April 24, 2013

After  months of searching, Princeton University’s Board of Trustees has found a new leader to replace outgoing President Shirley M. Tilghman who retires at the end of this academic year. And he was right here in Princeton all along. 

Christopher L. Eisgruber, Princeton’s provost for the past nine years, will step up to the post as the University’s 20th president as of July 1. 

The appointment was announced Sunday, April 21, at a media conference in the Faculty Room at Nassau Hall where portraits of past University presidents and other important figures look down from the walls.

According to University spokesperson Martin A. Mbugua, the announcement was made on a Sunday because that happened to be the day when the trustees in attendance were available for the special meeting. 

By all accounts, the 51-year-old Mr. Eisgruber is a popular choice. He is credited with steering Princeton through the tough times of the recent recession and managing its endowment following the 2008 financial crisis. He played a central role in key initiatives such as a $1.88 billion fund-raising campaign, several large construction projects, and the expansion of the financial aid program. He has championed Princeton as both a “great research university and the world’s best liberal arts college.” 

A member of the Princeton undergraduate class of 1983, Mr. Eisgruber majored in physics (writing a 100-page thesis entitled, “The Global Implications of Local Violations of the Energy Conditions”) and spent two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He went on to receive a law degree from the University of Chicago. 

Originally from Corvallis, Oregon, Mr. Eisgruber was a clerk at the Supreme Court for Justice John Paul Stevens and taught at New York University Law School for 11 years before returning to Princeton to join the faculty in 2001 as a professor of public affairs and director of its program in law and public affairs. In 2004, he became Princeton’s 11th provost, the University’s second-ranking official and its chief academic and budgetary officer.

Board Chair Kathryn Hall, who headed the 17-member presidential search -committee, said that Mr. Eisgruber’s appointment was unanimous and enthusiastic. Describing him as the perfect choice, she said: “We were looking for our next president to be a person who could sustain our current success and also set a forward strategic course; to help lead Princeton through a period of what we think might be real change. And do it with innovation, creativity, and judgment. Chris has all of the qualities we were looking for: he has keen intelligence and excellent judgment; he cares passionately about teaching and research of the highest quality; he is deeply committed to principles of excellence, equity, and integrity; and he is devoted to Princeton …. He will lead Princeton with vision, imagination, courage, and conviction.”

The warm response was echoed by outgoing President Tilghman: “Chris is the leader we are going to need for the next decade or so; we couldn’t be in better hands.” Ms. Tilghman cited her colleague’s leadership during the “depths” of the country’s economic recession, which she described as “absolutely critical to the way the University successfully navigated those years.” Not only that, said Ms. Tilghman, Mr. Eisgruber worked in a transparent and inclusive manner with University staff, faculty, students, and alumni during that time.

In looking forward, Mr. Eisgruber said the University will need to consider several important issues including access to higher education and online learning. He spoke of challenges and tough questions in the years to come. 

In the short term, Mr. Eisgruber said his priorities will be to continue administrative initiatives currently in place and to begin talking to the campus and alumni community at the start of his term.

A renowned constitutional scholar, whose most recent books examined the Supreme Court appointments process and religious freedom and the constitution, Mr. Eisgruber as provost, continued to teach. Last fall, he taught a freshman seminar on the Supreme Court and constitutional democracy. He said that he expects to continue teaching as president, as his predecessor President Tilghman has done.

Mr. Eisgruber said that he was honored to lead the University that has shaped his life ever since he was a Princeton freshman 34 years ago. “I’m so honored, and so happy, by the opportunity to lead the Princeton community as it writes the next chapter in this University’s extraordinary history,” he said. He spoke of the legacy of outgoing President Shirley M. Tilghman who became the second woman to lead an Ivy League university when she rose to the Princeton presidency in 2001. She led the University for 12 years.

Mr. Eisgruber and his wife, Lori A. Martin, a partner in the New York office of the law firm WilmerHale, live in Princeton with their 14-year-old son, Danny, a freshman at Princeton High School.

In a five-to-one vote, Princeton Council last Thursday approved a severance package for Police Chief David Dudeck. Mr. Dudeck has been on leave since being accused of administrative misconduct by the police union in February. He has “medical conditions that require him to take a leave of absence,” Princeton administrator Bob Bruschi told the governing body. Mr. Dudeck can remain on medical leave until his retirement October 1, or use the time as unpaid leave if he is cleared by a doctor. 

As part of the settlement, the police union agreed to withdraw the allegations and the Mercer County prosecutor will not investigate charges that the union made previously, Mr. Bruschi said. Council member Jo Butler, who cast the lone vote against approval, said,  “This is a sad day for Princeton and a sad day for me, personally,” emphasizing that Mr. Dudeck has “an impeccable record.” “To anyone who might see this as some sort of victory, it is not. And I won’t vote for it,” she concluded, to applause from the audience. Council member Jenny Crumiller said she would have preferred to investigate the charges. “But in deference to the chief, I’m voting for it.”

Council member Heather Howard, who is Princeton’s police commissioner, praised the agreement for its achievement of three goals: to recognize Mr. Dudeck’s 30 years of service to the town, to “recognize the importance of moving forward with our department,” and to legally protect the community from future liability.

Several members of the public chose to praise Mr. Dudeck during the meeting, urging the Council to vote down the separation agreement and instead investigate the charges of “locker room language” and other behavior. The charges were made after the consolidation of the Borough and Township police departments into one, with Mr. Dudeck, who had headed the Borough force, named chief.

Some members of the public complained about the fact that the name of Mr. Dudeck’s lawyer has not been revealed. Others expressed general concern about transparency. “The only thing the public knows about this is a charge of locker room language,” said Princeton resident Peter Marks. “To ruin somebody’s reputation over that seems to me despicable.”

Jerome McGowan of Redding Circle spoke of working alongside Mr. Dudeck in an effort to hire more minorities and women on the police force, and finding him to be “honorable.” (See this week’s Mailbox) “I’m shocked at this situation. I feel more is going on here than meets the eye … right now, I’m ashamed of Princeton. Give the man his dignity back.”

Prominent among those speaking were former Princeton Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman and former Borough Council members Roger Martindell, Barbara Trelstad, and Kevin Wilkes.

“I don’t envy your position,” Mr. Martindell told the Council, saying that the governing bodies’ usual dealing of alleged violations with the police departments is to “sweep under the rug” the issues that caused the problems. “Over the years, that strategy has cost the taxpayers millions of dollars and done nothing to improve public safety in the community. That very issue — sweeping issues under the rug — makes it incumbent upon you, ladies and gentlemen, to break the historical cycle.” Mr. Martindell urged the Council to investigate the allegations.

According to Ms. Trotman, Mr. Dudeck, “… gave Princeton Borough stellar, and I mean stellar, services. It is particularly troubling that at the end of his time in Princeton, after all he’s done, he is being remembered in this fashion.”

Ms. Trelstad said that the Transition Task Force formed to assist consolidation of the two municipalities “thoughtfully chose Dave Dudeck as chief of police of the consolidated Princeton.” Mr. Dudeck has “a spotless record,” she said, calling him “a leader, a teacher, and a mentor.”

“It is to Dave’s credit that he did not initially succumb to the pressure of ‘retire or face charges,’” she continued. “It is most disturbing to me to learn that the charges brought against Dave were brought by former Borough officers based on information that is very old. Why now? …. It is a well-known fact that many members of the former Township Police Department were not in favor of consolidation and that there is tension between the police union and management. Do these facts play into the situation? Unless you investigate the matter, we will never know.”

Mr. Dudeck signed the agreement on April 13 and had seven days to change his mind. “I hope he does,” said Mr. Martindell. “The opportunity for further investigation can be made by Mr. Dudeck if he revokes this agreement. And you can revoke it,” he told Council, “by not adopting it and thinking about it some more and getting public comment.”

Mr. Dudeck has not chosen to revoke the agreement.

Some 40 Princeton residents turned out Saturday morning at the Princeton Public Library for the last of three discussions by the aptly named non-profit Princeton Future. 

The grassroots organization, which describes itself as “diverse” and “nonpartisan” was formed to protect and enhance Princeton’s unique community and share concerns about the directions future growth and development may take. The three public sessions have focused on the question: “A United Princeton Looks at the Future: What Do We Want Our Town and Region to be in the Next 20 Years?” 

According to its web site, Princeton Future members are “wary of piecemeal, project-by-project development and, instead, seek broad community support for integrated solutions that balance the benefits of economic growth with the values of neighborhood identity, historic preservation, environmental sustainability, aesthetics, and social equity.”

Saturday’s meeting brought four experts to present their experiences and talk about effective decision-making. Robert Bzik, director of planning for Somerset County; Andy Johnson, former chair of the Haddonfield planning board; Nat Bottigheimer, former planner, -Washington D.C. Metro Authority; and Philip C. Ehlinger, Jr., deputy manager of Doylestown.

“We’ve discussed the what and the why, and now we get down to how to get things done,” said Moderator Rob Freudenberg of the Regional Plan Association at the start of the event. 

Mr. Bzik spoke on ways in which local government can guide strategic investment. Using state-defined terms such as Priority Growth Investment Areas (PGIAs) and Priority Preservation Investment Areas (PPIAs), and specifying criteria for them, he outlined a detailed investment framework for Somerset County.

As a potential model for the Princeton Junction/West Windsor area, Mr. Bottigheimer described the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) of West Hyattsville, a part of the Washington subway system, which, like Princeton Junction serves between 6,000 and 7,000 passengers a day. “I think of this as pedestrian oriented design,” he said, adding that good design can allow for increased people use without increasing automobile traffic. 

The West Hyattsville example parallels Princeton in having a university (of Maryland) and development potential, Mr. Bottigheimer suggested, and went on to describe methods for partnering with local groups. He advised Princeton Future to consider all stakeholders and to deploy planning tools that address challenges right off the bat. “Many cooks are needed,” he said, “but who is in the lead? The lead agency needs to balance goals to be effective and cede the lead to others as needed. That can be a step into the void for state agencies.” State agencies involved in local planning should be an additional resource. In the Hyattsville case, a form-based code came out of the collaboration between the state, the Department of Transport, and local communities. 

Andy Johnson of Haddonfield also spoke positively about form-based codes in describing the work done by Haddonfield planning board since 2005, when the town had no master plan and a single zoning district in its downtown. “We had zoning in a village that was a recipe for big box development,” he said. Potential development and fears of ‘bad’ development precipitated change. Mr. Johnson described the process of creating a master plan. Consultants Brown and Keener of Philadephia provided a nuanced approach to the town’s needs, he said, but it took time and lots of talking. “For the ten years I was on the planning board, my main job was crowd control and anger management,” he laughed, “but we got a master plan with recommendations for specific strategies to accomplish the goals it set.” The master plan for Haddonfield includes strategies for parking, urban design, use, and a zoning framework as well. Mr. Johnson spoke of the unusual fact that the master plan has a zoning ordinance embedded within it. “A way to manage change that reflects what is on the ground now but doesn’t expect to freeze things.” 

