May 9, 2012

Princeton’s Regional Planning Board voted last week to recommend to Borough Council that an ordinance to preserve the existing Dinky right-of-way is not consistent with Princeton’s master plan. The 6-3 vote was taken at a discussion during the Planning Board’s meeting last Thursday. Borough Council will consider the ordinance for adoption at a public hearing on May 22.

The ordinance was introduced on April 10 and was immediately questioned by Princeton University officials. The University plans to move the Dinky terminus 460 feet south to make way for its $300 million arts and transit development. Officials have said the ordinance would not be in keeping with the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the University and the two Princetons, which preserves an alternate right-of-way on Alexander Street for future transit use such as light rail.

At last week’s meeting, University Vice President Robert Durkee said the the move would place an encumbrance on University lands into the future. “It will be a gap of several hundred feet between the tracks and the new terminus,” he said. “It literally would not connect and could not connect to the new terminus.”

Establishing the existing right of way on the municipal map might not even be possible since Princeton University has already filed plans for the arts neighborhood, some of the board members said.

“I find it to be inconsistent with the master plan. I’m particularly concerned that it is inconsistent in the absence of a concurring ordinance from Princeton Township that would provide a complete right of way,” said Board member Marvin Reed.

His colleague Bernie Miller agreed. “It is completely inconsistent with the master plan and inconsistent with reality,” he said. “The right of way starts in the Borough at the Township line, but there is no companion right of way extending to the Township. Essentially what we’re creating was called in ‘Monopoly’ the short line, a 600-foot right-of-way reserved for future rail uses. It serves no purpose.”

Board member and Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller argued that the ordinance doesn’t place the governing bodies under any obligation. “It just preserves the option,” she said. “I would argue that it is supporting mass transit. The straight path is cheaper and faster. It’s more supportive of mass transit and the right-of-way that’s there.”

Borough Mayor Yina Moore, a member of the Planning Board, said she was surprised that the Board was not more assertive in taking its role to plan for future transit needs.

Several residents offered comments during the discussion, arguing that the easement is in the public domain and should cost the taxpayers nothing if a new operator takes over the train line. NJ Transit sold the land to the University in 1984, and was granted an easement as part of the deal. Under the agreement, the University was allowed to move the station only once, which it has already done, say members of Save the Dinky, which has filed a lawsuit on the issue. NJ Transit does not agree with that interpretation and has said that the University still has the right to move the station.

Resident Alain Kornhauser called it “an incredibly valuable asset owned by we the people.” Virginia Kerr said the right-of-way is consistent with the master plan. “We believe the contract only allowed one move, and that move has been made,” she said. “It would be futile for Borough Council to pass this ordinance …. This right-of-way ordinance is consistent with the master plan. Send it back with a recommendation.”

Peter Marks said he would not object to paying higher taxes in order to hold on to the Dinky. “Those of us who are eager to preserve the Dinky are willing to spend some money to do it,” he said. “I don’t want to steal anything from the University. But the University should not steal the right-of-way that belongs to the public.”


Christopher Morgan was appointed Acting Township Police Chief at Township Committee’s Monday evening meeting.

Police Commissioner Bernie Miller, who acts as the liaison between the Police Department and Township Committee, noted the importance of having a commanding officer in place, and said that Mr. Morgan had “served admirably” since taking over as senior officer on March 30, when former Police Chief Robert Buchanan retired.

Citing the importance of “readily understanding” the command structure from both “within and without” the Police Department, Mr. Miller observed that the title “senior officer” is less satisfactory than “acting police chief.” Mr. Miller and others on the Committee noted that Mr. Morgan’s salary will not change with his new title, and commended him for assuming the post at a transitional time for the Township. Mr. Morgan is scheduled to lead the department until the end of 2012.

The appointment came after criticism by Borough Council member Roger Martindell at last week’s Borough Council meeting. Mr. Martindell read a statement denouncing the attempt as “another unfortunate step in what appears to be the Township’s increasingly strident effort to attempt to influence the choice of employees for the new Princeton, based not on merit but on parochial concerns: namely, whether the candidate is a present or former ‘Borough’ or ‘Township’ employee.”

Mr. Martindell said the effort became clear about a month ago “when Township sought to bar the chairman of the Transition Task Force, Mark Freda, a former Borough employee, from becoming an employee of the new Princeton by having us adopt an unnecessary ‘conflicts’ policy that would have barred him from seeking employment in the new municipality. It is now resurfacing in this attempt to enhance the chances of a present Township policeman becoming a Chief or Captain in the new police department.”

In response to some criticism about making the appointment at this particular time, Township Committee members insisted that going ahead with it is “not a political ploy” and “not, by any means, grandstanding.” Each member had prepared comments extolling the appointment. In hers, deputy mayor and consolidated Princeton mayoral hopeful Liz Lempert reported that a member of Borough Council had called her that day asking her not to vote for the appointment.

At the meeting, Ms. Lempert responded to the request not to vote “from my perspective as deputy mayor of the Township, and one who hopes to play a role in the consolidated municipality.” She noted that having an acting township chief will have the added benefit of helping consolidate the police departments into a unified team that optimizes each member’s strengths. Mayor Chad Goerner cited “a merger of equals.”

In an email this week, Mayor Goerner responded to Mr. Martindell’s statements. “I can tolerate it if someone wants to play politics and grandstand on an issue, but I can’t sit by and allow someone to basically slander our police department based on rumors and conjecture,” he wrote. “We need to move beyond this and realize that we have two very good police departments.

“I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with the Borough police department with my participation in the Alchemist & Barrister charity event and they are a great group of folks. Likewise, our police department in the Township has a great work ethic and a strong team-based atmosphere. Let’s find a way to build a strong department based on a merger of equals and stop trying to one-up each other.”

Monday night’s meeting was originally scheduled as a joint meeting with the Township Committee, Borough Council, and the Transition Task Force.

 


May 2, 2012

Reverberations from the 2010 resignation of Township Police Chief Mark Emann amid charges of inappropriate gun trading continue to be felt with the filing of a tort claim notice on behalf of Michael Henderson and Arthur S. Villaruz, the two policemen who resigned in connection with the case. The total amount claimed by the former officers is $2.5 million.

The tort claim was filed in January, 2012 against the Township of Princeton, the Princeton Township Police Department, The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office (MCPO), and “unknown Princeton Township employees” by the law offices of Gina Mendola Longarzo of Chatham. MCPO spokesperson Case DeBlasio said yesterday, however, that they “are no longer involved with the case.”

Included in the total figure are the $40,000 and $30,000 amounts that Mr. Henderson and Mr. Villaruz, respectively, say was promised them as “compensation for terminal leave, vacation, and/or other time off.” It also covers property that had not yet been returned to Mr. Henderson and Mr. Villaruz at the time of the filing, as well as “the estimated amount of any prospective injury, damage, or loss.” The claim goes on to note that “the extent of the injuries is ongoing and will continue to be revealed and ascertained through continuing discovery.”

Late last week, Township Attorney Edwin W. Schmierer reported that “we have sent a complete inventory of all of their property to them and committed to return that property by April 30. We are ready to go and waiting to hear from them. The ball is in their court.”

“There are no payments due to them,” added Mr. Schmierer.

As of press time (Tuesday evening), neither Mr. Henderson nor Mr. Villaruz had come to claim their property.

Mr. Henderson, who was a Lieutenant at the time he stepped down, had been employed by the Princeton Township police department since 1985. Mr. Villaruz, a corporal, began working for the department as a civilian dispatcher in 1984.

The 21-page document issued by Ms. Longarzo’s office details prospective legal claims by Mr. Henderson and Mr. Villaruz, and the conversations, circumstances, and events that they believe will justify these claims.

The tort claim suggests, for example, that Mr. Henderson and Mr. Villaruz were both suspended and served with a statement of charges and notice of disciplinary action charges “as a result of the false information Chief Emann and Captain Buchanan [Mr. Emann’s successor as Police Chief] had both reported to the MCPO.” Their “official retirement” from the department was due, they say, “to the coercion and the promise that they would avoid criminal charges for failing to report the criminal actions of Chief Emann.”


Timothy Quinn is the new president, and Andrea Spalla is the new vice-president of the Princeton Regional Schools Board of Education.

At its reorganization meeting last week, outgoing President Rebecca Cox said that she was upholding a tradition established by previous presidents in serving just two, one-year terms, and then bowing out. Ms. Cox nominated her successor, saying that she and Mr. Quinn, who had been vice-president during her tenure, were “partners for the last two years,” and that he is “more than well-prepared to lead the Board.”

The reorganization meeting provided an opportunity to welcome and administer the oath of office to recently elected Board members Martha Land and Patrick Sullivan, and returning member Rebecca Cox. All three will be serving three-year terms.

Superintendent Judy Wilson and several Board members made a point of thanking area residents for approving the 2012-13 school year budget by a vote of 1,193 for and 360 against. Ms. Wilson noted that while “voter turnout was not as high as it usually is,” this may have been due to the fact that there was one uncontested race (Mr. Sullivan, in the Township), and a “non-controversial budget.”К

After his election, Mr. Quinn assumed the seat of meeting Chair, which had been temporarily filled by Board Secretary Stephanie Kennedy. He said that he looked forward to working with “a remarkable, very intelligent Board of Education that will foster collegiality and openness in community and among stakeholders.” As they do each year, the Board members then took turns reciting their Code of Ethics.

