said there could be as many as eight or more. For any meetings beyond the four, the town would pay an additional $1,000 for each one.

Council member Jo Butler asked Mr. Bruschi if the State’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is doing something similar. Mr. Bruschi said that DCA’s is “strictly a manpower review” and is completely separate. Other members of Council spoke in favor of the plan. “We’ve been talking about doing -something on this for about as long as we’ve been a council,” said Bernie Miller, the Council president. “I think it’s time to move ahead.”

The Rodgers Group’s findings would be provided to the Council and made public, Mr. Bruschi said, adding that he would expect to have something to report by the end of summer or early fall. “Part of this is that I want to re-instill communication and confidence,” he said of the department, which has been in some turmoil since Chief David Dudeck went on leave after allegations were made of misconduct. Mr. Dudeck is to retire on October 1.

The study could potentially be done every few years, Mr. Bruschi said. “This has the potential to be a really positive tool,” Mayor Liz Lempert said before the meeting.

Following Mr. Bruschi’s presentation about the new PBA contract, Council members decided to wait to vote on it until the next meeting on July 8. The three-year contract would create savings by eliminating longevity pay, which is an addition to the annual salary based on how long an officer has served. In addition, the contract would increase the time it takes for a newly hired officer to reach the top of the pay scale. “Most departments have a five-to-seven-year step plan,” Mr. Bruschi said before the meeting. “We got PBA to go to a 12-year step plan, and we’re happy with that.”

Mr. Bruschi told Council that the elimination of longevity pay would save the town about $350,000 a year. “When you consider that if you have been here for 20 years, and you get a six percent longevity on top of a $100,000 paycheck, and you multiply that by 50 [officers], those numbers become staggering,” he said.

A pay raise for each year is also part of the contract. Officers would get a 1.75 percent raise each year for the first two years of the contract, and 1.9 percent in the third year. “The salary increase is fairly stable and consistent with what other towns are doing,” Mr. Bruschi said. “We are right in the middle. Our goal was to have increases under two percent, and we have achieved that.”

An officer hired before January 1, 2013 would make $61,543 during the first year of service, rising to $105,700 after 12 years.

The new contract would give officers $900 a year in medical expenses, including vision care. Any employee hired after January 1, 2013 will be reimbursed $450 a year. There is a reduction in the permitted use of family illness provisions, with increased reliance on the language of the state and federal Family Leave Act.

The contract also re-institutes the rank of corporal, which prior to consolidation was part of the former Princeton Township force but did not exist in Princeton Borough.

There was also discussion at the meeting of Assembly Bill A2586, which was tabled last week by the New Jersey State Assembly Budget Committee. The bill would allow private colleges and universities to pursue development opportunities without the scrutiny of municipal land use laws. Though the committee in Trenton declined to vote on the bill June 18, it could come up again in a lame duck session or be brought up at a future date, Ms. Lempert told the Council.

 
June 21, 2013

A bill that would allow private colleges and universities to pursue development opportunities without the scrutiny of municipal land use laws was tabled by the New Jersey State Assembly Budget Committee on Tuesday. A group of local officials and concerned Princeton residents who had gathered at Trenton’s State House Annex to testify against the bill were pleased to hear that the measures had been put to rest during the current legislative session.

But Bill A2586 could be brought up again at a future date. The legislation remains alive until the end of the current year.

A group that included Mayor Liz Lempert, former Borough Mayor Yina Moore, Council members Jo Butler, Jenny Crumiller and Patrick Simon, Princeton Future co-founder Sheldon Sturges, and local activist Kip Cherry waited for nearly two hours while the Budget Committee, behind the scenes, took a poll on which legislation on their agenda had enough votes to move bills out of committee, according to an email sent Tuesday morning by Ms. Cherry. “Due to the considerable opposition expressed on A2586 and a lack of consensus on a compromise, the bill was pulled,” she wrote. “So there was no hearing and no vote.”

The bill was in the hands of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee last year, so officials were surprised to learn last week that it had been moved to the budget committee, Ms. Lempert said while waiting for a final decision on whether a vote would be taken.

Last year, the Princeton Borough Council and Township Committee passed resolutions opposing Bill 2586. Those in favor of the measure say it would provide parity between public and private colleges. While private colleges and universities must currently obey local land use laws, public institutions only have to provide courtesy reviews.