Described as one of the authors of the Doylestown Renaissance, Mr. Ehlinger, Jr., described a process of change that started with the creation of a downtown plan for Doylestown in the early 1990s. Today, Doylestown is an award-winning community but back in 1991, he said, the downtown vacancy rate was 52 percent; at 5 p.m. the streets were deserted; regional malls had siphoned off all the traffic and the streets were ill-maintained. Mr. Ehlinger said that to get high quality results there must be a streamlined system of approvals. “Zoning officers need to have a clear vision of what the town wants and need to feel confident and supported; if empowered by local government, they do their best work,” he said, adding that “A local zoning officer’s actions have more political impact than the federal government.” He warned of the dangers of an adversarial culture and of the value of expediency when working with developers “for whom time really is money.” 

A panel comprised of the four speakers together with architect J. Robert Hillier (a Town Topics shareholder) and Anton Lahnston responded to the talks and to questions from the audience.

The panel discussion shifted the focus to Princeton. It was suggested that a high priority is the need for a master plan. Sheldon Sturges, Princeton Future’s managing director, commented on the difficulties of getting local government to work with the community in Princeton. “We identified and published a Downtown Plan for Princeton in 2003 and delivered it to the downtown planner but it has sat there ever since.”

J. Robert Hillier pointed out the unsatisfactory situation in Princeton that necessitates so much of development being done via variances. He described Haddonfield as the Princeton of South Jersey and raised the topic of form-based codes as facilitators of change. The “perceived” parking problem in the town also came in for comment. 

Members of the audience suggested that in Princeton the community is brought in at too late a stage and that there seems to be no end to the number of nay-sayers on any attempt at change. The latter comment prompted speakers to distinguish between the development of private and public property. When public property is involved “it’s a much more complicated prospect,” said Mr. Ehlinger, Jr. “That’s democracy. It’s messy and dirty.” He recommended public notices for land development and said that local government has an obligation to get people involved and that getting them into the process early on is crucial.

At least one town official attended the meeting. Councilman Patrick Simon, who serves on the Citizens Finance Committee, the Housing Authority, Public Works, Transit Task Fund, and Transit Task Force, queried the panel on form-based codes, whether they had been tested and whether they led to too many restrictions on developers. The consensus seemed to be that form-based codes can promote discussions about architecture and can improve the interpretation of plans. 

It was clear from the morning’s discussion that in order for a community to retain what it values, architects and urban planners need to “teach the lexicon of good planning one kitchen table at a time.” As Mr. Ehlinger put it: “We need to better communicate the quality of life benefits of growth and economic development.” For more information, visit: www.princetonfuture.org.


April 17, 2013

The horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon Monday have caused area officials to make plans to beef up security for Communiversity, the festival of town and gown scheduled to take place in downtown Princeton on Sunday, April 28. While no metal detectors or bag searches are planned, there will be an increased presence of law enforcement personnel at the annual celebration.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as concern, but we’re taking prudent measures to ensure safety, as we do every year,” said Princeton Police Captain Nick Sutter. “We’ll be getting more ‘down in the weeds,’ if you will, just to limit the amount of possible threats that could be out there. There will be extensive foot patrols in the area. We’ve dedicated some extra foot patrols in the crowds; things like that.”

Communiversity is a collaborative effort of Princeton University and the Arts Council of Princeton. It takes place on Nassau and Witherspoon Streets, on the green in Palmer Square, and throughout the University campus. Artists, crafters, merchants from the tri-state area, live entertainment, children’s activities, food, and representatives from many area businesses make up the celebration.

“The first thing we did this morning was have a meeting with our event coordinator and staff to discuss this very thing,” said Jeff Nathanson, the Arts Council’s executive director, when asked yesterday if he had security concerns. ”What happened in Boston is just horrible. We’re concerned about having such a large event, so we have contacted Bob Bruschi [Princeton administrator] and the police department, and they are meeting about it. There will be increased security and security protocols put into place for this year’s event. We don’t know the details yet, but it’s in the works. They’re working on it and we look forward to hearing back from the town and police.”

On Monday evening, Princeton University sent an email to students through its email notification system stating that all students, faculty, staff, and alumni who were known to have been in Boston for the marathon were safe. University spokesman Martin Mbugua said in an email to Town Topics on Tuesday, “The University is monitoring the situation and developmentsКrelated toКthe tragic events in Boston. The Department of Public Safety, which works closely with local police and other lawКenforcementКagencies, will continue to assess safety needs on campus, as it usually does, and take measures as needed.”

The bombings in Boston took place at approximately 2:50 p.m., more than four hours into the race. Two bombs exploded near the finish line, killing three people and injuring more than 130, several of whom lost limbs. As of Tuesday afternoon, no individual or group had claimed responsibility for the bombings

A special session of Princeton Council to discuss and likely vote on a separation agreement with Police Chief David Dudeck will take place Thursday starting at 5 p.m. A notice for the meeting was posted Monday on the Princeton website, saying the topic to be discussed is “Personnel С David Dudeck,” and that formal action may be taken.

The Council last met April 8 to discuss the situation. Mr. Dudeck has been absent from his post since February 27, following allegations by the police union of administrative misconduct over the past two years. Captain Nick Sutter has been running the department in the absence of Mr. Dudeck, who has been a member of the force since 1983.

According to Mayor Liz Lempert, the April 18 meeting will begin with an open session, where members of the public will be permitted to comment. The Council will then go into closed session and return by 6 p.m. to vote, if there is a vote, in open session. Ms. Lempert also said that while the AvalonBay situation regarding the former Princeton hospital site may also be on the agenda, no vote will be taken on that matter.

“It is only to get an update on where the litigation stands,” she said, referring to the settlement approved by the Planning Board earlier this month that allows the developer to submit a revised application for the site, and avoids the lawsuit that AvalonBay filed against the town and the Planning Board last February when AvalonBay’s original application was voted down.

Ms. Lempert was reluctant to say that a vote will definitely be taken on a separation agreement with Mr. Dudeck. The police union has threatened to sue if Mr. Dudeck does not retire. Princeton’s public safety committee originally gave him a deadline of March 4 to decide whether to retire or face an investigation, but that deadline was subsequently extended. Mr. Dudeck has officially been on sick leave since February 27.

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has been reviewing the allegations against Mr. Dudeck, which include “locker room language,” inappropriate jokes and gestures when talking to officers. Mr. Dudeck was Princeton Borough police chief until consolidation last January, when he became chief of the combined municipalities’ force. No complaints were filed until after consolidation.

The meeting on Thursday will be held in the main meeting room of Witherspoon Hall, formerly known as the Municipal Building.

—Anne Levin

Residents of Princeton and Montgomery Township pored over maps and examined documents last week at an open house held by the Williams Company, which wants to build a 6.5-mile natural gas pipeline through 1.2 miles of Princeton and 5.3 miles of Montgomery. Crowded into the Otto Kaufman Community Center on Skillman Road, the property owners expressed their concerns about blasting, environmental disturbance, and other possible results of the project at the informal gathering.

More than one resident said they had expected a formal presentation. But staffers from the Williams Company preferred to speak with people individually. Several were stationed throughout the room, identifiable by their Williams polo shirts and ready to answer questions about the pipeline, known as the Skillman Loop. Part of Williams’ $600 million Leidy Southeast Expansion Project, it is being built to carry the natural gas coming from the Marcellus shale fields in western Pennsylvania, and would run parallel to an existing pipeline built in 1958.

The project was first proposed at a meeting in Princeton last February. “Since hearing from people at that meeting, we have made some modifications to the route,” said project manager John Todd. “That’s one of the reasons we hold these gatherings, to communicate and talk to the landowners. After that meeting, we took engineers and environmental scientists to look at some of the properties. They had viable concerns.”

The company tweaked the original plan to move the line from the east side of the Cherry Run Stream to the west side. Mr. Todd said he doesn’t know yet whether the project will involve blasting. “But they usually do,” he said.

Williams is still in the pre-filing stages of the project, and expects to file its application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) this fall. Representatives from FERC were also on hand at the meeting to answer questions. Should the project be accepted, construction could start in the fall of 2014.

The Princeton portion of the pipeline would stretch from the Coventry Farm development off the Great Road, south of Stuart Road, toward Cherry Valley Road, and continue another five miles to Montgomery. Several Princeton residents who attended the February meeting and another, unofficial gathering on the Princeton University campus expressed major concerns about the project. Safety and environmental issues were among their biggest worries.

Those in the crowd at last week’s open house included representatives from environmental groups including the Sourland Planning Council, who distributed written material. “People are here, hungry for information and they’re going to leave with very little,” said Tracy Carluccio, a Sourland trustee. “They want to know how close it will come to their properties, and they’re not learning anything tonight. There’s no presentation.”

Former Montgomery Township Mayor Louise Wilson was among those examining the maps that the Williams Company had laid out on tables, showing where the proposed loop would go. The company has installed a line in Montgomery once before, she said, but further north, and affecting only three property owners.

“They did a good job dealing with the disruption to properties, but a not-so-good job at stream bank restoration,” she said. “They have way more homeowners to address this time, and I’m curious to see how they will handle it.”

The Skillman Loop is part of the Transco pipeline running 10,200 miles from south Texas to New York City. Another proposed project, called the Stanton Loop, would affect homeowners in Hunterdon County through Clinton, Union, Franklin, and Readington.

April 10, 2013

The Princeton Planning Board’s vote last Thursday to approve a settlement with AvalonBay allows the developer to submit a revised application for building rental units at the site of the former Princeton hospital. It also avoids the lawsuit that AvalonBay filed against the town and the Planning Board last February for denying its application.

Under the agreement, the developer will submit its revised plans by mid-May. Reviews by the Planning Board and public hearings will follow in late June and July, and the final decision on the controversial complex could come by August 15.

The settlement was reached following a series of four quietly held meetings between members of Princeton Council, the Planning Board, the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB), the Princeton Environmental Commission, and others, with representatives from AvalonBay.

“I would say they were constructive meetings,” said Bernie Miller, this week. Mr. Miller is the Council member who chaired a task force on rezoning the hospital site. “We both had the same objective С to find some middle ground to permit AvalonBay to realize what they consider the economics of the site, and to get a development that comes close to meeting the requirements of the community.”

AvalonBay’s proposal to tear down the hospital building and construct 280 rental units, 56 of which would be affordable housing, was voted down last December by the Planning Board after much protest about the plan from members of the public, specifically members of the group Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods (PCSN). The developer’s redesigned plans are said to include some townhouses and two large buildings, in response to repeated complaints that the original design was “monolithic.”

Members of PCSN and other residents have argued that the original plan’s scale and scope were out of place with the surrounding neighborhood. Environmental concerns were also raised. The task force headed by Mr. Miller recommended reducing the density of the project, but Mayor Liz Lempert and some members of Council said that the number of apartments should be maintained at 280.