Adoption of the schools’ K through 12 curricula, including courses, textbooks, workbooks, and ancillary materials for the 2012-13 school year followed. Curriculum areas include language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, world languages; visual and performing arts, technology, career education, and physical education/health.

Incoming Finance Committee Chair Dan Haughton reported that, with the current school year winding down, the state had mandated no major purchases after April 15. Efforts to reduce costs in the coming year include a 25 percent (a “six-figure number”) discount in kilowatt hours as the result of participation in an energy-saving consortium; and a $150,000 to $200,000 savings as a result of changing the district’s prescription drug carrier. Purchasing supplies through a state arrangement will also provide a break.

Facilities Committee Chair Dorothy Bedford said that while renovations will occur at all district six schools during the coming year, it was agreed to focus on making John Witherspoon Middle School the most energy-efficient building among them.


At its public meeting tomorrow evening, May 3, Princeton Regional Planning Board will once again consider developer AvalonBay’s proposal to build a rental community at the Princeton Hospital site. A zoning ordinance put before Borough Council last week, which included concessions by the developer in response to concerns of neighborhood residents, has been sent back to the Planning Board. The ordinance is expected to come back before the Council for final approval on May 8.

At the Council’s meeting last Tuesday, AvalonBay senior vice president Ron Ladell withdrew the company’s request to increase the density of the complex by 44 units. But while some Council members expressed an interest in voting to approve the zoning that night, they took the advice of Assistant Borough Attorney Henry Chou and decided instead to reintroduce a revised zoning ordinance, which necessitates another look by the Planning Board. In addition to eliminating the density increase, the revised ordinance includes changes involving signage and a leasing office on site. By reintroducing, Mr. Chou said, the Borough avoids any potential legal challenges.

Mr. Ladell was hoping for approval that night. “This process has become way too complicated and it’s really not,” he said, adding that no one had issues with four of the seven items in question on the ordinance. “We are fully proposing to be in compliance. We will have 20 percent affordable units, including very low income, low income, and moderate income, and that is unprecedented in the state of New Jersey.”

Adding that AvalonBay would be happy to meet with a subcommittee about open space and any other issues in question, Mr. Ladell said time was of the essence. “We have to move quickly. The hospital is moving in less than a month,” he said. “It is asbestos-ridden and it is going to take some time to clean that up. To go back is a delay that is very, very difficult for us when we don’t even know that we can have a leasing office in this community.”

The University Medical Center at Princeton is moving May 22 to its new headquarters on Route 1 in Plainsboro. AvalonBay is under contract to purchase the site on Witherspoon Street. The company plans to demolish the existing building to make room for a newly constructed rental community of 280 units ranging from studios to three bedrooms.

AvalonBay originally wanted to add 44 units, which would add nine to the affordable housing component of the project while making it more profitable. The company’s concession to withdraw that request was not enough to placate those opposed to the developer’s plans. Environmental concerns over the company’s intention to use Energy Star rather than LEED green standards still figured in remarks by some members of the public at last week’s meeting.

Mr. Chou told Council that developers building affordable housing qualifying as COAH (Council on Affordable Housing) can not be forced to follow such standards.

Among those voicing support for much of AvalonBay’s plans was Kevin Walsh, an attorney with Fair Share Housing, which represents lower income New Jersey residents. “The 20 percent affordable is a good thing,” he said. “I regret that the developer has withdrawn the request for extra units. It would have resulted in more affordable housing in the community. But where do we go from here? I spend a lot of time fighting developers, but not here. This is a development that has gone above and beyond. For folks who want LEED, take your argument to Trenton.”

Resident Joe Barzilowski told Council he has concerns about trust. “They said they needed the extra units to make the project work, and now all of a sudden it is alright to go for 280 units,” he said. “Why didn’t they do that to begin with? I think we have been given clues about how much we should or shouldn’t trust the greedy corporation that wants to move into our town. I think we should learn from this experience and strengthen any ordinance that’s passed or proposed, even, so there’s little room for a developer’s interpretation. Because we want what we want, not what the developer wants and what they can benefit from.”

Also attending the meeting were several construction workers from the SEIU 32BJ union. Lisa McAllister, their spokesperson, told Council that AvalonBay contractors and subcontractors have violated OSHA safety standards on projects in Massachusetts and elsewhere. “AvalonBay is not the right developer for this project,” she said. In response, Mayor Yina Moore reminded Ms. McAllister that Borough Council’s purpose was not to select a developer, but to entertain a zoning change.

The Planning Board’s meeting will be held at the Township Municipal Complex tomorrow night, May 3, at 7:30 p.m.


April 25, 2012

Princeton Regional Planning Board concluded last week that developer AvalonBay’s request for increased density in the rental complex they hope to build at the site of the University Medical Center at Princeton conflicts with the master plan. Their 9-1 decision not to endorse the proposal was sent to Borough Council, which was to consider the zoning ordinance at its meeting last night, after press time.

The Planning Board’s vote came at the end of a four-hour meeting April 19, packed with residents of the neighborhood surrounding the hospital site. Most were opposed to AvalonBay’s request. While some welcomed developer Ron Ladell’s announcement, midway through the meeting, that the company was withdrawing its request for fewer affordable housing units in exchange for higher density, they still registered concerns.

“I am proud to announce that the request to reduce the affordable percentage from 20 to 17.3 percent is being withdrawn,” said Mr. Ladell, who is AvalonBay Communities’ senior vice president. “We are happy to provide 20 percent at the increased density of 324 units that will result in 65 affordable on-site units. This has never been done in Princeton. It would set a precedent both in Princeton and throughout the state.”

AvalonBay is under contract to buy the hospital site. They plan to demolish the seven-story building and build rental apartments. Market rate units, including studios to three-bedroom apartments, would have rents from $1,600 to $3,200 per month.

Resident Joe McGeady told the Board that the master plan’s provisions for retail, a playground, and other public areas should be retained and the zoning should not be changed. “A great opportunity is slipping through our hands,” he said. “The plan has minimum open space on Witherspoon. The town deserves better. I would hate to see us miss this chance and settle for the ordinary because an ordinance that is inconsistent with the master plan was allowed to pass through the planning board.”

Borough resident Alexi Assmus said the original number of 280 maximum units for the 5.6-acre hospital site, arrived at after numerous public meetings, was “a big compromise on the part of the neighborhood. The compromise was made in order to allow the hospital to sell the site for a higher price than if the rezoning had required a much smaller number of units. A smaller number of units would have been in keeping with the neighborhood character of single family houses.”

Raising the number of units after a contract has been signed “is bad business and is unfair to the community and to the numerous other potential buyers who are eager to redevelop the property,” Ms. Assmus added (see letter on page 10).

Some in the packed meeting room spoke in favor of the request. Borough Council President Barbara Trelstad said the extra density proposal was smart growth, serving working people who could otherwise not afford to live in Princeton. “The average home in Princeton costs $453,000. A down payment of $90,000 is significantly out of reach for most working class folks,” she said. Ms. Trelstad added that AvalonBay’s plan for usable front porches “puts eyes on the street.”

Also in favor was Sandra Persichetti, executive director of Princeton Community Housing. “Over 500 families are waiting for an affordable apartment,” she said, urging the Planning Board to take action. “We hope people learn from the past that endless conversation is not in anyone’s interest,” she said. “We do not want to see abandoned buildings and blight at the site. The project is acceptable to us as long as it is built in a timely fashion …. I urge you to think about those living in substandard conditions who don’t have a home to go to tonight.”

Grace Sinden, a founding member of Sustainable Princeton, said Princeton Borough should require or promote the idea that the developer adhere to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] standards rather than Energy Star, which AvalonBay prefers for this development. “Energy Star applies to household appliances and light bulbs,” she said. “Municipalities do not value it as highly as LEED.”

Representing the Site Plan Review Advisory Board [SPRAB], member Bill Wolfe cited concerns about the scope, style, and design standards for the complex. “SPRAB would prefer an open development, more in keeping with the neighborhood,” he said, adding that a possible compromise would be to make open space at the rental complex more accessible to the public. The “monolithic floor plans” could be broken down to vary story heights and lessen the mass, he said. “SPRAB believes LEED is applicable and should be recommended,” he said, adding that the Board is “emphatically opposed to the density bonus.”

Board member Bernie Miller said he had concerns about the lack of retail in AvalonBay’s plan. “It makes the development less inclusive,” he said. Mr. Miller also said that the figure of 280 was arrived at after careful negotiations with neighbors. “I have difficulty supporting a higher number even with the offer of providing a 20 percent affordable set-aside,” he said. “If we can’t invoke LEED standards, but perhaps if the developer stood up and said he would volunteer …. I wonder why he is not stepping forward and saying he will volunteer.”

The only member of the Board to vote in favor of the request was former Princeton Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman, who lives in the neighborhood of the proposed development. She said she had no problem with the increased density idea, and added that AvalonBay is exceeding open space standards as well as other issues. “The more I look at this, the more I think the impact on the community will be minimized compared to what is there now,” she said.