“They call it a parity bill. We call it a disparity bill,” Michael Cerra of the New Jersey League of Municipalities said during a Borough Council forum on the bill last fall. “We don’t accept the argument that it is a parity bill. It creates an unequal playing field. It puts local governments at a disadvantage.”

Princeton University officials have expressed support for the bill, saying the University would continue to consult with the local Planning Board on development projects. The University is among four institutions in town that would fall under the legislation. The others are Princeton Theological Seminary, Westminster Choir College of Rider University, and the Institute for Advanced Study.

Despite torrential rain and some local flood watches, a public scoping hearing held last week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding a proposed natural gas pipeline through the Princeton Ridge and nearby locations drew a substantial crowd of concerned residents. While many of those in attendance were critical of the proposal by the Transco company because of its effects of the environment and important natural resources, as well as safety, others who would be working on the construction urged FERC to approve the plan.

“The purpose of this meeting is to really hear from you guys,” Doug Sipe of FERC told those assembled in the auditorium of Hillsborough Middle School. No formal application has been filed yet by Transco, which is owned by the Oklahoma-based Williams Companies Inc. But FERC has begun to review the project, which would put 13 miles of pipeline through parts of Mercer, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties, Mr. Sipe said.

No further public hearings have been scheduled, a fact that disturbs those who want more detailed information about the plan. But Mr. Sipe stressed that comments can be submitted to FERC until July 1. Following that, once FERC completes its review, there is another 30-day comment period. A five-member commission will make the final decision.

Among those offering comments were Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert; Barbara Blumenthal of the Princeton Ridge Coalition; Matt Wasserman, chair of the Princeton Environmental Commission; Wendy Mager, president of Princeton Open Space; Carolyn Katmann, executive director of the Sourlands Planning Council, and Rob Goldston, former director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

There were repeated calls by speakers for a full Environmental Impact Statement instead of a less comprehensive Environmental Assessment. FERC issued a “Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Assessment” last month, stating that the scoping process would help determine whether an EIS “Й is more appropriate for this project based upon the potential significance of the anticipated levels of impact.”

The plan as proposed would turn one forest on the Princeton Ridge into two, Ms. Blumenthal said. “This kind of bifurcation will be the end of the forest, and it will not come back,” she said. “The distance may be small, but the impact could not be greater.” The route, which would likely necessitate blasting within 500 feet of the Stuart Country Day School, where there are large boulders, “is entirely optional,” she said.

Also offering comments were Montgomery Township Deputy Mayor Patricia Graham and Readington Township Mayor Julia Allen, both of whom urged FERC to do a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIC). “We’re asking that our landowners’ concerns are respected and addressed,” Ms. Allen said.

A recent flash fire in Branchburg during construction at a compression station owned by Williams was another focus of safety concerns at the meeting. The fire injured several workers.

But most of the comments were about the environment. “The Princeton Council is deeply concerned that the installation of the pipeline through the Princeton Ridge as proposed will result in extensive, permanent damage to the delicate environment, complex ecology, and threatened and endangered species of wildlife that live there,” Ms. Lempert said during her turn at the microphone.

In a letter sent this week to FERC secretary Kimberly D. Bose, Congressman Rush Holt expressed his own concerns about the project. “I am primarily interested in the preservation of the important and sensitive environmental characteristics of the Princeton Ridge, which the Skillman Loop would transect, and I would like to ensure adequate opportunities for affected and concerned members of the community to affect the project,” he wrote.

Mr. Holt is among those who favor a full Environmental Impact Statement, which “… will provide for additional meetings on the project, allow for a sufficient public comment period, and provide interested parties an opportunity to comment on the findings of a draft EIS before the project is approved or denied,” his letter reads. “The EIS should consider an analysis of project alternatives, including a ‘no action’ alternative, in order to preserve the wildlife, the air and water quality, and the fragile ecosystem of the Princeton Ridge area, and along the other loops of the proposed expansion project.”

Those who spoke in favor of the project as it stands told FERC representatives that it would bring jobs to local workers and help the economy. Among them was Roger Ellis of Local 472, a highway and general construction union based in New Jersey. Mr. Ellis praised the Williams company as “the finest in the industry.”