The new plan would add a roadway with sidewalks through the site. The buildings that would run along Witherspoon Street would be the tallest. An open park would be placed at Witherspoon and Franklin Avenue, replacing the original plan for open space only in the center of the development. The pool, which many complained about because of the site’s proximity to the recently refurbished Community Pool, remains part of the plan, but is smaller than originally designed.

Under the complaint filed by AvalonBay in February, the developer has said it would walk away from the project, backing out of its contract to buy the property from Princeton HealthCare System, if the Planning Board’s decision was not reversed by May 1. The settlement reached between the Planning Board and AvalonBay last week was a consent agreement, which is a document that says one party will cease its contested actions so that a lawsuit can be resolved. This type of agreement allows a case to be settled without having to wait for a court judgment.

Mr. Miller said he is more optimistic about reaching a satisfactory conclusion than he was in the past. “It’s a negotiation,” he said. “Like any negotiation, it’s very fragile. There is no guarantee that it will reach a successful conclusion. If we do, in terms of agreement on a process, then litigation would be put on hold as far as AvalonBay and the municipality is concerned.”

Princeton Council met in closed session Monday, April 8, to discuss the matter of Police Chief David Dudeck, who has not been at his post since February 27 following allegations of administrative misconduct.

Mr. Dudeck joined the Princeton Borough Police Department in 1983. In 2009, when Borough Chief Anthony Federico died suddenly, Mr. Dudeck succeeded him. Mr. Dudeck was appointed as chief of the Police Department for the consolidated Princeton on January 1, this year.

Questioned on Tuesday about Monday night’s meeting, Mayor Lempert said that she was unable to comment as it was a personnel matter. She was also unable to say whether Mr. Dudeck was being offered some sort of “package settlement” that would allow him to complete his 30-year tenure with the police on October 1, thus ensuring his retirement with higher pension than if he steps down before that date.

The town’s public safety committee had given Mr. Dudeck a deadline of Monday, March 4 to decide whether to retire or face an investigation into the administrative misconduct charges. That deadline was subsequently extended and Mr. Dudeck continues to weigh his options.

His long absence suggests to some that he is not thinking about returning to the department. According to Princeton Administrator Bob Bruschi, he is officially on sick leave.

The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office has reviewed the allegations but until they are asked by Princeton Council to open an investigation, they will not do so. And the Council, says Mr. Bruschi, is awaiting Mr. Dudeck’s decision as to whether he wishes to retire or to fight the allegations. If he decides to retire, there will be no investigation. If he chooses to fight the allegations, then the prosecutor’s office will look into each and every specific alleged instance of misconduct.

“I don’t believe that we will head in that direction,” said Mr. Bruschi, “But it is in Dave’s hands as to whether he wants to go through with this process or to retire.”

“This is a methodical process,” said Mr. Bruschi. “I’m confidant that it can be resolved and soon. After almost 30 years on the force, Dave has accumulated entitlements in terms of significant vacation time and this is part of the discussion. Is this a ‘buy out’ of some sort? No. It’s a structuring of how he might conclude his time. The ultimate decision is his.”

In the police chief’s absence the daily operation of the Princeton Police Department is in the hands of Captain Nick Sutter. “Captain Sutter has been doing a fantastic job,” said Ms. Lempert, adding that “It would be premature to discuss a replacement for Chief Dudeck at this point.”

During his 29-year tenure with Borough police, no complaints of harassment were filed against Mr. Dudeck. That they have surfaced so very soon after consolidation has prompted questions about their timing. As is standard procedure, the recent allegations were reported to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. To avoid any conflict of interest, such claims would not be investigated by the police department’s internal affairs officer.

Since 1999, Mr. Dudeck has been head football coach of the Hun School of Princeton, his alma mater. Prior to that, he was head coach of Princeton High School from 1995 to 1998, and associate head coach from 1989 to 1995.

Should the two kiosks that have become a fixture on Nassau Street be under the management of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce or the town of Princeton? At its meeting Monday night, the Princeton Council was split on this question and ultimately voted to allow the Chamber, which has developed a plan for the kiosks, to take over and renovate one while leaving the other as it is С for now.

That way, Mayor Liz Lempert suggested, Council will be able to better judge whether the Chamber’s proposal to clean up and refocus the two structures, which are located at the intersections of Witherspoon Street and Vandeventer Avenue, is an effective one. They could vote on the issue again at their next meeting April 22.

The Chamber first proposed taking over the kiosks last February. With some adjustments explained last night by the organization’s president Peter Crowley and architect [Town Topics shareholder] Bob Hillier, the plan would allow for municipal information and advertising, mostly by local merchants, as well as the traditional posting of information by the public. It is the advertising side that bothers some members of Council, particularly Jenny Crumiller. While she told Mr. Crowley that she appreciates the revisions to the plan that have been made since comments from Council at the last presentation, she still has major doubts.

“My objection still stands,” she said. “I don’t want to add more paid advertising to the streetscape.” The Department of Public Works could take care of the kiosks instead of the Chamber, she suggested, which has proposed doing so at no cost to the town.

Ms. Crumiller’s doubts were echoed by Council member Jo Butler, who would favor getting rid of the kiosks altogether but realizes that most people want to keep them, and to some extent by Council member Heather Howard. But Council members Bernie Miller, Lance Liverman, and Peter Simon spoke in favor of the proposal.

Mr. Miller said he has asked several of his friends for their opinions, and most say that the kiosks should be kept as they are because that’s the way they’ve always been. But he disagrees. “They are unsightly and they lend nothing at all to the ambience of the community,” he said. “This plan would be a great improvement over what is there now. I think they ought to be replaced or removed,” he concluded, adding that the kiosks as they are now “look like a street corner in a rustbelt town.”

Mr. Liverman said that allowing the Chamber to run the kiosks would be a public/private partnership that would save tax dollars. Mr. Simon, who previously was not in favor of the plan, said he was impressed by the revisions and the way the plan could serve both the public and the business community.

Speaking in favor of the plan were local businessman Jack Morrison, Anne Sears of the Princeton Area Arts and Culture Consortium, Lori Rabon of the Nassau Inn and the local Convention and Visitors’ Bureau (CVB), and Kristin Appelget of Princeton University and the CVB. “The University supports the idea. We think it’s time for the kiosks to be refreshed,” she said.

Route One Traffic

A brief report at the meeting on the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s ideas for solving the traffic congestion on Route 1 drew several residents of the Penn’s Neck neighborhood, who said that an alternative plan drawn up by local engineers would clog their streets with even more traffic. The new plan would include a traffic circle and two bypasses. The DOT’s plan would eliminate some left-hand turns and build new jughandles.

After much public criticism of the DOT’s original proposals, the agency asked Princeton, West Windsor, and Plainsboro to generate ideas of their own on how to lessen traffic. The municipalities asked local engineers for alternatives to the plan.

But Princeton engineer Bob Kiser and Mayor Lempert cautioned that all of the plans are in the preliminary stages, and have yet to be vetted by engineers, who will meet this week to look at the DOT plan and other proposals before coming back to Council with a recommendation. “It is premature to discuss this in detail,” Mr. Kiser said.

Members of the public and Council agreed that more data is needed. Linda Geevers, a member of West Windsor’s Council, encouraged Princeton Council members to consider West Windsor residents when making a decision. “This whole scenario has been viewed as a $40 million band-aid,” she said. “Please keep in mind our residents, particularly in Penn’s Neck. The area will continue to grow, and this Route One issue is not going to go away. Personally, I’m not in a big rush for a decision.”

April 3, 2013

A proposed 2013 budget that demonstrates the savings of consolidation and a timeline for construction of Princeton University’s $300 million Arts and Transit project were the main topics of Princeton Council’s meeting on Monday, April 1.

The $61 million budget introduced to Council, which comes with a tax rate decrease of just under one percent, will be up for discussion at a public hearing on May 28. Construction for the University’s expansion project is about to enter its first phase, and could possibly be completed by the summer of 2017, Council members were told.

The proposed budget for the newly consolidated Princeton is $3 million less than the former Princeton Borough and Princeton Township budgets combined for 2012, administrator Bob Bruschi told the Council. “In my 30 years in local government, I have never seen a more team-developed budget,” he said, praising the public servants and private citizens who worked on it.

Mr. Bruschi added that the town is paying less money in 2013 than it was in 2009. Both Princeton Borough and Township paid approximately 47 cents per $100 of assessed property value last year. The new rate, thanks to consolidation, is 46.3 cents. Additional savings include $1.3 million on wages and salaries, $56,012 by having one governing body instead of two, nearly $500,000 on the conjoined police force, and $255,926 in a trimmed administration. The total staff size has gone from 287 to 261.

Major increases come from the extension of trash collection, negotiations with three labor unions, and a reserve for uncollected taxes to cover increases in school and county tax levels. An emergency appropriation of $500,000 for storm expenses is “hopefully a one-time thing,” Mr. Bruschi said. “Every municipality is looking at something like that.”

Service levels will be maintained or increased, and future levels will remain stable. “We are a very, very healthy financial community,” Mr. Bruschi concluded. “Both communities came into this very, very healthy fiscally.”

The fence posts are in place and fencing is about to be installed along the portion of Alexander Street where construction of Princeton University’s Arts & Transit development is about to begin. The first phase should be completed by mid-June, University vice-president and secretary Bob Durkee said in a presentation to Council.

“The first part will be the most disruptive. The sooner we can get through it, the better,” he said. “It is likely to get modified as we go forward, but we’ve tried to anticipate as well as we can the steps necessary to minimize disruption to move it along as quickly as we can.”

The sidewalk will be closed and parking spaces will not be accessible along the east side of Alexander Street, while temporary sidewalks will be installed on the opposite side. Demolition will begin from south to north. New crosswalks will be installed at two locations.

There will be no impact on traffic during the initial phase, but the second phase will have an effect on the already busy street for about six weeks. Mr. Durkee said that the intersection of Alexander Street and University Place will be closed for underground utility work during this time. A temporary traffic light will be installed or a patrol officer will be in place during this phase, Mr. Durkee added.

The timeline calls for Alexander Street to reopen in mid-July. Until mid-September, underground utility work will continue. “By this time, demolition should be completed except for the Wawa, which will stay open till the day it opens in its new location,” Mr. Durkee said.

The Arts & Transit plan calls for construction of a new Wawa market and a new Dinky train station. The current Dinky station will become a restaurant and cafe operated by the Momo brothers, who run five area eateries. There was no mention at the meeting of the houses along Alexander Street that the University has offered to anyone willing to move them to a new location. The houses will be demolished if there are no takers by the end of this month.

From mid-September to late October, a new commuter parking lot will be completed. A temporary Dinky train station will be opened at the south end of the lot, approximately 750 feet from where the new station, which is 460 feet south of the current terminus, will be. For this reason, the University is proposing to run an express bus between Princeton and Princeton Junction, with an additional stop at the temporary station. “It’s a hike,” Mr. Durkee said. “If you’re walking, it’s a long walk.”