At the meeting, the Board did endorse some of the developer’s requested zoning changes including installing signs, adding a leasing office, allowing some loft apartments, and adjusting an internal lot line.

 

Following several comments from the public for and against NJ Transit’s proposal to abandon the current Dinky easement, the New Jersey Historic Sites Council voted to approve the measure last Thursday during a meeting in Trenton. The 5-1 vote sends a recommendation to the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection that the transportation agency be permitted to take up sections of the track once the Dinky station is moved 460 feet south, which will make room for Princeton University’s planned $300 million arts complex.

At the beginning of the meeting, Historic Preservation Office administrator Dan Saunders explained to the Council that since the University is a private owner, the Council’s influence is limited concerning the tracks, which are still owned by NJ Transit. Even if the Council did not vote to approve the proposal, the easement would automatically be abandoned five years after the station is moved to its new location.

“They don’t need our permission to move it,” Mr. Saunders said. “It would not require an application. NJ Transit can go ahead and do it. Imagine the DEP compelling someone to continue using some historic building for a particular use. Since 1986, we’ve never done such a thing.”

Princeton University plans to design a new station for the Dinky, which connects commuters to the Princeton Junction stop on the northeast corridor line. The existing building, which is across from McCarter Theatre, would be turned into a restaurant or cafe.

Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore was the first to urge the Council to reject the proposal. Citing Smithsonian Magazine’s recent naming of Princeton as the twelfth most desirable small town [out of 20] in America, she said the Dinky line contributes to local quality of life. “Please prevent this abandonment by NJ Transit and vote no,” she said.

Also opposed to the proposal and to relocating the Dinky terminus, Borough Council member Jenny Crumiller said that NJ Transit and Princeton University’s justification for moving the Dinky is “because we can. The heart of the matter is that each time we take the Dinky, we connect with the past,” she added. “It if was a restaurant it would become just another pretty building with a plaque.”

Among those speaking in favor of the proposal were McCarter board president Brian McDonald and Lori Rabon, general manager of the Nassau Inn and a member of the Princeton Merchants Association and the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. “We anticipate a new restaurant and cafe would allow guests to dine in the neighborhood of McCarter Theatre,” Ms. Rabon said. “No doubt the University will preserve both the architecture and history of the building. Why would we wait five years? Now is the time to move forward.”

Kip Cherry, a member of the citizens’ group, Save the Dinky, and a professional planner, urged the Council to put off the decision until two pending lawsuits by Save the Dinky regarding the University’s move are resolved. “The arts building can go forward,” she said. “We need the five years to allow other operators to take over the Dinky line.”

University student Josh Shulman sided with those opposed to the measure, saying he was one of 100 students who have signed Save the Dinky’s petition. Moving the station would interfere with its historic significance, he said. “We’ve been completely left out of these plans that the University is shoving down our throats.”

University vice president Bob Durkee countered by saying the issue had been discussed extensively with students on campus. Mr. Durkee also said the University’s plans include links between the old station and the new one, with commemorative markers providing information about the Dinky’s history.

Backed by a video of her husband walking to the site of the new station, Borough resident Anne Neumann told the Council that approving NJ Transit’s request “will lead to the death of the Dinky.” Pete Weale of West Windsor also urged the Council to vote against the proposal because removing the track would eliminate the possibility of the train being extended north to Nassau Street. “NJ Transit is doing the bidding for Princeton University,” he said. “The Princeton University campus is all about empire-building.”

Bruce Afran, lawyer for Save the Dinky, said making a decision on moving the tracks would be premature because litigation will take years to resolve and a certified site plan for the planned arts district does not yet exist. Mr. Afran added that the station building “is a pristine structure, not in need of rehabilitation.” Designed by noted railroad architect and engineer Alexander Shand, he said it contains the first high-level train platform built outside of a city in the United States.

Regarding history, Tom Clarke, regional manager of government and community relations for NJ Transit, said, “We get it.” The University’s 1984 purchase of the Dinky station saved the Dinky from going out of service, he said, helping subsidize the train service for the next 20 years instead of letting it lapse. Letting the proposal pass “allows NJ Transit to work with the University to improve multi-modal transit for the Princetons and the region.”

 

In response to Borough Council’s introduction of Ordinance 2012-7 providing for the preservation of a portion of the existing Dinky right of way, Township Committee has voted to reaffirm the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) originally agreed upon by the University, Borough, and Township for the creation of an arts and transit neighborhood.

At the Committee’s Monday evening meeting, Township Attorney Edward Schmierer opened the discussion with a report on “the fiscal and legal impacts” of the ordinance, noting that it “effectively amends the official map of the Borough.” The next step for the ordinance is a Planning Board recommendation for or against it, to be delivered in 35 to 40 days.

“Clearly, a decision will have to be made, not too far in the future, whether the Borough will exercise its option to buy,” said Mr. Schmierer. “Everyone needs to be aware that the potential cost to the municipality could be quite significant,” he said. Among the costs would be reimbursing the university for new engineering plans.

Mr. Schmierer answered “no” in response to Committeeman Lance Liverman’s question about whether the Township had been notified about the introduction of the Borough’s new ordinance. “We were notified just as the public and the University were notified,” he added.

“The ordinance is bad public policy,” said Township mayor Chad Goerner, describing it as “an attempt to contravene an agreement reached by three parties over a long period of time.” Noting that it was not in the financial interests of residents of the Borough or the Township, or, eventually, the consolidated municipality, Mr. Goerner concluded that it’s “a risk not worth taking” and suggested that Township Committee “send a clear message that we have no sympathy for it.”

In reaffirming the MOU, Township Committee members agreed that any decision that has a financial impact on the Township should be discussed in joint session, “negotiated in good faith,” and passed by both municipalities.

The Borough came in for additional criticism in a discussion about the Personnel Selection Committee for the new municipality. The Borough has requested that the committee be comprised of three members from each of the existing governing bodies. Mr. Schmierer noted that since three people constitute a quorum for Township Committee, Personnel Selection Committee votes would be binding for the Township under the Open Public Meetings Act. Borough Council would then have the ability to ratify or reject the Committee’s recommendations. The inclusion of a citizen member in place of an elected official on the Committee would not be a satisfactory solution, and an added complexity is the question of what happens when two individuals vying for the same position respectively request public and private hearings.

It was agreed that a recommendation be made providing for two representatives from each municipality on the new committee, a solution that has worked well in the past.

In other actions at Monday’s meeting, Township Committee approved the adoption of a conflict of interest policy for municipal employees, and agreed to reschedule the 2012 municipal budget public hearing for Monday, May 21.


April 18, 2012

 

Online Update: The school budget passed by a vote of 1,193 to 360. The Borough reelected Rebecca Cox with 387 votes, and voted in newcomer Martha Land with 405 votes. Candidate Dudley Sipprelle received 197 votes. Patrick Sullivan, who ran unopposed for the single Township seat needing to be filled this year, received 741 votes.

Residents of the Township and the Borough will go to the polls on Tuesday to vote on the 2012-2013 proposed budget for the Princeton Regional School District, and to select (or at least confirm) candidates for Board seats. Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. (Although this is after our print press time, the results will be posted on our website on Wednesday morning).

As a result of consolidation, which will take effect on January 1, 2013, this is the last year that: the system will be known as “the Princeton Regional School District” (it will change to “Princeton Public Schools”); that separate candidates will run in each municipality; and that the consequent tax rate, if the budget is approved, will be computed separately for each municipality.

Operating under a two-percent cap imposed by the state, the Board approved a total operating budget of $75,607,106 for the 2012-13 school year. The total tax levy on area residents will be $63,434,108. In the Borough the budget translates to a $337 tax increase on a house with an estimated value of $748,155. Township residents will pay $906 based on an average home assessment of $822,262.

“This year, the proposed budget carries a flat one percent increase over 2011-12,” said Superintendent Judith Wilson. “It represents the ability to maintain -programs PK-12 but allows for very little growth in any way. This is reflective of our tight economic times and also fits within the State’s restrictions on public school tax levies.” A breakdown is available on the Princeton Regional School District’s web site and Facebook page.

In addition to weighing in on the budget on April 17, residents will also have an opportunity to select new board members. In the Borough, incumbent Rebecca Cox and newcomers Dudley Sipprelle and Martha Land are vying for two seats. There is just one candidate, Patrick Sullivan, for the single Township seat that is opening up.

Princetonians will be a minority among statewide residents going to the polls in April. Presented with the option of moving school elections to the general election in November, Board of Education members voted to keep the April date, ensuring that school concerns would not be confused with issues related to other races. The Board may choose to revisit this decision in the future.


At Borough Council’s meeting last week, a spirited discussion became contentious during a presentation about efforts to preserve a portion of the existing Dinky right of way. In a 3-2 vote, Council approved introduction of an ordinance that would preserve the right of way, which would cover a 50-foot-wide segment of land on the Borough side of the Dinky tracks.

Council members Jenny Crumiller, Roger Martindell, and Jo Butler were for the ordinance, while Kevin Wilkes and Barbara Trelstad voted against it. Heather Howard recused herself because she works for Princeton University, which owns some of the property in question.