Tiger Transit buses, which are free, will also be available. Those taking the express buses will need to show a valid train ticket.

Work begins on a new roundabout in October, and continues until February 2014. During this time, Alexander Street from University Place to College Road will be closed, and a 24-foot temporary bypass will be created. “This is probably the time when it will be the most complicated for folks,” Mr. Durkee said. The roundabout is targeted to open in February 2014. “During this time, you’ll begin to see the final shape of the project,” Mr. Durkee said. The temporary Dinky location will still be in use.

The new station, Wawa market, transit plaza, and the road to the parking garage should be open by July 2014. “By now, the project has shrunk to the perimeter around the arts buildings,” Mr. Durkee said. He added that he is not sure when the restaurant and cafe will be ready to open. “It’s up to the operators to decide when they’re ready. We think the arts buildings will be open by the summer of 2017,” he said of the four buildings that make up the new arts campus.

Council member Jo Butler asked if the University would consider opening up the West Drive during the construction period to alleviate traffic problems. “We wouldn’t stand in the way,” Mr. Durkee said.

Signage will be posted around the project to direct people to the University’s website for the project, which is www.princeton.edu/artsandtransit.

In other business, Council approved a $50,000 cap on costs related to the developer AvalonBay’s suit of the Planning Board over the its rejection of the developer’s proposal to build an apartment complex at the site of the former hospital site on Witherspoon Street. AvalonBay is also suing the town. At the conclusion of the meeting, Council met in closed session to discuss the litigation and the status of Princeton Police chief David Dudeck. Mr. Dudeck has not been at work since being accused of misconduct last month.

Every Friday for the past decade, Rabbi James Diamond and Rabbi David Wolf Silverman studied together at Rabbi Silverman’s home. Though the men were 12 years apart, they shared a warm friendship and a love of Jewish learning. “We hit it off,” said Rabbi Silverman, the older of the two, recalling the man who was killed last Thursday in a car crash on Princeton’s Riverside Drive. “He was a dear friend.”

It was around 9:40 a.m. on March 29 that Rabbi Diamond, 74, and Rabbi Robert Freedman, 63, a former cantor at the Jewish Center of Princeton, were leaving a Talmud study group at a home on Riverside Drive. Rabbi Diamond was getting into the passenger side of a parked Toyota Prius when a BMW driven by Eric Maltz, 20, crashed into the front of an unoccupied Toyota Camry parked in front of the Prius. The impact pushed the Camry into the Prius, where Rabbi Freedman was in the driver’s seat.

Rabbi Diamond was thrown from the car and died at the scene. Rabbi Freedman was taken to the trauma center at Capital Health Medical Center and has since been released. Mr. Maltz, who was traveling at a rate of speed between 60 and 80 miles per hour, was also taken to the trauma center for his injuries. He has since been transferred to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. Mr. Maltz has been charged with death by auto and assault by auto, and his bail was set at $100,000. Since it involves a fatality, the case is being investigated with assistance from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.

Rabbi Silverman, one of several to speak at Rabbi Diamond’s funeral at the Jewish Center of Princeton last Sunday, reflected about his friend on Tuesday afternoon. “He was convinced that the central texts of the Jewish tradition merited the same sophisticated analyses as those that founded western civilization,” he said. “He taught and embodied both. Like his name, Diamond, he was rare, one of a kind, brilliant, and multi-faceted.”

Rabbi Diamond was director of Princeton University’s Center for Jewish Life from 1995 to his retirement in 2003. He was executive director of Hillel at Washington University in St. Louis from 1972 to 1995 and at Indiana University from 1968 to 1972.

“We were campus ministers together at Princeton, and we would meet on a regular basis,” said Reverend John Mark Goerss, who was Lutheran chaplain at Princeton University for 24 years. “He was always a wonderful, caring person who had so much to contribute intellectually, and to share. We very much valued the relationship we had — a really good, collegial one among all the campus ministers. We’d go on a retreat together once a year. This is a real loss to the community.”

Rabbi Diamond was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada. According to information from Princeton University, he earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Roosevelt University in Chicago, rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a doctorate in comparative literature from Indiana University. The author of several books and numerous articles and essays, Rabbi Diamond edited A Handbook for Hillel and Jewish Campus Professionals, published in 1983. He held several major fellowships and was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1988.

The cause of the crash is still under investigation. “At this point, there is no scheduled Superior Court date,” said Casey Diblasio, spokesperson for the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, on Tuesday. “We won’t confirm any details of the investigation until it’s an open court case.”

Rabbi Diamond taught courses in modern Hebrew literature and Judaic studies not only at Princeton University, but in the Princeton community. “I really enjoyed his classes,” said Roberta Diamond (no relation) of Towaco, who studied with him. “He was a wonderful, soft spoken teacher, always very kind. It’s such a loss.”

The Right Honorable Alex Salmond, First Minister of the Scottish Government in Edinburgh, will speak on “The Wealth and Well-Being of Nations,” this Saturday April 6, at 4 p.m., in Room 101 of the Friend Center on the Princeton University Campus.

Born in Scotland in 1954, Mr. Salmond is the leader of the Scottish National Party and is a graduate of St Andrew’s University. Trained as an economist, he is a passionate champion of Scottish independence from the United Kingdom.

In May 2007, Mr. Salmond made political history when he became the first Scottish Nationalist to be elected First Minister of Scotland, the equivalent of Prime Minister in Britain. He is the fourth in the position, which was created with Scottish Devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in 1999.

Mr. Salmond comes to Princeton at the invitation of fellow Scot Will Storrar, director of the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) on Stockton Street. “I’ve known Alex Salmond since the 1980s and he is a wonderful speaker,” said Mr. Storrar. “Princeton has a long-standing connection with Scotland going back to John Witherspoon, the first president of The College of New Jersey.” John Witherspoon  (1723-1794) was among those who signed the Declaration of Independence. He is credited with transforming the curriculum of what would become Princeton University by broadening its scope and introducing the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment: ideas that inspired the likes of James Madison, Aaron Burr, and numerous other American Revolutionaries.

In 2006, Mr. Storrar invited Mr. Salmond’s predecessor Jack McConnell to Princeton for a successful event that focused on contemporary Scotland and developments there that are of deep interest to Princeton residents.

According to Mr. Storrar, Mr. Salmond is expected to discuss “the Scottish government’s vision for wealth and well-being, linking green growth in the global economy to climate justice for the world’s poorest nations, already experiencing the impact of climate change.”

As First Minister, from 2007 to 2011, Mr. Salmond headed a minority Scottish Government, but after the May 2011 election, the Scottish Nationalist Party became the majority. Mr. Salmond was re-elected unopposed for a second term as First Minister.

With that landslide victory, Mr. Salmond was able to set a date for a referendum on Scottish Independence, planned for sometime in the Fall of 2014. He had repeatedly called for a referendum on the issue, which remains one of enormous controversy, raising questions about economic policy, defense arrangements, and the future of relations between an independent Scotland and the European Union and the United Kingdom. The exact wording of the referendum question is still the subject of heated debate.

Last October, British Prime Minister David Cameron signed an agreement with Mr. Salmond that provides a legal framework for the referendum.

Besides an independent Scotland, Mr. Salmond has campaigned for legislation to ameliorate global warming via emission reduction and sustainable energy programs. In the past, he has served as an assistant in the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland

First elected as MP for the Scottish constituency of Banff & Buchan in 1987, Mr. Salmond was elected as National Convener for the Scottish National Party in 1990 and served as leader of the opposition in the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The title of Mr. Salmond’s talk, “The Wealth and Well-Being of Nations,” alludes to An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, the influential study by the Scottish economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith. Originally published in 1776, the book is a considered a classic of economic theory with insights on the division of labor, productivity, free markets, and wealth.

Past, Present and Future

For those curious about political change in Scotland over the last decade or so, there are several not-to-be-misssed public events being held in conjunction with Mr. Salmond’s visit. The Center of Theological Inquiry at 50 Stockton Street presents a festival of authors on Thursday April 4, with Nicholas Phillipson discussing his book Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life at 2 p.m.; Andrew Hook on his book Francis Jeffrey’s American Journal at 3 p.m.; and Christopher Harvie on his portrait of society and identity in industrial Britain, A Floating Commonwealth, at 4:30 p.m.

On Friday April 5 and Saturday April 6, the Center will hosts a symposium on “The Wealth & Well-being of Nations,” with leading scholars from Princeton University and several Scottish universities exploring the relationship between economics and ethics, economic development, and human well-being in the thought of Adam Smith and in the world today.

Mr. Salmond’s talk at the Friend Center on Saturday is co-sponsored by Princeton University’s Program in Law and Public Affairs and the Center of Theological Inquiry. It is free and open to the public. For more information, visit: www.lapa.princeton.edu. For more on the Center of Theological Inquiry’s author event, call (609) 683-4797, or visit: www.ctinquiry.org.

March 27, 2013

At a meeting of the Princeton Board of Education last Thursday, Judith A. Wilson announced her plans to retire as superintendent of Princeton Public Schools.

Ms. Wilson, who has been superintendent in Princeton since 2005, will continue through the end of this year and retire on December 31. Her retirement will bring to a close a 35-year career in various positions in public education. Before becoming superintendent, she was an English teacher, a reading specialist, a curriculum supervisor, and an assistant superintendent.

“This is a bittersweet moment for Princeton,” said Board President Timothy Quinn. “We’re very happy for Judy as she starts a new chapter of her life, but we will sorely miss her student-focused leadership, hard work, and dedication to public education. During Judy’s time here, an already well-regarded district became even better. There can be no greater testament to her tenure as our superintendent.”

Ms. Wilson’s nine years as superintendent marked a period of change for the school district. Princeton adopted a standards-based curriculum for pre-K through grade 12 that is used in all district schools. Superintendent Wilson led a district-wide effort to increase student achievement overall and particularly among economically disadvantaged students.

In addition, Princeton initiated a system to monitor individual student achievement through regular formative assessments and greatly expanded professional learning opportunities for teachers and administrators.

Ms. Wilson’s letter to the Board was a late addition to the evening’s agenda. In it she stated: “The Princeton Public School district is a very special community of leaders and learners in all positions: volunteers, teachers, support staff, administrators, parents and, especially, students. My life has been influenced in many positive ways and my thinking and learning have been strengthened by the work of leading this complex, dynamic and
successful district. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have worked with so many exceptional board members, educators and staff members over the years.”

At her request, the Board’s responses to her announcement were limited to remarks by the Board president. Mr. Quinn said that Ms. Wilson will remain fully engaged in the operations of the district for the next nine months and will work toward a smooth leadership transition.

As a member of the Board and earlier as a leader of the PTO, Mr. Quinn has observed Ms. Wilson at close hand. “Judy has led our district through an unprecedented time of growth against a backdrop of turbulence for public education nationally and in New Jersey,” he said. “She will be a tough act to follow.”