In introducing the resolution, Mr. Martindell said the ordinance would show the Council’s intent to amend the map to include the Dinky right-of-way as a public right-of-way. “If we took that step, there could be no development on that site until one year after final approval is given,” he said. “The purpose of the resolution was to preserve the public trust.”

Even though the governing bodies already negotiated a right-of-way with the University along Alexander Street, preserving the existing right of way provides more options, he said, adding that he hoped Township officials would agree and also attempt to preserve the portion that lies in the Township.

“It’s a linchpin for further extending the right of way to Nassau Street, a tool for a tool kit,” Mr. Martindell said. “It enhances value to our community, including the University, and I heartily endorse it.”

University Vice President and Secretary Bob Durkee did not mince words in his remarks to the Council opposing the ordinance. Starting with “Given all the ridicule directed at Sarah Palin for the bridge to nowhere, it is surprising that members of Borough Council are proposing a right of way to nowhere.” Mr. Durkee complained that University officials were not informed of the proposed ordinance. “There was no prior discussion and no attempt to collaborate and cooperate,” he said, adding that the proposal was a way to undo the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) reached last year between the University and the governing bodies regarding the University’s planned $300 million arts and transit neighborhood.

The right of way would end at the border of the Borough and Township, where there will be no rail connection after the Dinky station is moved 460 feet south of its current location, Mr. Durkee said. He told the Council, “I think you’ve received bad advice,” adding that the right of way would require an up-front payment that would also cause problems in the newly consolidated Princeton, because officials would have to decide whether to purchase the land or allow the right-of-way to lapse, he added.

Speaking after Mr. Durkee, Borough resident Peter Marks said, “Mr. Durkee’s comments bring about two words: brazen and insolent.” Conversely, Borough resident Chip Crider criticized Council for putting forth the measure and questioned whether it was legal. “When the zoning was passed, you agreed with me that it was time to move on. What happened? It is crazy as far as I can see,” he said. “Your continued bickering is harming our town.”

Opposed to the measure, Councilman Wilkes said it would damage progress that has been made in negotiations with the University. “We won’t get anything done if we don’t have the full cooperation of everyone,” he said. Council President Barbara Trelstad agreed, saying the ordinance would put the MOU in jeopardy. She added, “I am extremely disappointed in this community.” The exchanges during the meeting had “risen to a level that has gone beyond civility,” she said.

 

Controversial zoning changes proposed for AvalonBay, the developer of the apartment complex planned for the 5.6-acre site being vacated by the University Medical Center at Princeton, are on the agenda of tomorrow night’s public meeting of the Regional Planning Board. Following the Planning Board’s review, the zoning amendment will be sent back to Borough Council, which is expected to vote on it at a public hearing on April 24.

Currently under contract to purchase the hospital site on Witherspoon Street, AvalonBay wants zoning amended to allow for increased density of apartments to 324 units, up from the approved number of 280. But the developer does not want to increase the number of affordable housing units beyond the 56 that are already required. AvalonBay is not seeking to increase the allowable size of the complex, and is conforming to the height and setbacks originally established for the 280 units.

Weighing in on the issue this week, Councilman Kevin Wilkes, who is a candidate in the June 5 primary for the Democratic nomination for mayor, said he thinks AvalonBay should be allowed to add more units, but only if they include a 20 percent affordable housing threshold in their plans.

“The hospital is moving out in five weeks and we’ve discussed this eventuality for eight years,” Mr. Wilkes said in a printed statement. “Now the Princeton community is faced with the consequences of this departure. The first purchaser of the hospital main campus walked away from the deal they negotiated as local residential sales prices plummeted. When a new developer emerged, AvalonBay, they indicated they wanted to build new rental housing at the site and remove all but one of the existing institutional buildings on the site. They have put forth a proposal that is mostly in conformance with the zoning standards that we passed in 2006 for the redevelopment of the site except for two significant changes,” he said, referring to the request for more units and a reduction in affordable housing units.

Ronald S. Ladell, Senior Vice President of Development for AvalonBay, said this week that the company wants to build 324 units and 17.3 percent COAH -[Council on Affordable Housing] eligible units. “We’ve also offered nine additional workforce housing units, so they’re not COAH-eligible. And that’s what the ordinance says,” he said.

For the past several weeks, residents of the neighborhood surrounding the hospital have protested the increased density request as well as other aspects of AvalonBay’s proposal for the site. Many of them voiced their views at the April 10 meeting of Borough Council. More than 100 have signed an online petition opposing the plans.

Mr. Ladell said many of their claims are unfounded. Regarding comments about a lack of access to open space, he said the complex will have a park fronting it on Witherspoon Street. “We exceed the requirement for depth of open space into the site by over 100 percent.”

He also addressed complaints about the proposed complex’s “monolithic” appearance and uninspired architectural design. “Monolithic? Eyes of the beholder,” he said. “The entire streetscape is stoops and patios. The setbacks far exceed the requirements. There are three types of facade treatments. There are architectural elements. We’re eager to get to the point of talking about design standards, but we’re still at the ordinance point right now.”

To concerns that the rental complex will not adhere to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] rating system, using the system known as Energy Star instead, Mr. Ladell responded, “We’ve had great success with LEED in high-rises built in a non-combustible manner. But in New Jersey, nearly all of our communities are wood or stick-built, and Energy Star has been a tremendous success in sustainability and reducing the carbon footprint. We plan on using an environmentally sustainable program and our preference would be to use Energy Star.”

Mr. Ladell said assertions by neighborhood residents that the rental complex will house 1,000 people are “completely inaccurate.” He added that AvalonBay has submitted reports of a traffic study, concluding that the difference between having 280 and 324 units is one additional vehicle every three minutes during peak time. “That’s what we see the impact to be, which we view as not significant,” he said. “The increased density is very beneficial to the community in many ways, without any detriments.”

Touching on the issue of traffic volume in his statement, Mr. Wilkes said, “As long as the traffic studies indicate that the additional units will result in a negligible increase in traffic, we should support the variance for additional units but we should hold firm on our requirement for the 20 percent set aside of COAH marketable rental apartments.”

If AvalonBay were to conform to the 20 percent affordable housing standard, 65 new affordable rental apartments would be included in the complex. “Princeton can then elect to apply those 65 affordable apartments to its earlier affordable housing obligation under the state’s COAH, for which Princeton could potentially receive double bonus credits for a total of up to 130 credits,” Mr. Wilkes said. “Or, the town could apply those new units to COAH’s Third Round ‘growth share’ obligation, which would meet a very large percentage of that obligation.” Both scenarios represent “significant gains for our community and would be in line with Princeton’s longstanding tradition of progressive affordable housing policies.”

“Princeton has a long tradition of hospitality to the needs of those who rent and we should be accessible to those who are not sufficiently wealthy to be able to purchase in town,” he continued. “This community provided affordable housing to its residents long before other municipalities were talking about it. In addition, supporting our position requiring a 20 percent affordable share will embolden us to hold firm with future developers who come before us seeking to redevelop significant portions of our existing residential fabric with new replacement housing.”

Mr. Ladell said that no private developer has ever built 20 percent affordable housing, “or even 15 percent. Some have been as low as two percent affordable set aside.” His response to the 20 percent suggestion is that rental communities are only required to do 15 percent. “Our proposal is to exceed the 15 percent by nine units, then exceed it again by nine more for workforce housing, which is deed-restricted and income-limited for 30 years,” he said. “Some members of Borough Council are supportive of workforce housing. Five years ago when the ordinance was adopted, the governing bodies and staff wanted to write an option for workforce housing.”

The Planning Board meeting Thursday, April 19, will be held at the Municipal Building starting at 7:30 p.m.


April 11, 2012

As the May 22 date draws nearer, Princeton Township Committee held a “work session” at its Monday evening meeting, detailing the “old” hospital’s move to the new University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro.

Susan Lorenz, Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer, and Vice President for Government and Community Affairs Pam Hersh described plans for moving patients at the Princeton hospital site to the new facility on opening day. The new campus will include a medical office building attached to the hospital, an education center, a health and fitness center, a skilled nursing facility, a pediatric services facility, and a 32-acre public park.

Estimating that there will be approximately 110 patients to be moved, Ms. Lorenz described how ambulances — including pediatric ambulances — will accomplish the transfer in about six hours, with a patient leaving once every four minutes.

There will be no gap in emergency room services; the current emergency room will close at 7 a.m. on May 22, just as the new one is opening, and both will be fully staffed. There will be a one-week curtailment of non-emergency services, said Ms. Lorenz, citing caesarean sections as an example.

The use of traffic light preemptor devices by ambulance drivers will ensure a quick ride to the new facility, said Ms. Hersh, thanking the town for endorsing their purchase by the hospital. Bus service will be available for non-emergency access to the campus, which Ms. Hersh described as “easy to negotiate.”

Ms. Hersh reported that Outpatient Clinic director Margaret Lancefield had been “eloquent” in expressing concern about how the move would affect the clinic’s patients, many of whom are used to walking to the hospital on Witherspoon Street. It was agreed, Ms. Hersh said, that the level of service for clinic patients should be the same as for other patients, and the hospital offered to provide on-demand transportation for patients who typically walked to the clinic. “But we found that clinic patients don’t like to do that,” said Ms. Hersh, and so they will be eligible for free rides on the bus which will -otherwise cost $1.50. On-demand capability will remain however, using shuttles and cabs. Ms. Hersh also pointed out that “75 to 80 percent” of the clinic’s patients come from east of Route 1. Over 19,000 patients a year reportedly visit the clinic.

The new hospital’s community health information center, which will be staffed by bilingual, non-medical personnel, will provide transportation-related information; information about area community health programs; and “basic health information.”

After the move, the current hospital site will be “in limbo,” said Ms. Hersh, and round-the-clock security personnel will ensure its safety. Landscaping and maintenance will continue, and at the Borough’s request, a final “clean-up” will be done by October. The wide use of signs at the old site was promised to avoid confusion among those patients who continue to go there.

“I for one will miss the easy access to the emergency room,” said Committeemen Bernie Miller, citing the fact that he raised six children in Princeton. “It’s going to leave a hole for some of us.”

“I think you’re going to be surprised because it’s so easy to go to the new hospital,” responded Ms. Hersh, noting that for many people, the new location will be closer. Although 99 percent of Princeton residents currently use the hospital, she noted, they account for only 30 percent of its patient base.

A “community open house” on May 12 will provide an opportunity to become familiar with the new campus.

“Consent agenda” items at the meeting included “separation agreements” for Police Chief Robert Buchanan and Township Administrator James J. Pascale, who both retired effective March 31.

Princeton University’s “voluntary payment” to the Township for 2012 will be $750,000, which is $250,000 more than last year. The additional money will be used, it was agreed, for consolidation costs.


The Princeton Battlefield Society has filed a lawsuit to block the Institute for Advanced Study’s (IAS) plan to build faculty housing on land it owns bordering the Princeton Battlefield. Filed in Superior Court in Trenton last Thursday, April 5, the suit says that the project, which was approved by the Regional Planning Board last month, would destroy the site of General George Washington’s historic counterattack against the British during the 1777 Battle of Princeton.

The suit also states that a 1992 settlement agreement between the Institute and Princeton Township took away the Institute’s right to build on the site. “This was addressed in the Township meeting by our lawyer, and refuted with a statute that says we do indeed have the right to build residences for our faculty,” says Christine Ferrara, senior public affairs officer at the IAS.

The Institute plans to build 15 faculty homes, eight of which are townhomes, on seven acres bordering the battlefield. An additional 10 acres adjacent to the Park would be preserved as open space. The focus of four packed Planning Board meetings since last fall, the plan was amended after suggestions by historians James McPherson and David Hackett Fischer to reduce the size of one house, preserve more open space, and move the tree line screening the houses. The historians, who met with IAS director Peter Goddard to try and mediate between the Institute and the opponents to the plan, also recommended building a path through the Institute property with interpretive signage commemorating the Battle of Princeton.

It was that amended version that was approved by the Planning Board on March 1. The Battlefield Society says it will separately appeal that decision.

The opponents of the project maintain that the development “will completely obliterate the Battlefield site that has remained untouched for the last 235 years,” said Bruce Afran, attorney for the Battlefield Society, in a press statement. “The Institute housing plan will destroy what is probably the most significant Revolutionary War site left in the United States along with critical archaeological and historical evidence.”

The Battlefield Society members say further that the project will bury important artifacts under a 10-foot artificial plateau, and destroy valuable wetlands. “The proposed cluster housing project will destroy one of the most valuable archaeological sites in the United States,” says Battlefield Society president Jerald Hurwitz, adding that the 1992 agreement denied the IAS the power to build cluster housing on the site since cluster housing was not in the E-2 zoning code at the time of the settlement. Cluster housing was not approved in E-2 zones until 10 years later, the complaint states.

The plan’s opponents say they will also take legal action regarding unreported wetlands on the site they say the Institute did not disclose when it sought permission from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to build the houses. “These wetlands were mapped by the Institute itself in 1990,” Mr. Afran said, “but they were not disclosed by the Institute when it applied for permission to build the current housing project.”

Responding to the allegations, Ms. Ferrara said, “The unanimous approval of the Planning Board certainly speaks to the fact that we have what we need to move forward. And the plan approved with amendments by Mr. Hackett-Fischer and Professor McPherson yields the greatest solution for the Battlefield itself in terms of enhancing it with additional open space, interpretive signage, and pathways for the public.”


The Transition Task Force approved a $149,050 budget at its meeting last week.

Questions about differences between “Task Force costs” and “transition costs” reflected some uncertainty about how to define expenses among Task Force members. Borough Mayor Yina Moore was among those who called for clarification, and Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi agreed that “we need numbers.”

“The budget is for the work of the Transition Task Force and is a subset of our total transition costs,” said Task Force member and Township Mayor Chad Goerner after the meeting. “It includes consulting costs, legal costs, and other costs directly attributed to the work of the task force.”

“We’re sort of working with two budgets here,” said Acting Township Administrator Kathy Monzo at the meeting. “Some expenditures that were listed in the Task Force budget were moved to transition costs.” Ms. Monzo reported that the two budgets were being tracked separately, and that there would be “updates as we go forward.”

“There will be other costs associated with the transition, and these were estimated in the Consolidation report,” she added. These “other costs” will come out of municipal budgets, and, at the- meeting, Task Force Chair Mark Freda noted that “each administrator is carefully watching what is being spent” and appropriately identifying each expenditure. Some of these costs will be eligible for state reimbursement.

Also at the meeting, Center for Governmental Research consultant Joe Stefko reported that he would be sending an updated “priority task map” in the coming days. The map, which may be found online, provides a timeline for the sequence of steps to be taken in preparation for consolidation. Mr. Stefko described it as “a living, breathing document” that changes every couple of days. An immediate example was his suggestion that the deadline for “designating folks in key administrative positions for day 1” be moved from May 15 to some time in April, “so governing bodies can implement the process by mid- May.”

It was also agreed that a review of the new municipality’s organizational structure will occur in mid-May.

Jim Levine reported that the Personnel Subcommittee was working on devising severance arrangements and work force sizing options, and would bring a “full proposal” to the Task Force’s next meeting. Mr. Stefko concurred with the subcommittee’s interest in giving current employees “a very full picture.” Ms. Monzo noted that “cross-pollination” had already begun in some areas, where employees from both the Borough and the Township have the same insurance coverage.

Facilities subcommittee member Bernie Miller called the Task Force’s attention to Phase 2 of the timeline, which will look at the housing of the new administration. He reported that the committee is working with KSS Architects to determine the costs of an updated plan. While the Township has approved the KSS contract the Borough has not, and there was some uncertainty about whether or not KSS had begun to work.

A joint Borough/Township meeting with the Task Force was scheduled for Tuesday, April 10, after press time.


April 4, 2012

Former Township Mayor and Borough Council President Richard C. Woodbridge, a Republican, has announced his candidacy for mayor of the consolidated Princeton. Mr. Woodbridge joins current Council member Kevin Wilkes and Township Committee Deputy Mayor Liz Lempert, both Democrats, in the race. Ms. Lempert was endorsed last month by the Princeton Community Democratic Organization {PCDO}.

Current Borough Mayor Yina Moore, who had opted to run for Council rather than mayor, did not file a petition by the April 2 deadline to be a candidate in the Democratic primary. At press time, Ms. Moore had not commented on whether she is dropping out or will choose to run as an Independent.

In the Council race, Republican Geoff Aton announced his candidacy this week and is running unopposed. Mr. Woodbridge has been endorsed by the local Republican Municipal Committee, and will run unopposed in the Republican mayoral primary.

“After hearing from many on both sides of the political aisle and listening to numerous citizen concerns, I have decided to enter the race for mayor,” Mr. Woodbridge wrote in a press release issued last Friday. “I believe now is the time for Princeton to elect someone with experience and fresh thinking, who believes in true inclusiveness and non-partisan cooperation.”

On Monday, Mr. Woodbridge spoke further about his decision to run. “I’m doing this largely because of friends suggesting I do so,” he said. “It probably was inspired by some editorials that were out there in early February. People said, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a really contested race here?’”

A 1965 graduate of Princeton University, Mr. Woodbridge became a patent attorney and has maintained a patent and trademark practice in Princeton since 1973. He is currently a partner with Fox Rothschild LLP. Raised here, he attended the Nassau Street and Valley Road schools before graduating from The Lawrenceville School.

“I’m probably the only candidate who has seen Albert Einstein in the flesh,” he said, recalling the time his father -pointed out the famed scientist walking across the Harrison Street bridge.

His familiarity with the two municipalities is among his qualifications for the job, Mr. Woodbridge said. “I grew up here. I went to local schools. I know the town and have seen a lot of changes,” he said. “I think change is good and change is inevitable, but this period of change with consolidation is really as dramatic as we’ve ever seen. There are a huge number of special issues that go along with this kind of change in government.”

Consolidation is not the only challenge that would come with the role of mayor. “You can’t spend all your time just fighting fires,” Mr. Woodbridge said. “You have to think beyond that. There are financial challenges as well. The town has gotten so expensive that it’s hard for families to stay here. Taxes and expenses are so high. But we also have to look forward to where we want to be. So it’s dealing with the day-to-day stuff as well as looking to the future.”