According to Mr. Quinn, the administration and the Board have been wading through “a deluge of reports and mandates coming from the state” concerning teacher and principal evaluation and school ratings.

He assured the Board and the public that there would be a “thorough and deliberate” search for Ms. Wilson’s replacement. Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the firm used in the search that culminated in Ms. Wilson’s appointment in 2005, will conduct a national search for the new superintendent. It is thought likely that Princeton will attract a top candidate.

Asked earlier this week about the timing of her announcement, Ms. Wilson said that she had made her decision now so that the board would have “appropriate time for a thoughtful, thorough search and decision making process.”

Mr. Quinn said during the months to come there would be opportunity to celebrate Ms. Wilson’s accomplishments, including the Princeton Education Foundation gala on April 27. With that, he turned the meeting over to Ms. Wilson for a public discussion of the schools budget that this year falls within the demanded 2 percent cap and therefore requires no vote by the town’s citizens.

The day after her announcement, it was business as usual for Ms. Wilson as she focused on new state regulations, district goals, and the day to day running of Princeton schools. That will be her plan of action through the rest of the year, she said.

“This is an amazing district and a beautiful community where, together, people are truly devoted to our ‘Live to Learn, Learn to Live’ motto. There hasn’t been a day, even in the most challenging times, that I have not deeply appreciated the faculty, staff, students and families that make so much possible in the Princeton Public Schools,” said Ms. Wilson.

Terra Momo Group, the Princeton-based operator of five local dining establishments, will run the restaurant and cafe to be located in the buildings currently occupied by the Dinky train station. According to information from Princeton University, which plans to move the station to make room for its $300 million Arts and Transit project, a pizzeria-style cafe is planned for the north terminal building, and a farm-to-table-style restaurant will be installed in the south building, which was formerly used for baggage-handling.

“We are just at the point of signing a letter of intent with them,” said Kristin Appelget, director of Community and Regional Affairs for the University. “It’s an exciting time and a great opportunity. This will be of interest to people who work in adjacent University buildings, and it will be a great complement to McCarter Theatre.”

The Momo Group’s previous association with McCarter Theatre, which is located across University Place from the station buildings, was a factor in the decision. “They have operated the cafe that is open during performances, so they know the staff there and that’s a benefit,” Ms. Appelget said. “We think this should support McCarter.”

Terra Momo, run by brothers Raoul and Carlo Momo, operates Mediterra and Teresa Caffe on Palmer Square, Terra Momo Bread Company on Witherspoon Street, the cafe at Princeton Public Library, and Eno Terra in Kingston. In an article in Tuesday’s issue of The Daily Princetonian, Carlo Momo said, “Even though there’s some sense of comfort knowing we’re involved, we’re also going to surprise people. We hope the cafe and restaurant will add, with the arts neighborhood being scheduled for that part of town, a whole other dimension and attraction to Princeton itself. Princeton is becoming more and more of a destination and we’d like to make it a dining mecca, too.”

The cafe will have 54 seats including a bar, and will serve, breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as wine and beer. The restaurant will accommodate 116 diners inside and 60 outside. Architect Rick Joy has designed the exteriors. “The renovations will be done by the University, but the interior fit-out that makes the buildings into a cafe and a restaurant will be done by the Momos,” Ms. Appelget said.

The search began last summer with an open house, during which area restauranteurs were invited to examine the facility and learn about the project. “After some preliminary review, we had four potential operators we thought very highly of,” said Bob Durkee, University secretary and vice president. “That process eventually led to the Momos. We had always hoped we would end up with someone who was already local, so we’re very pleased.”

Adds Ms. Appelget, “Ultimately, Terra Momo and Carlo were selected because of how they had put time into thinking about the cafe and restaurant, and how it fit into their overall business plan. And their success in Princeton was something that was very much of interest to the committee.”

Serving on the selection committee were several University representatives and independent food service consultant Tracy Lawler, who is based in Princeton.

The cafe is targeted for a summer of 2015 opening, while the restaurant is planned for an opening a year later. “We hope that much of the work on the site will be done well prior to that, though we can’t be precise,” said Mr. Durkee. “The issue for them is going to be how long it will take once we’ve done the renovations, and then how complicated it will be to open when construction on the arts building is still going on next door.”

The Arts and Transit project includes three new campus arts buildings, renovation of the train station buildings, construction of a new station 460 feet south of the present location, and a new Wawa building. Construction of a new commuter parking lot, a temporary train platform, and a roundabout at Alexander Street and University Place is scheduled to begin this spring. The complex is scheduled for completion by the summer of 2017.

Mayor Liz Lempert and members of Princeton Council will meet this Monday, April 1, at 7 p.m. in open session in the Princeton Municipal Building at 400 Witherspoon Street.

Among other agenda items, action is expected on the 2013 budget of the Princeton Public Library, projected as $5,020,025.

This figure includes $4,030,619 in municipal funds, or 80 percent of the library’s total operating expenses. According to the library’s budget request, this amount is “consistent with the ratio of tax support and private support that has been in place for years.”

The balance would be made up by donations from the Friends of the Princeton Public Library, the Princeton Library Foundation, grants and library fees. The Friends, which operate the library’s book-sale and annual benefit, anticipate a donation of $150,000 to the library’s operating budget this year.

According to the library, after holding the
line on budget increases for the last four years, the increase is necessary as a result of increased costs for health benefits, unemployment and disability insurance, and pension contributions.

In addition, the shift from in-house server-based technology to cloud computing has increased operating costs for information technology.

The 2013 budget represents a 4.5 percent increase over last year and includes a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for library employees. It also includes a request for $150,000 from the municipality in support of the up to two hours of free parking in the Spring Street garage that the library provides to Princeton residents.

In addition, the library requests a combined 2012 and 2013 capital allocation of $412,077 to support building and technology improvements, and other miscellaneous projects. Since the library did not receive capital funds in 2012, the budget includes the amount requested in 2012 together with an amount for 2013. The 2012 figure is $195,000; that for 2013 is $217,077.

This money would be used to replace worn carpeting over a three year period ($91,077 for the first year), electrical upgrades to reduce the library’s utility costs ($18,000), the installation of hands free low flow bathroom fixtures to reduce water consumption and paper towel waste ($19,000), furniture and painting ($100,000), and for a replacement vehicle ($30,000).

The Princeton Public Library has become known as Princeton’s “living room.” No more so than during the onslaught of Superstorm Sandy when residents sought shelter by the  Library fireplace, charged up their cellphones and used their computers at a time when many homes were without power and heat. The library has reported serving more than 29,000 people in this way over a six day period.

”The demand for study and seating space in the library continues to grow each year, and it is never more evident than when the library opens in response to a storm,” the budget request states.

Last year the number of visitors using the library, which is open 74 hours a week, was more than 840,000.

Mayor Lempert. a member of the library board, said at the March 19 public board meeting that the issue would come before the municipality on April 1; until then she could not comment. The library’s budget will be introduced as part of the municipal budget.

In a phone interview Monday, Library Director Leslie Burger presented a no-harm-in-asking attitude when questioned about the library’s request for extra funding from the municipality. “It’s merely a request and it’s up to the town to decide at what level it intends to support the library,” she said. “Up until now the library has been a joint agency dealing with the Borough of Princeton and the Township of Princeton. Now we are a single agency and we are feeling our way through that process of change.”

Ms. Burger pointed to decreasing revenues from movie rentals now that library patrons are streaming movies instead of borrowing them. She also acknowledged receiving a number of calls about the issue. Asked if she thought it likely that the request would be approved, Ms. Burger commented that it was in the nature of budget proposals to change.

March 20, 2013

After nearly six months of work, the bridge over Stony Brook is almost ready for traffic. This means that Quaker Road will reopen to motorists, freeing up another method of access into Princeton from Route 1. The bridge is scheduled to open April 1, weather permitting.

This is good news for the Historical Society of Princeton (HSP), which runs the restored Updike Farm, located about halfway between Route 1 and Princeton Pike. The HSP held monthly events in October, November, and December at the farm, which was accessible from Princeton Pike but not from Route 1. Attendance was spotty, however, because of the difficulty people had in reaching the site.

“We pretty much shut down for January, February, and March as a result,” said Eve Mandel, director of Programs and Visitor Services. “But we’re keeping our fingers crossed for April 1, which is the date we’ve heard.”

The HSP has planned a number of special events for the spring and summer, once the road is reopened. “We have some Stony Brook walking tours, and also some themed events,” Ms. Mandel said. “We’ll do some picnics on the grounds, and we’re looking to partner with a local restaurants for that. Some things are definitely in the works.”

Built in 1942, the old bridge was deemed “structurally deficient” last August, when it was closed for reconstruction. Work was originally scheduled to be completed by mid-February, but the effects of Hurricane Sandy in October, and persistent heavy rain in December, flooded the work area and caused significant delays.

The work has included demolition and removal of the existing bridge and construction of a new span on the same alignment. The deck has been poured and cured for the new bridge, which will accommodate two 12-foot-wide travel lanes, two four-foot-wide shoulders, and a six-foot-wide sidewalk on the downstream side. The overall length will be approximately 77 feet, five inches.

Some 50 Princeton residents turned out Saturday morning for the second of three discussions focused on the town’s future. Organized by the 501c3 non-profit organization Princeton Future, the meeting looked at “What Information and Input is Needed to Plan and Measure Progress?”

Katherine Kish of Einstein’s Alley introduced talks by regional planner Ralph Widner, a member of the National Academy of Public Administration; architect Gianni Longo; and design psychologist Toby Israel before a panel discussion that, in addition to Ms. Kish and the speakers, included Larry Hugick of Princeton Survey Research Associates and former Princeton mayors Marvin Reed and Chad Goerner.

“Today we take the first step in creating a vision for Princeton with the community not for the community,” said Ms. Kish, setting the tone for the meeting.

Mr. Widner immediately got down to the nitty gritty of numbers needed to understand the newly consolidated Princeton but also the town in relation to Greater Princeton and beyond. He unveiled “A Statistical Portrait” that is, in effect, a database of information from the 2010 U.S. Census and the 2007-2011 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census.

“This is a tool that will help us to argue for what is needed in Princeton,” said Mr. Widner. “All too often towns bring in consultants who come for a time and then leave; this information bank will be a living thing that will help us plan for the future as a whole rather than just for specific issues.”

The database was prompted by a conversation Mr. Widner had with Anton Lahnston about Princeton’s traffic problems. Mr. Lahnston had said: “You can’t solve traffic problems unless you know where the traffic is coming from.” At first, a traffic database was decided upon, but then the project enlarged to become a comprehensive information bank, a tool that could be valuable for future decision-making and planning purposes. “Our perceptions need to be informed by facts,” said Mr. Widner, adding that the database will be available in the Princeton Public Library in a few weeks time. It will be downloadable in pdf or spreadsheet form as well as in hard copy.