Mr. Woodbridge is a 20-year veteran of the Princeton Fire Department. He has served as Police, Public Works and Fire Commissioner, among other municipal posts. “I have had the pleasure of working for both towns, seeing changes and knowing the context of all those changes,” he said. “My interest is trying to take us to the next level.”

Mr. Aton, a member of the Township Zoning Board, was a candidate for Township Committee in 2011. Married to a Democrat, he said in a statement, “It is a new era in Princeton. It is also time for a new approach to government. It is time for an end to partisanship. pettiness, and bickering. It is time for a responsible government that puts the people of Princeton above politics.”

The candidates running in the Democratic primary for six seats on the new Council are current Council members Jenny Crumiller, Jo Butler, Heather Howard, and Roger Martindell; Township Committee members Bernie Miller and Lance Liverman, and newcomers Tamera Matteo, Scott Sillars, and Patrick Simon.


At the next meeting of Princeton Borough Council on April 10, residents of the neighborhood surrounding the site soon to be vacated by the University Medical Center at Princeton plan to turn out in force to protest what the developer AvalonBay Communities, Inc. want to put in its place.

The company’s request for rezoning, which was approved 5-1 by the Council last month for recommendation to the Planning Board, would allow for higher density and fewer affordable housing units in the community proposed by AvalonBay, a national developer of rental complexes. The developer is set to take over the property on Witherspoon Street once UMCP moves to Plainsboro May 22.

Neighbors and others concerned about the size, scope, and environmental impact of the plan, which involves demolishing the existing hospital building for new construction, have been mobilizing their efforts to convince Council, and later this month the Planning Board, that the plan does not adhere to local standards.

“The buildings are absolutely counter to the Borough Code,” says Joe Bardzilowski, who lives on Henry Avenue and has been instrumental in efforts to oppose the plan. “I’m talking about things like setbacks and the height of the buildings. It’s a big monolithic building which, in Borough code, it is clearly stated that it should not be. It’s essentially one building.”

Among citizens’ concerns about the plan is access to open space. Princeton Borough Code states “Open spaces and plazas should be inviting to the public and serve as a connection between the surrounding neighborhood and any new development.” Those opposed to the development plan say it does not adhere to those standards. “All of the open space will be removed from the existing neighborhood,” says Mr. Bardzilowski. “It will be exclusive to AvalonBay members. This will be not even a gated community, it’ll be a walled community.”

In a press release issued last November when AvalonBay was selected to develop the hospital site, senior vice president for development Ron Ladell said the company was looking forward to “working in partnership with the Princeton community to realize its vision for a new and vibrant residential community that will further -energize Princeton’s downtown.” The release outlined such features as “increased open public space” and buildings of four and five stories. The complex would have two interior courtyards.

Mr. Ladell, who has appeared at Borough Council meetings in recent months, did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Environmental concerns about the proposed development center around the fact that the rental complex will not adhere to the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED] rating system, but rather to the system known as Energy Star. Princeton Borough Code says that new construction should comply with LEED rating system “to the extent practical.”

“LEED is virtually required by Borough Code, so there is bound to be a collision at some point,” said Daniel Harris, a Township resident opposed to the plan. “But even if there isn’t a ‘collision,’ it is certain that anyone, including the Princeton Environmental Commission, wants more environmental features right up front before there is any thought of a giveaway in terms of a density bonus. And even if there weren’t a bonus, any developer really should be putting on solar roofing.”

Mr. Harris said he has spoken at length about solar roofing with Mr. Ladell. “To my amazement, he said you couldn’t put solar roofing on a ‘stick’ building [constructed on site rather than modular]. I wrote to three architects and they all said there is simply no problem at all in installing solar roofing. Even if they don’t do that, they should agree to do white tile [roofing] that would reflect heat rather than absorb it. That might be said for the siding as well.”

Mr. Harris has additional environmental concerns. “Being environmentally sustainable also means having plants that are native and non-invasive,” he said. “The list AvalonBay has submitted has some species that are not native and are classified as being potentially invasive in New Jersey.”

Regarding the issue of open space, Mr. Harris said the AvalonBay plan is not user-friendly to the neighborhood. “Borough Code insists it be usable by the public, so much so that it specifies that any development in the zone must allow regular pedestrians to walk through it,” he said.

An online petition at change.org, opposing the plan for the rental complex as it currently stands, has been signed by 94 people. “They have a huge amount of homework to do,” Mr. Harris said of AvalonBay.


With a continued goal of “maintaining excellence within a conservative budget” under a two percent cap mandated by the State, the Princeton Board of Education has approved a total operating budget of $75,607,106 for 2012-2013. The total tax levy on area residents will be $63,434,108. This year’s numbers were described as a budget that allows the district to “move forward,” but “without much growth.”

In the Borough the budget translates as a $337 tax increase on a house with an estimated average value of $748,155. Township residents will pay $906 based on an average home assessment of $822,262. Residents of both municipalities will decide whether or not to approve the budget at the upcoming April 17 election. A breakdown is available on the Princeton Regional School District’s web site and Facebook page.

This will be the last time the tax levy question will be considered by the two municipalities, which will consolidate in January 2013, the mid-point of the district’s budget year. In future years, observed Superintendent Judy Wilson, the process will be easier to compute.

In addition to weighing in on the budget, April 17 will also be an opportunity for residents to select new board members. In the Borough, incumbent Rebecca Cox and newcomers Dudley Sipprelle and Martha Land will be vying for two seats. There is just one candidate, Patrick Sullivan, for the single Township seat that is opening up. Residents will have an opportunity to meet the candidates on Tuesday, April 10, from 7:30 to 9 p.m., at the Special Education PTO’s annual School Board Candidates’ Night. The meeting will be held in the library of the John Witherspoon Middle School.

Ms. Wilson reminded everyone that the budget, a single “yea” or “nay” question on the ballot, represents the greatest part of the annual school budget, including everything from cleaning supplies to classroom needs. A “very small percentage of subsidies and grants,” adding up to $2,26,340, provides some assistance.

The two percent cap implemented in recent years and the sizable budget cuts made in 2010 continues to present challenges, said Ms. Wilson. Despite the restoration of some of the lost dollars, the district is still $440,000 short. Using “every dollar wisely to maximize community’s investment in our schools,” she said, leaves little or no money for purchasing new technology or improving infrastructure. There are, however, no plans for laying off any staff at this time. School and department budgets remain at 2011-12 levels, Ms. Wilson reported, as a result of stabilizing “utility bills through controls and efficiencies.” Variables during the coming year include enrollment numbers and evaluation results. The State’s “adequacy” vs. “excellence” mandate, she added, will continue “to be a problem for Princeton.” She described money allocated to the Princeton Charter School and and funds required for health benefit contributions as “wild cards” that will continue to rise.

Describing them as “phenomenal volunteers,” Ms. Wilson thanked the parents, alumni, corporations, and others who contribute money to “help keep things going despite the gap.”

Although, as Ms. Wilson noted, 90 percent of the rest of the state has opted not to have April elections, Prince-tonians will be going to the polls that month as a result of “a well-principled decision” made by the Board. Ms. Wilson suggested that they may choose to revisit it in years to come.

Also at last week’s meeting, the Board recognized departing members Mia Cahill (two terms) and Charles Kalmbach (one term) for being active on various Board committees and serving as Board representatives to several PTOs (parent teacher organization).

In other business, the Board saluted the Princeton High School Boys Swim Team for winning the state championship and finishing the season with an unbeaten record. Coach Greg Hand told listeners that the “crystal clear fact” is “that these young men, this team, did all the work.” They were, he added, “at their best when their best was needed.” Those attending the meeting then got to break for cupcakes with blue icing.

The next meeting of the Board of Education will be Tuesday, April 24, at 8 p.m. in John Witherspoon Middle School.


March 28, 2012

With 212 votes out of a possible 345, Township Deputy Mayor Liz Lempert easily won the Princeton Community Democratic Organization’s (PCDO) endorsement as candidate in the race for the first mayor of a consolidated Princeton.

Voters in the record-breaking crowd at the Sunday evening meeting at the Princeton Jewish Center gave Ms. Lempert 61.4 percent of the vote; her opponent Kevin Wilkes, received 120 votes, or 34.8 percent. Thirteen people, or 3.8 percent, indicated that they did not want to make an endorsement that evening.

First-term Borough Councilwoman Heather Howard was the big winner among the ten people vying to be endorsed as candidates for six Princeton Council seats. With 353 individuals casting ballots on this question, Ms. Howard received 300 votes, or 85 percent. Candidates who received over 60 percent of the vote were fully endorsed by the PCDO. Candidates receiving 40 percent, but under 60 percent, will receive PCDO’s recommendation that the candidate appear “in the column” on the June Primary election ballot along with the endorsed Democratic candidates, but without the party slogan (“Regular Democratic Organization”).

Other candidates who received the PCDO’s endorsement for Council included Princeton Township Committeeman Lance Liverman (223 votes); consultant and Consolidation Commission veteran Patrick Simon (221 votes); and Township Committeeman Bernie Miller (214 votes).

Those receiving over 40 but under 60 percent of the vote included Borough Council Committeewomen Jo Butler (151 votes) and Jenny Crumiller (175 votes); Transition Task Force Vice Chair Scott Sillars (158 votes); and area businesswoman Tamera Matteo (150 votes). On Monday evening, the Democratic Municipal Committees of Princeton Borough and Township gave Ms. Butler and Ms. Crumiller their full endorsement and, as expected, endorsed Ms. Lempert and the four other Council candidates.

Borough Councilman Roger Martindell, who received 135, or 38.2 percent of the vote, and Borough Council Mayor Yina Moore, who received 27.5 percent with 97 votes, were not endorsed by either group.

Prior to voting, audience members heard the mayoral and council candidates deliver prepared statements and respond to a variety of questions that had been prepared earlier (candidates‘ responses can be seen on the PCDO website, www.princetondems.org). Describing the program as an opportunity for members to make “a well-informed vote,” PCDO President Dan Preston instructed voters to select at least three, but no more than six Council members.

In her opening comments, Ms. Lempert likened the “energized candidates” and packed house that evening to her experience of helping to run the local presidential campaign in 2008, when enthusiastic Obama supporters didn’t “let egos get in the way” of progress. She noted that she was the only candidate who had the support of members of both Township Committee and Borough Council.

“If elected mayor, I will work toward an efficient and cost-effective merger of the police departments, and I will preserve the fire department as an all-volunteer force,” said Mr. Wilkes, getting right down to business in his opening statement. He began his response to a question about helping Princeton’s Hispanic community by speaking with confidence in Spanish.

Deborah McMillan, current chair of the Hightstown chapter of the League of Women Voters, deftly moderated the program, noting that towns like Hightstown and West Windsor were “watching with interest” as the Princetons move toward consolidation. Freeholder Andrew Koontz led the opening Pledge of Allegiance and provided a musical interlude during the vote-counting.

Princeton Community TV videotaped the meeting and will be broadcasting it on March 28 at noon; March 29 at 9 a.m.; March 30 at 3 a.m.; and March 31 at 10 a.m. You can watch PCTV via Comcast Ch. 30, Verizon FIOS Ch. 45, or streamed live to your computer at www.princetontv.org/media.html.


The retirement announcements of two Township officials, Princeton Township Administrator Jim Pascale, and Police Chief Bob Buchanan, made the news last week.

Mr. Pascale’s retirement comes after 30 years of service to the Princeton community. His last day on the job will be March 30, although he will continue to receive compensation for accumulated time and benefits until December 31.

Chief Financial Officer Kathryn Monzo will assume Mr. Pascale’s duties.

Mr. Buchanan became Chief of Police a little over a year ago after the resignation of Mark Emann, who stepped down after being accused of selling an antique gun owned by the police department to buy arms for personal use. Mr. Buchanan has logged 31 years with the Princeton Township Police Department as a patrolman, a detective, a sergeant, and captain. His last day will be March 30 and, like Mr. Pascale, he will continue to receive compensation for accumulated time and benefits.

An official replacement for Mr. Buchanan has not yet been named.

Neither retirement was attributed to ongoing preparations to merge the Township and the Borough.

Ms. Monzo’s background is in finance administration. “Because that usually encompasses so many areas of government, this is a natural progression for me to move to this administrative position,” she commented. “The fact that Jim has been in this position for almost 30 years is testimony to the type of administrator he is. It is very unusual to stay in this position for that length of time. He has been a wonderful mentor.

“I’m sure my management style is different than his, but in my years here I have established a good working relationship with staff here in the Township, and with our counterparts in the Borough,” she added. “I have also worked extensively with both governing bodies, with the budget and capital items, with Joint Finance Committee, and previously with the Joint Issues Committee.”

Ms. Monzo reported that her “entire focus” at the moment is on “continuing the smooth transition to a consolidated Princeton, while maintaining stability in the Township on everyday issues. -Taking it one day at a time is the best approach right now.”

“As far as my role in the new Princeton is concerned I just know that I want to be a part of it, and my role will become clear to everyone as we approach that time,” she observed.


A request by the mayors of Princeton Township and Princeton Borough asking citizen members of the Transition Task Force and Consolidation/Shared Services Study Commission to sign a conflict-of-interest document was a source of much discussion during a meeting of the Task Force last Wednesday. The document would prevent Task Force citizen members and those serving on subcommittees from seeking employment in the consolidated Princeton for two years.

Members of the Task Force and Consolidation Commission received letters last week from Borough Mayor Yina Moore and Township Mayor Chad Goerner, with an attached legal opinion from Township Attorney Edwin W. Schmierer. Titled “Consolidation Process: Avoidance of Conflict of Interest,” the memo states, “The work of the Consolidation/Shared Services Study Commission and that of the Transition Task Force and its various sub-committees will shape the new Princeton for many years to come. Therefore, it is critical that we avoid any appearance of conflict or non-objectivity whatsoever.”

The letter goes on to ask the recipients to agree that no one in a member’s immediate family be permitted to contract services or be employed by Princeton for two years once consolidation goes into effect.

Task Force member Jim Levine expressed concern that time spent discussing the issue was non-productive. “We have so much important stuff to do,” he said. “Anyone running for something should recuse themselves.” Hendricks Davis disagreed. “These are important issues that should be raised,” he said. Scott Sillars, who is vice-chairman of the Task Force, said, “We are breaking new ground here and we have to make sure we are acting like adults. Everyone should know they are dealing with people who are honest.”

The matter will be taken up at the April 3 joint meeting of Borough Council and Township Committee.

Also at the meeting, the Task Force heard presentations from various departments of the Township and Borough that will be affected by consolidation. Gary J. De Blasio, executive director of Corner House, said that the organization devoted to the health and well-being of young people is a joint agency of the Borough and Township that will continue to operate as it is. “But we’re excited about the possibility of moving out of the Valley Road [School building],” he said. “We would like to be considered for a move. We would need at least 6,500 square feet, but 10,000 would be ideal.”

Wayne Carr, director of the Borough’s Department of Public Works, told the Task Force that his department does not have the facilities it needs. “We have stuff all over the place,” he said. “Storage is outside at the PSOC [Princeton Sewer Operating Committee].” Donald R. Hansen, Public Works Director of the Township, said storm water and the collection of leaves and brush are major issues. Since the Borough and Township handle the leaves and brush collection differently, cross-training will be necessary when the departments are combined.

Township Engineer Bob Kiser and Borough Engineer Jack West gave a joint presentation, including a possible infrastructure of what would be called the Community Development department. Other testimony at the meeting came from the Sewer Operating Committee and Recreation Maintenance.

The next meeting of the Transition Task Force is tonight, March 28, at Borough Hall starting at 7 p.m.


March 21, 2012

With an unprecedented number of registered members now on its rolls, the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO) has moved its Sunday, March 25 endorsement meeting from the Suzanne Patterson Center to the larger Jewish Center of Princeton. PCDO president Dan Preston says that the organization is expecting a huge turnout at the meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m. and feature debates between candidates seeking PCDO endorsements.

More than 570 people have signed on as PCDO members so far, up from the usual 300 to 400, according to Mr. Preston. Members must be registered to vote in Princeton, and be registered as Democrats. Unaffiliated voters who join must affiliate as Democrats before being permitted to vote on the endorsements of mayoral and council candidates.

Vying for the mayoral endorsement are Borough Council member Kevin Wilkes and Township Committee member/Deputy Mayor Liz Lempert. Those running for Council are current Borough Mayor Yina Moore, Council members Jo Butler, Jenny Crumiller, Roger Martindell and Heather Howard; Township Committee members Bernie Miller and Lance Liverman; and newcomers Tamera Matteo, Patrick Simon, and Scott Sillars, who is vice chairman of the Transition Task Force.

Mr. Martindell is also hosting a discussion and reception Saturday, March 25 from 4-6 p.m. at Dorothy’s Garden/House, 144 Patton Avenue, rain or shine. Mr. Martindell will lead a discussion about how people envision Princeton after consolidation takes effect on January 1, 2013. The public is invited, and other candidates are encouraged to join the presentation.

At the PCDO event, registration will begin at 6 p.m. with member check-in and ballot distribution. The program starts at 6:30 p.m. Mr. Wilkes and Ms. Lempert will debate from 6:45 to 7:15 p.m. The one-hour Council debate follows. Voting begins at 8:15 p.m. A presentation on the next steps after PCDO endorsement is at 8:30 p.m., during which time ballots will be counted. Endorsement results are estimated to be announced at 9 p.m.

A new rule adopted by the PCDO executive board mandates that ballots for the Council race must contain votes for a minimum of three candidates, up to a maximum of six, in order to be counted, or a vote of “no endorsement.”

In a letter to the editor of this issue of Town Topics, Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner urges the PCDO and Democrats to consider the three new faces on the ballot: Ms. Matteo, Mr. Sillars, and Mr. Simon. While those who have previously served on the governing bodies bring “important continuity and institutional knowledge” to the new council, the three newcomers “will not be encumbered in their decision-making by any past history of serving on one governing body or another,” he writes.


Princeton’s two police departments are anxious to hold on to the current staffing level of 57 officers once consolidation takes effect. Addressing the Transition Task Force Saturday, March 17, Borough Police Chief David Dudeck and Township Police Lieutenant Chris Morgan urged the Task Force not to recommend that the number be reduced to 51, which is what the Joint Shared Services and Consolidation Commission proposed in its final report.