What does it include? Facts, figures, charts, comparisons, maps, questions, and answers that show “where Princeton has been, where it stands today, and where it might be headed.”

“A lot of problems faced by the town are not confined to the municipal boundaries,” said Mr. Widner, as he went through his slide presentation of information that was gathered in response to questions raised by town residents. These were questions about people; such as how many seniors, how many teens, how many on food stamps and breakdowns by age, gender, race and ethnicity; about traffic; such as how many commuters in and out of Princeton daily, how many trucks going where and when; and about the economy such as the effect of traffic on downtown businesses and home prices, to mention a handful from the wealth of detailed data gathered by Mr. Widner, who was careful to also point out inaccuracies such as those that resulted from the 2000 census counting a number of Princeton University students twice.

Summing up aspects of the data, Mr. Widner described Princeton as “different,” with a higher proportion of people walking or biking to work. He noted the “sad decline in the town’s African American population over the last 20 years.”

The pressing issue of traffic loomed large. “There are 180,000 vehicle trips passing through Princeton every day,” said Mr. Widner. “Traffic and ways to transplant auto travel with mass transit will have to be the focus for the next decade,” he said.

In his presentation, architect Gianni Longo of ACP Visioning+Planning, focused on ways to involve the community in the planning process. Citing the historic relationship between “master builder” Robert Moses and activist Jane Jacobs, he described a “major shift” from autocrats to community engagement.

Ms. Jacobs’s influential 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities argued that urban renewal did not respect the needs of most city-dwellers. She famously organized grassroots efforts to oppose Mr. Moses’s plans to overhaul New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.

One audience member questioned a perceived “shift” in the use of the word “stakeholder,” suggesting that the term once included the ordinary citizen/resident but now seems to mean interest groups. Mr. Longo acknowledged that “stakeholders” can become non-inclusive “gate-keepers.”

Toby Israel, author of Some Place Like Home: Using Design Psychology to Create Ideal Places and founder of the new field known as “design psychology,” engaged the entire audience in an exercise demonstrating participation. She invited everyone to think about a favorite street and find five words to describe it. The room lit up with activity and conversation which was then directed toward a hypothetical future vision for the Witherspoon Street/Valley Road area of Princeton. The exercise demonstrated just one step in Ms. Israel’s participatory process, which is based upon eliciting environmental autobiographies. “Its a methodology that helps people become conscious of their unconscious responses to place,” she said.

A third discussion in the Princeton Future series —“A United Princeton Looks at the Future: What Do We Want Our Town and Region to be in the Next 20 Years?”  — is scheduled to take place at the Princeton Public Library on Saturday, April 20, from 9 a.m. to noon. The meeting will focus on “Best Practice: What Tools and Techniques can Lead to Effective Decision-Making and Implementation?” For more information, visit: www.princetonfuture.org.

A panel discussion at Princeton University next Wednesday will focus on the environmental, safety, and legal issues of the natural gas pipeline project recently proposed for a stretch of Princeton between Cherry Valley Road and the Coventry Farms development. While the emphasis of “Pipeline Education and Empowerment: A Panel Discussion” at McCosh Hall Room 46 is on the detriments of the plan, which is proposed by the Texas-based Williams Company, the object is not to stir residents into a frenzy.

“Our intention is not to create a rally and scream ‘nimby,’ or ‘not in my backyard,’” said Terry Stimpfel, who chairs the central group of the Sierra Club’s New Jersey chapter. “Our purpose is to inform. From that, people will be able to take action and, hopefully, influence the process.”

The Sierra Club, Princeton University’s Students United for a Responsible Global Environment (SURGE), the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network are co-sponsoring the event. Several speakers will be co-moderated by Ms. Stimpfel and Isaac Lederman, co-president of SURGE.

“It’s important for the public to understand not only the potential impacts of the project, but what their rights are,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “People have to get involved from the beginning.”

It was in early February that the Williams Company announced its intention to seek federal government approval for a natural gas pipeline through a 1.5-mile section of Princeton as part of a project adding 13 miles of pipe through sections of Mercer, Hunterdon, and Somerset counties. Several residents expressed their concerns about the project at a presentation by the company early this month. Williams’ representatives were on hand to answer questions, along with a representative from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). But only preliminary queries could be addressed, because the project was still in the pre-filing stage.

Chief among the concerns raised at the meeting were the environmental impact and the safety of the project. Mr. Tittel said late last week that those worries are well founded. “First and foremost, there’s blasting. There is a lot of rock and bedrock you’ve got to get through,” he said. “There’s drilling to crack the ground open. So you have to get through all of that. But then, you get siltation and runoff, which impacts streams and wetlands. A lot of chemicals are used to make sure the pipes don’t corrode. And in the long term, you get a lot of venting. There is a lot of methane, which affects global warming and people with asthma.”

Chris Stockton, a spokesperson for Williams, said, “We have been operating safely in the Princeton area for many, many years. The pipeline infrastructure provides half the gas used in New Jersey.” He added that the environmental review process is “very substantial.”

Known as the Skillman Loop, the proposed pipeline is part of the Leidy Southeast Expansion Project that would bring Marcellus shale gas from Pennsylvania. The loop is on the Transco pipeline, which runs 10,200 miles from south Texas to New York City. The proposed line would run next to an existing line that was built in 1958.

According to Mr. Tittel, companies like Williams are building speculative pipelines because of the rush for hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in Pennsylvania, the midwest, and potentially in New Jersey. “Instead of renewable energy, they’re trying to tie up a lot of capital. It really undercuts clean energy,” he said. “There’s a kind of gas boom that’s happening in parts of the northeast and midwest, where they’re going after the shale deposits. Transmission companies are rushing to put in infrastructure to capture that gas and bring it to export. It’s all about speculation — who can get to the gas first to bring it to market.”

Mr. Tittel recalled that in 1999, Williams proposed a line that was opposed by then-governor Christie Whitman, and it was stopped. “What companies are doing now to get around environmental review is segmenting the line into pieces,” he said. “What you’re seeing here is a small piece that they call a loop. But it’s really a parallel line. It’s a brand new pipeline to move massive volumes of gas to other places. They’re segmenting it to try to get around the environmental review process and public scrutiny and opposition.

Mr. Stockton countered that the loop system is a way to minimize environmental impacts. “What you’re doing, as opposed to building a brand new line, is taking in areas where you have existing easements and right-of-ways and adding infrastructure in those same areas,” he said. “It will be far less impactful than introducing it in an area where you don’t currently operate.”

Mr. Tittel said that renewable energy is a preferable alternative to natural gas. “New Jersey has been at the cutting edge of renewable energy, and we can do more with offshore wind, for example,” he said. “People don’t realize that in most of the homes built in New Jersey between the 1960s and 1980s, you can cut energy bills a lot by spending a few thousand dollars to replace windows and things like that.”

In addition to safety and environmental impacts, panelists plan to discuss construction techniques, legal issues, and options for effective involvement by individuals and groups. Participants include Kate Millsaps of the New Jersey Sierra Club, Faith Zerbe of Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Jennifer Coffey of Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association, and Alice Baker, an attorney with Eastern Environmental Law Clinic.

The event is Wednesday, March 27 from 7-9 p.m. at McCosh Hall Room 46.

March 13, 2013

Meeting in open session last week in the cafeteria at the John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS), The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education adopted a tentative schools budget for the 2013-14 school year and rejected a plan for the Valley Road School building.

The $84,248,261 budget reflects an increase in overall spending of just over 2 percent compared to last year, requiring $70,320,054 to be raised from taxes. It is expected to result in a tax hike of $148.59 for an average Princeton home assessed at $799,600.

The budget takes into account increased costs to the school district of utilities and employee health benefits. According to Finance Committee Chair Dan Haughton there will be no job cuts or cuts to school programs.

In creating the budget, the district used 2013-14 state aid figures. Superintendent of Schools Judith A. Wilson noted the loss of some $87,000 in federal funding because of sequestration. She called the amount “significant in a very tight budget.”

The budget now goes to the Executive County Superintendent of Schools for approval. A public hearing is set to place at 8 p.m. on March 21 in the JWMS cafeteria.

In spite of the 9 to 1 vote by the Board against their proposal to turn the Valley Road School building into a Community Center that would serve as a hub for area non-profits, advocates for the plan say they will not give up on their goal.

The Board adopted a seven-page resolution rejecting the 208-page proposal from the Valley Road School Adaptive Reuse Committee.

The meeting was attended by Kip Cherry, president of the Valley Road School Community Center, Inc, the 501c3 non-profit formed by the Valley Road Adaptive Re-Use Committee, and by supporter John Clearwater, a former member of the Board of Education in the 1990s and one time Board president.

Ms. Cherry urged the Board to table or delay the vote on their resolution in response to the proposal. Dan Haughton, the only Board member to vote against the resolution rejecting the proposal, supported Ms. Cherry’s request.

But in spite of Ms. Cherry’s plea, the board voted to reject the proposal, citing the Committee’s failure to provide “credible, documented assurances that it has or can secure funding adequate for the extremely extensive” building renovations. According to a consultant hired by the district, some $10.8 million would be required to renovate the building.

Another thorny issue was zoning. The committee had asked that the district be responsible for seeking the necessary zoning changes for the building’s re-use as a community center.

According to Mr. Clearwater, the group will submit an amended or a new plan.

“It’s not over,” said Mr. Clearwater, whose background is in planning, engineering, construction, and public works.

Interviewed by telephone some days after the Board’s rejection of the plan, Mr. Clearwater said that there would be more discussions and further submissions to the Board of Education. “If the Board gets responsive answers about parking and zoning then we should be able to move forward,” he said.

“Parking is a problem in this area that I call the ‘Valley Road complex,’ a resource that has been underused for generations,” said Mr. Clearwater, who stated that he would be happy to serve on the consolidated Princeton committee that has been formed to address parking issues in Princeton where there is an increasing demand for space.

“We see this building as a community facility not simply as Board of Education-owned and this is a test-case for a whole new normal of how we deal with the stewardship of public property in Princeton,” said Mr. Clearwater. “We have many underutilized buildings including the ‘Taj Mahal’ of the new Township Building. Public real-estate is a publicly owned asset. It’s use has an impact on the public purse.”

Former mayor of Princeton Township Richard Woodbridge, a staunch advocate for the Community Center plan, could not attend last week’s meeting. He commented by telephone: “I am not at all discouraged. In fact, I think we’ve made some progress in that the Board has more specifically outlined its concerns. I don’t think it has thrown out the idea of working with us. From what I’ve learned from other towns like Chatham, school boards have great separation anxieties with their old buildings. It’s a question of patience and trying to get people to work together in the same direction. Everybody should agree that the building left vacant is not doing any good, and it could be. Corner House and the Rescue Squad have dropped by the wayside and I believe that we are the only viable alternative.”

Currently, the Board of Education has no other proposals for the building, although a task force led by Fire Commissioner Lance Liverman is looking into the needs of the firehouse nearby on Witherspoon Street. The building houses Princeton Public Schools offices, and tenants Corner House and Princeton Community Television. Corner House, plans to move to the old Borough Hall at the end of April. Princeton Community Television has been offered space there too.

The school board has not ruled out using the building for educational purposes.

“This is not an exercise in instant gratification; we expect to work and work until this is done,” said Mr. Woodbridge.

When Princeton Council next convenes on April 1, an ordinance designed to make the town more environmentally sustainable is likely to be adopted. The Green Development Information Checklist was enthusiastically received by members of the governing body when it was introduced earlier this month. The initiative earned an equally warm reception from the Planning Board at its meeting last week.

More than a year in the making, the measure represents a joint effort of the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC), the town’s planning department, and the non-profit Sustainable Princeton. The checklist asks potential developers specific questions on the eco-friendly aspects of their proposals, touching on everything from wetlands to bike storage.

“What we were seeing more and more at the Environmental Commission was that projects would come in, and they weren’t addressing environmental issues at all, or were very sporadic in their approach С in sort of a piecemeal fashion,” says Heidi Fichtenbaum, a member of the PEC and an architect with Farewell Architects. “We wanted to provide guidance to developers, so when they were getting ready to start a project, they would have a place to find all of the information they needed about sustainability. It is a resource for them. In addition to outlining issues and strategies, there would be information on very specific resources they could use to assist them in answering questions about sustainability.”

The checklist is voluntary, because New Jersey is governed by the state building code which does not require developers to include green measures in their projects. “We are looking, in the PEC, at strategies to make some elements of this enforceable,” Ms. Fichtenbaum says. “But that’s the next step.”

In the meantime, the focus is on three main topics: Energy, waste, and water.

“Energy is at the top of the list because it encompasses a lot,” says Ms. Fichtenbaum. “We’re very much focused on how much energy buildings use. Right now in the U.S., buildings use roughly 40 percent of energy, and that is huge С almost half the pie. We feel like we’re at a really, really critical juncture in our climate.

“Next is waste, which contributes to greenhouse gases and pollutes our groundwater. And we’re running out of landfill space. The final piece is water — how much potable water we use, how much sanitary waste we produce. The truth is if we had no fossil fuels left on our planet, then life could still continue. But if we didn’t have access to clean water, life would not continue. You have to have sunlight and water for life on the planet.”

Several other communities, such as West Windsor, have environmental checklists for builders. Some are “yes and no” surveys, but Princeton’s is designed to be more extensive. “The usefulness of this list is to provide information to create a feedback loop,” Ms. Fichtenbaum says. “It helps the developers, and also provides an opportunity for the Planning Board to ask intelligent questions and make informed decisions.”

The list is also a way to let developers know that sustainability is important to Princeton residents. Adoption of the list could also push the town to the next level of certification with the organization Sustainable Jersey, Ms. Fichtenbaum says.

While recent difficulties surrounding developer AvalonBay’s proposal for the former Princeton Hospital site and the Planning Board’s rejection of their plan now being challenged in court are relevant, the checklist was in the planning stages long before the company came on the scene.

“The checklist addresses issues that kept coming up, time and time again,” Ms. Fichtenbaum says. “Obviously it applies to AvalonBay, but it was definitely not the impetus. This is a much bigger issue of our town that goes back a long way, and I hope it will be around for a long time.”

Developer AvalonBay’s request to fast-track its appeal of the Princeton Planning Board’s decision to reject its proposal for the former hospital site was granted last week by a Mercer County Superior Court judge. The matter is scheduled to be heard in court on April 29.

Lawyers for the Planning Board, the town, and the group Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods will appear before Judge Mary C. Jacobson to argue their case against the developer, who wants to construct a 280-unit apartment building on the Witherspoon Street site. AvalonBay sued last month to overturn the Planning Board’s rejection of their plan.

The complaint filed by AvalonBay says the developer will walk away from the project, backing out of its contract to buy the property from Princeton HealthCare System, if the Planning Board’s decision is not reversed by May 1. The developer wants to demolish the old hospital and build an apartment building in its place. The Board rejected the plan based on concerns about design standards, open space, and sustainability, among other issues.

One of AvalonBay’s contentions in its appeal of the decision is that the Planning Board violates the Mount Laurel Doctrine, which says municipalities are mandated to provide housing for low-income and moderate-income citizens. The developer’s plan would include 56 affordable units.

The lawyers for the Planning Board, the town, and Princeton Citizens for Sustainable Neighborhoods (PCSN) asked the judge to consider issues of jurisdiction first. “Claims that have been made deal with whether the jurisdiction of the Planning Board was correct for this type of application,” says Robert Simon, the attorney for PCSN. “If accepted, that would knock the application out of the Planning Board box and put it into the Zoning Board box.”

While Judge Jacobson’s agreement to expedite the process does not sit well with lawyers representing the town, she has said that she could be persuaded to allow more time for discovery and review if convinced it was important.

Extensive hearings on the issue up to this point have cost PCSN more than originally estimated for attorney’s fees. The group is currently raising funds to pay outstanding bills and to support the process going forward.

“By hiring highly experienced attorneys and experts we are helping to level the playing field for town residents when faced with large, legally aggressive corporate developers, like AvalonBay Communities, Inc., the number two Real Estate Investment Trust on the New York Stock Exchange,” says Alexi Assmus, of the group, in a statement. “As interveners in the case, PCSN is supporting the town’s legal defense against AvalonBay’s appeal with a complementary and independent approach that asserts that the AvalonBay plans require variances.”

March 6, 2013

Allegations of misconduct involving Princeton police chief David J. Dudeck have been turned over to the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office. Mr. Dudeck, who has not been at work this week, may or may not return to the job.

“Dave remains the chief of the department,” said Princeton administrator Bob Bruschi on Monday. “The whole department is managing through a huge distraction. They’ll continue to do their jobs while we work our way through. He is trying to figure out the best way of dealing with this, not only from his own perspective but from the department’s perspective. I don’t know when he’ll come back, and I honestly don’t know if he will.”

It was through leaks late last week to area news outlets that it was alleged that Mr. Dudeck has made inappropriate comments to officers over the past two years. While local officials declined comment on the allegations, they did stress that they are of an administrative nature, not a criminal one.

“There is no concern that these are criminal issues,” said Mr. Bruschi. “The policy we have to deal with is set by the state attorney general’s office, and that is if a complaint is lodged against a police chief it has to be referred to the prosecutor’s office. They would conduct an investigation if there was one, but one has not been started.”

Efforts to reach Mr. Dudeck were unsuccessful.

Mayor Liz Lempert said Tuesday that it would be inappropriate for her to comment directly on the issue. “We are following the state attorney general’s guidelines on how to handle personnel matters regarding the chief,” she said. “It is also important to note that the department has been doing a great job in coming together with consolidation, and that work continues in making sure we’re delivering the best possible services to residents, seeing where we can enhance services, and staying focused on that mission.”

Last week, Princeton Council’s public safety committee, which includes Ms. Lempert, Heather Howard, and Lance Liverman, met with First Assistant Mercer County Prosecutor Doris M. Galuchie, who handles internal affairs of police departments. Mr. Dudeck and Mr. Bruschi also attended the meeting. “We had a two-or-three-minute briefing on it, and that was all,” Mr. Bruschi said. “It was about personnel issues, for lack of a better word, but I won’t get into specifics.”

Mr. Bruschi stressed that contrary to some previous reports, Mr. Dudeck was not issued an ultimatum to either resign or be investigated. “It is nothing like that. He’s had some discussions with the prosecutor’s office,” he said. “We’re just trying to step back and get a handle on what’s been thrown out there.”

Should the prosecutor’s office decide to launch an investigation, and there is something they need to report to Princeton Council, the governing body would then decide if any disciplinary step needs to be taken. “There is a lot of concern that this be handled professionally, and that we make sure it’s done well,” Mr. Bruschi said. “We’ve been told not to rush through the process, and to let it unfold.”

Mr. Bruschi added that while there has been no official discussion of the situation among members of the Council, they have been informed “only in the very generic sense” about the process.

Mr. Dudeck began work for the Borough police in 1983, and was chosen to lead the department following the death of former chief Anthony Federico in 2009. Last year, he was chosen to be chief of police for consolidated Princeton. He is a 1977 graduate of The Hun School and has been its head football coach for 10 years.

Prior to consolidation, Princeton Township police Chief Robert Buchanan accepted an agreement to leave the department last March. Previous to that in the Township, Chief Mark Emann left following charges involving improper trading of police weapons.

“It’s really important to have a force that’s working well,” said Ms. Lempert this week. “And whatever we have to do to get there, we will.”

At a presentation by the company that wants to install a new natural gas pipeline through a section of the Princeton Ridge, residents of the area voiced concerns about potential disruptions, property damage, and safety. More than 50 homeowners and other concerned citizens gathered at the Municipal Building on February 28 to question representatives from the Texas-based Williams Company, which owns the 42-inch proposed pipeline and wants to run it next to an existing one that was built in 1958.

Of particular concern were the effects of blasting, especially in relation to the environmental sensitivity of the area. Some 30 properties would be affected by the project, which would run 1.5 miles between the Coventry Farms development and Cherry Valley Road. Known as the Skillman Loop, the pipeline is part of the Leidy Southeast Expansion Project that would bring Marcellus shale gas from Pennsylvania. The loop is on the Transco pipeline, which runs 10,200 miles from south Texas to New York City.

Williams’ representatives could only answer preliminary questions, since the project is in the pre-filing stage. The company will apply in the coming fall to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for permission to begin construction in the fall of 2014. If it is approved, the pipeline would take just over a year to complete.

“The Princeton Ridge is an environmentally sensitive area. We have fought over this area many, many times over the years,” said Laura Lynch, who lives in Lawrence but represents the New -Jersey Sierra Club. “I strongly suggest that you do an EIS (environmental impact statement). You don’t know yet about the rocks, but we do. And you’re not going to be happy with what you find.”

The meeting was arranged at the request of local officials. Williams’ representatives said that this was the first time they had held this type of session in advance of its regular open house events, the first of which will take place April 11 at 6:30 p.m. at the Otto Kaufman Community Center in Montgomery Township. More detailed maps and plans will be available at that gathering. But a representative urged those at last Thursday’s meeting to make their concerns known.

“The time to comment is now, at the beginning of the process,” said Cindy Ivy, in charge of public outreach for the Williams company.

Questions from residents ranged from where equipment would be stored during the construction process to what impact the project would have on insurance values. An indemnity clause would be put into easement agreements, the representatives said. The project would require that the company acquire some 20 feet of new easements onto some properties located close to the site.