“I would urge you not to cut back on services,” said Chief Dudeck. “If there’s one area that would concern me the most, it would be the delivery of service. I hope that as we go through consolidation that our delivery of service is not impacted. The citizens of Princeton deserve high-end service.”

Both Chief Dudeck and Lieutenant Morgan expressed interest in discussing with the Task Force’s public safety subcommittee what an ideal number of officers might be. In its report, the Consolidation Commission recommended reaching the level of 51 officers through attrition, over three years. Those reductions would be from middle and upper management, not the patrol divisions.

The Borough currently has 30 sworn officers, while the Township has 27. Chief Dudeck said the two departments have been meeting regularly since the consolidation was passed last November, discussing everything from uniforms to personnel. He likened the blending of the two departments to “putting the Yankees and the Red Sox together and making them one team.

“We need your support to keep morale high, so that when we do form this new team, it will something you can be proud of,” he concluded, adding that the patrol division, “the backbone of the police department,” needs to remain fully staffed at all times.

Lieutenant Morgan noted that while the Township police has a traffic bureau, the Borough does not. With regard to the future, he said, “Our concern is for our residents. Depending on what manpower looks like, is it going to be deployed to downtown and are we going to lose police presence in the outskirts of the new Princeton?”

Mark Freda, who chairs the Transition Task Force, commented that negotiations about public safety should not be limited to financial concerns. “It’s not just about saving money,” he said. “There are services that need to be delivered. The public safety subcommittee will try to draw the best balance they can between services and cost savings, and come back with a recommendation to the Task Force.”

The Transition Task Force will meet tonight, March 21, at 7 p.m. in Borough Hall. The next meeting of the public safety subcommittee is Friday, March 23, at 8:30 a.m. in the Township building.


In addition to the fact that they both aspire to be the Democratic nominee for mayor of the municipality that will be created when the Princetons consolidate, Liz Lempert and Kevin Wilkes probably have more in common than not.

Both, for example, are very clear about the fact that in their current positions (he is a Borough Council member and she is a member of Township Committee as well as deputy mayor) and, as a potential mayor, there is no conflict of interest between their personal lives and their obligations as an elected official.

Ms. Lempert, whose husband, Ken Norman is a professor of psychology at Princeton University, does not anticipate that this connection will be a problem. “I don’t see it as being an issue,” she said in a recent interview. “There have been previous mayors of the Borough who’ve been in similar situations,” she added, citing the late Borough Mayor, Barbara Sigmund, whose husband, Paul, taught at the University during her time in office. Ms. Lempert noted that her husband “doesn’t represent University administration,” and half jokingly pointed to the fact that he is tenured.

Although she has recused herself from Township Committee votes relating to University issues in the past, Ms. Lempert believes that as an “advocate for the people” she will put her mayoral responsibilities first.

As an architect who has lived in Princeton for many years, Mr. Wilkes reports that he has “worked out grid rules” for avoiding conflicts of interest. These include not taking on any commercial projects, and never working for the University. “I just fix up people’s homes,” he said.

Ms. Lempert and Mr. Wilkes also appear to be in agreement about the tack that the Transition Task Force should be following. Noting that the “base issues” have been covered by the Consolidation Commission’s final report, Mr. Wilkes believes that the Task Force should “follow that score.” Beyond that, he added, “we should improvise.”

“We need to use it as a blueprint,” said Ms. Lempert of the Commission’s report. She pointed to “time constraints” that kept the Commission from working out “every possible problem,” and agreed that it would be okay to follow up on any problems or good new ideas that may arise. In the meantime, she added, setting “out to rewrite the report” is unacceptable.

As for their respective strengths, Ms. Lempert pointed to her good listening skills and ability to keep an open mind. Being deputy mayor of the Township since January has allowed her to participate on the Finance Committee, whose work. she said, “is particularly critical as we head into consolidation.” She pointed to the importance of “being on the same page” as the Borough regarding budgets and long-term financial planning. She is happy to pinch-hit for Mayor Chad Goerner when necessary, but wryly allowed that she could not stand in for him in the annual Longbeard Contest on St. Patrick’s Day.

Noting the difficulty of working with “unyielding” players, Mr. Wilkes sounded a note of pragmatism in discussing the hot-button issue of the Dinky location. While the Dinky move appears to him to be inevitable, he described turning it into something positive over the next five years by creating a streetcar system that would connect downtown Princeton to the new Dinky location.

Both Ms. Lempert and Mr. Wilkes have issued statements detailing their positions. They are available online at www.princetondems.org.


March 14, 2012

“You’re significantly there from where I sit today,” said Center for Governmental Research (CGR) consultant Joe Stefko at Monday’s joint Township Borough meeting, where he talked about the transition process that will lead to consolidation.

Mr. Stefko, who was also a key advisor to the Consolidation and Shared Studies Commission, said that his presentation was meant to “look out over the horizon for the next three to four months to give you a sense of priorities.”

Using slides to “walk through”Кa “few of the high points regarding the process to date,” Mr. Stefko suggested that the detailed research done by the Commission prior to their recommendation to consolidate provides a “high level context” from which the Transition Task Force and its subcommittees can proceed.

Noting that the baseline study leading up to consolidation began in the fall of 2010, Mr. Stefko acknowledged that some circumstances С particularly a lower number of Township police at present С have changed and would need to be tweaked, and that figures cited are only estimates. He noted, however, that the Commission’s “options report” does not simply provide recommendations; it describes several potential possibilities and how the Commission chose among them. It’s a “very helpful context,”КMr. Stefko said. More than once he pointed to the Commission’s final report as a good “point of departure,” describing it as the “single most valuable resource” at “every level” for the Task Force to use as a blueprint. He spoke of the dangers of “mission creep,” and its capacity to stymie the consolidation process.

Those who did not seem to share Mr. Stefko’s sentiments included Borough Council member Roger Martindell, who was a member of the Consolidation Commission, and Transition Task Force member Jim Levine. Mr. Martindell pointed to consolidation as a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity and said that aspects of it should be subject to further exploration. Mr. Levine wanted Borough Council and Township Committee members to provide directives for or against such additional research. On a more conciliatory note, Task Force Chair Mark Freda spoke of the “flexibility” that should characterize any decision-making.

Township Mayor Chad Goerner and Committee member Bernie Miller, who were both on the Consolidation Commission and are now serving on the Transition Task Force, also spoke of the amount of work already accomplished by the Commission. The role of the Task Force, they said, is to serve as an “oversight body” implementing consolidation by, for example, establishing reasonable timelines and assigning responsibility, while continuing to share information with the public. Mr. Miller suggested that the Task Force would be “remiss” if it ventured off course to explore other options at this point.

Comparing the process to childbirth, Mr. Stefko emphasized the pragmatic nature of the Task Force’s work, and the necessity of identifying primary and secondary priorities. At this point, he observed, a parent wouldn’t decide what musical instrument their child will be playing in the ninth grade. They would, however, decide what hospital they wanted to go to for the delivery and, perhaps, pack a bag.

Mr. Stefko also noted that decision-making now does not preclude changes in the future. In 2013 the new government won’t look like the ones that will exist in 2018 or 2025.

Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore will not run for mayor of the consolidated Princetons, but will instead be a candidate for the council that will govern the combined municipality.

“First, I think we have the opportunity to elect a mayor who has broad experience, has contributed to the Princeton community outside of the political arena, and who has the vision and fortitude to lead our community in a new era,” Ms. Moore said in an email Tuesday. “Second, I decided to run for office one year ago to bring my experience, leadership, and clear purpose to bear in addressing a myriad of community issues. Although I have been in office only 70 days, I have put forth several initiatives that I want to focus on for the next few months as mayor without the distraction of a mayoral campaign.

“Third, I want to continue the implementation of these initiatives and contribute to decision making as a voting member of Council to ensure that benefits of consolidation accrue to the entire community,” she concluded.

Ms. Moore’s decision leaves the field open to two Democrats, current Township Committeewoman Liz Lempert and Councilman Kevin Wilkes, who are currently seeking the endorsement of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization (PCDO). The PCDO will meet on Sunday, March 25 to endorse a candidate for mayor and decide which of the 10 Democrats vying for council seats to approve.

Meanwhile, the Princeton Republican Committee is seeking potential candidates for both mayor and council, as well as membership in the new Committee, which will be chosen from each of the 22 new voting districts in Princeton in the June primary. Chairman Dudley Sipprelle has issued a statement urging interested parties to contact him at princetongop@yahoo.com or (609) 497-740.

In addition to Ms. Moore, the Democrats running for seats on the combined council, which will begin governing the consolidated Princeton in January 2013, are current Borough Council members Heather Howard, Jo Butler, Jenny Crumiller, and Roger Martindell; Township Committee members Bernie Miller and Lance Liverman; and newcomers Tamera Matteo, Patrick Simon, and Scott Sillars.

Ms. Matteo ran an independent home and design store in Palmer Square and later in Princeton Shopping Center, for more than 10 years. Mr. Simon serves on the Princeton Joint Consolidation/Shared Services Study Commission, and Mr. Sillars is vice-chairman of the Transition Task Force.