“We don’t want the pipeline running through our property,” said resident Christopher Barr, whose home is located near where the new pipeline would diverge from the existing line. Asked what would happen if a homeowner refuses to grant those easements, a Williams representative said that under the Natural Gas Act, “… if the Commission (FERC) approves this project, that carries with it eminent domain,” meaning the property could be condemned and the landowner forced to sell the easement rights at market value.

At a panel discussion Sunday, March 3, Pulitzer-Prize-winning author John McPhee sat down with two former governors of New Jersey, and preservation activists to discuss The Pine Barrens: The Past, the Politics, and the Future.

The doors of Princeton University’s McCosh Auditorium, which seats over 450, opened at 1 p.m. and by 2 p.m., it was standing room only.

Numerous audience members brought out well-thumbed copies of McPhee’s seminal book The Pine Barrens for the Princeton author to sign.

The panel discussion was presented in conjunction with the Morven Museum and Garden’s current exhibition, The Pine Barrens: A Legacy of Preservation, Photographs by Richard Speedy. Morven’s Director of Development Barbara Webb introduced the speakers.

In addition to Mr. McPhee, panelists were Governor Brendan T. Byrne (1974-1982) whose executive order placed a moratorium on Pinelands development and who ultimately brought about legislation for permanent preservation; -Governor Jim Florio (1990-1994), past chairman of the New Jersey Pinelands Commission; Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance; and Michele Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservaton Foundation (NJCF). The discussion was moderated by Michael Aron, broadcast journalist with NJN TV.

Mr. McPhee’s book was lauded for inspiring the movement to protect the New Jersey Pinelands that encompass the Pine Barrens and cover over a million acres of Southern New Jersey, a land of pine and oak forests, streams and rivers, farms and hamlets, above an underground reservoir of pure sand-filtered water.

“The preservation of the Pine Barrens speaks to the power of a book, the vigilance of citizens, and the dedication of politicians,” said Ms. Webb.

The discussion opened with remarks from Mr. Montgomery on the importance of the unique ecosystem of the Pinelands. He described the area as “a Noah’s ark of bio-diversity threatened by tempestuous seas” and said that the aquifer is “the lifeblood of the region,” supporting the state’s blueberry and cranberry industries and providing drinking water for hundreds of thousands.

The Cohansey Aquifer contains over 17 trillion gallons, so much water that if it were above ground, the entire State of New Jersey would be one giant lake about ten feet deep.

“If there’s one person without whom there wouldn’t be a Pinelands Act that would be John McPhee” said Gov. Byrne, recalling the circumstances of his interest in the region. “John and I were part of a tennis group in Princeton. When we finished playing tennis, we would talk,” said the former Morven resident.

In 1967, Mr. McPhee, now one of the nation’s most prominent nonfiction writers, published his fourth book, The Pine Barrens, a study of the region’s unique ecology and history. Threatened by proposals for a combined jetport, industrial park, and new city of a quarter million people, the Pine Barrens, McPhee concluded, seemed “headed slowly toward extinction.”

Mr. McPhee’s book ended on a pessimistic note: “Given the futilities of the debate, given the sort of attention that is ordinarily paid to plans put forth by conservationists, and given the great numbers and the crossed purposes of all the big and little powers that would have to work together to accomplish anything on a major scale in the pines, it would appear that the Pine Barrens are not very likely to be the subject of dramatic decrees or acts of legislation.”

These words were a red flag to Mr. Byrne. In the years after The Pine Barrens was published, the author’s pessimism seemed fully justified. With northern and central New Jersey increasingly densely populated and available real estate soaring in price, developers were looking to the pine forests as potential sites for large-scale development at comparatively affordable costs.

The region’s development had been restricted by limited transportation access but proposals for new highways could bring expansion.

In 1972, the New Jersey Jersey Legislature and Governor William Cahill approved a plan by the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to construct a 36-mile-long, four-lane toll expressway from the Garden State Parkway in Toms River to the New Jersey Turnpike in South Brunswick.

Such plans were abandoned after Mr. Byrne intervened, sparked by Mr. McPhee’s pessimism. “McPhee said that nothing would be done,” said Gov. Byrne. “It’s the only time I’ve known John McPhee to be wrong.”

Gov. Byrne was so moved by his friend’s descriptions that he called his deputy and said: “Stop issuing permits in the Pinelands.” When his action was questioned as being “unconstitutional,” the governor responded by signing an executive order, perhaps the most famous in New Jersey history. “I did it, and it stopped development in the Pinelands, but then it was challenged and so we introduced a bill and when that was challenged we went to the New Jersey Supreme Court,” he said. Mr. Byrne described the enormous opposition his efforts met with, not only from powerful outside interests but often from members of his own staff.

On February 8, 1979, the governor’s Executive Order established the Pinelands Planning Commission, a successor body to a review committee he’d already created. In his second term as governor, he passed the Pinelands Protection Act authorizing a comprehensive plan for the 1.1 million acre Pinelands National Reserve.

The Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (formerly Lebanon State Forest) is named for the 47th Governor of New Jersey who was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2011.

Gov. Florio who, as a member of Congress authored the House version of the bill that eventually became known as the “Superfund,” as well as the Pinelands Protection Act of 1987, also described the effect of Mr. McPhee’s book during the Nixon administration when there was great interest in oil drilling off the coast of New Jersey. “People from Louisiana were coming here and there was concern about a pipeline that would go from the Shore to the refineries on the Delaware, right through the Pinelands — there was even talk about South Jersey seceding from the state,” he recalled. “Things improved when Carter was elected but there is no doubt that Governor Byrne’s executive order did the job of maintaining the status quo until legislation was signed.”

In spite of these historic successes, Mr. Montgomery was quick to point out the need to guard against complacency. “A time will come when we’ve built on all the surrounding land and it will be threatened again,” he said, citing the recent building of a Walmart in Tom’s River for which a permit was fist denied by the state because of a threatened species of snake and then approved after some political wrangling. He said: “Making exceptions ultimately weakens legislation. It is not the case that a law is passed and its done, there still has to be vigilance.”

Noting the non-partisan nature of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance at its founding, Mr. Aron asked Mr. Montgomery whether this was still the case. Are members of the Alliance “friendly to preservation?” he asked. Mr. Montgomery responded: “Some are, some aren’t and some are there to do what they are told to do by a very powerful governorship. We in New Jersey tend to go in for bossy governors,” he said, to general audience delight as he was seated next to two former governors. “For many years, the Alliance was non-partisan, our biggest worry today is that such independence has been eroded.

Ms. Byers concurred. “If it hadn’t been for the Pinelands Preservation Act, this area would now be covered by houses,” she said, adding that so much of what has been achieved has been through personal relationships even with those who oppose preservationist ideals.

Ms. Byers spoke of the need for citizens to become personally involved with the Pine Barrens. “We need to reach out and engage the entire state on this issue. If people don’t go to the Pine Barrens and develop a personal relationship with the region, the developers will. Get out there, take your kids there and love this place,” she urged.

For all too many people in the state of New Jersey the image most associated with the Pine Barrens is that of of the “Jersey Devil,” a horned creature purportedly born to a local woman. Anyone who sees the current exhibition at Morven will have such ideas replaced through the stunning photographs by local photographer Richard Speedy. The Pine Barrens: A Legacy of Preservation features 32 of Mr. Speedy’s works alongside the story of the region’s preservation. It continues through April 14 at Morven Museum and Garden, 55 Stockton Street.

February 27, 2013

A concept plan being floated by the New Jersey Department of Transportation to ease traffic congestion on Route 1 has residents from both sides of the highway eager to comment on its possibilities. “There is no dearth of ideas,” Anton Lahnston, chair of a committee exploring the plan, told Princeton Council on Monday night following a day of meetings with citizens of West Windsor in the morning, and Princeton in the evening, before the Council session.

“I’ve got about 40 or 41 points at this juncture,” Mr. Lahnston said. “If you live in Princeton, it’s one thing. If you live in West Windsor, it’s another.”

But the idea is to bring these communities together, along with Plainsboro and the University Medical Center of Princeton, to come up with a response to the plan, Mr. Lahnston and others involved in the meetings agree. Mayor Liz Lempert stressed at the Council session that the governing body will confer with West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh before preparing a response to the plan.

The concept was introduced early this month by the DOT, asking for feedback from Princeton, West Windsor, and Plainsboro before a decision is made on whether to proceed. There is no money for the project now, and it could cost up to $40 million.

The plan would involve widening the highway to four lanes in each direction between Harrison Street and Washington Road, eliminating the jughandles at both intersections, adding a traffic light and two jughandles for U-turns about halfway between the two roads, adding a new, circle-shaped jughandle at Washington Road at the now vacant site of a former Exxon gas station to allow drivers going south on Route 1 to cut across onto Route 571, and eliminating the light at Fisher Place. Motorists traveling north on the highway would take the new jughandle, travel south, and then turn right on -Washington Road in order to get into Princeton.

An overflow crowd packed a room at Princeton’s municipal building for a meeting of the Traffic and Transportation committee on Monday. Several of those in attendance stayed on to reiterate their concerns at the Council meeting, where Mr. Lahnston, who chairs the committee, delivered a report.

A DOT trial that closed the jughandles last August was scrapped earlier than originally planned after vociferous citizen protests. Residents attending the Monday meeting called that effort a waste of money, and some had their own ideas about how to help traffic flow better on Route 1. Eric Payne, a resident of West Windsor and a member of a citizens group called Smart Traffic Solutions, said there were four accidents in front of his house during the jughandle trial last year.

Mr. Payne has come up with his own plan for the highway. He said that an environmental impact study done in 2003 specifically recommended not to do what the concept plan suggests. “Let’s bite the bullet and get the problem fixed with an overpass, or if that isn’t possible, then by creating other access roads,” he said, adding that lights should be removed from Route 1, not added. “My plan eliminates all but one light, or at least gets it down to two.”

Josh Wilton, a real estate agent who works at Nassau and Harrison streets, recalled watching the surge in clogged traffic at that intersection from his window during the last DOT trial. He urged the committee to remember that Route 27 traffic is affected by Route 1. “Take into account that on a good day, it’s bad,” he said. During the last trial, it was “abysmal.”

At the Council session, member Jenny Crumiller asked why the DOT has not provided data on the traffic situation, specifically the recent trial that closed the jughandles last summer. Princeton engineer Bob Kiser said he thought data would be generated by the DOT if the communities express interest in developing the concept plan.

Councilman Patrick Simon commented that the traffic congestion improved on Route 1 during the trial last summer, but traffic getting on or off the highway and crossing the road was made worse.

In delivering his report about the earlier meeting, Mr. Lahnston said that people in Princeton and West Windsor have concerns about Route 1 traffic that go back decades. “We need more information from the DOT. We need to see traffic data,” he said. “We also need to put together a response to them saying yes, we want a seat at the table, but we need to partner with West Windsor and Princeton University and have everyone involved.”

Another public meeting on the issue will be held in West Windsor tonight at 7 p.m., at 271 Clarksville Road. Visit www.westwindsornj.org for more information.