April 29, 2015
MORVEN IN MAY: The extraordinary skills and artistry of basket maker and MacArthur Genius Fellow Mary Jackson will be featured in the 4th annual Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft, and Garden, which opens with a preview party this Friday evening and continues with an exhibition and sale on Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3. This year the event promises to be bigger and better than ever with 35 participating fine craft artists. Tickets for the preview party start at $125 and are available for purchase by calling (609) 924-8144, ext.113 or via: www.morven.org. Tickets for the exhibition/sale and heirloom plant sale, which may be purchased at the tent entrance, are $10, $8 for Friends of Morven; parking is free. Hours are Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A full list of 2015 Morven in May exhibitors is available online. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org.(Photo Courtesy of Morven Museum & Garden)

MORVEN IN MAY: The extraordinary skills and artistry of basket maker and MacArthur Genius Fellow Mary Jackson will be featured in the 4th annual Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft, and Garden, which opens with a preview party this Friday evening and continues with an exhibition and sale on Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3. This year the event promises to be bigger and better than ever with 35 participating fine craft artists. Tickets for the preview party start at $125 and are available for purchase by calling (609) 924-8144, ext.113 or via: www.morven.org. Tickets for the exhibition/sale and heirloom plant sale, which may be purchased at the tent entrance, are $10, $8 for Friends of Morven; parking is free. Hours are Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A full list of 2015 Morven in May exhibitors is available online. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org. (Photo Courtesy of Morven Museum & Garden)

Princeton is a place of discovery. Nowhere more so than during Morven in May. Focused on art and artistic creativity both indoors and outdoors, this year’s event will bring a number of extraordinary artists to Princeton for the first time, foremost among them basket maker and MacArthur Genius Fellow, Mary Jackson of Charleston, South Carolina.

Regarded as a national treasure by museums and private collectors, Mary Jackson, 70, is the nation’s most celebrated maker of sweetgrass baskets. Her work has been bought by Britain’s Prince Charles and Japan’s Empress Michiko.

In addition to sweetgrass, she uses pine needles, palmetto, and bullrush to create baskets that combine traditional techniques and forms with her own distinctly contemporary and elegantly sculptural flair. This is basketry elevated to the level of fine art.

According to a recent article by Joyce Lovelace in American Craft magazine, Ms. Jackson has done much to preserve the strong, pliable sweetgrass of her native South Carolina. As founding president of the Mount Pleasant Sweetgrass Basket Makers Association, she worked to see that plants that would have been destroyed by development were saved and transplanted on preserved land.

Ms. Jackson’s ancestors brought the tradition from West Africa some 300 years ago and handed it down through the generations in the Gullah community. Ms. Jackson was taught by her mother and grandmother. In 1984, she was invited to show her work at the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C.

Her pièce de résistance is an enormous shallow basket, with a plume of raw grass flowing out of it, that has a diameter of 3.5 feet. It took three years to complete for a private client who has it hanging on a wall as a single piece of dramatic artwork. According to Ms. Lovelace, a photo of the basket is on the cover of the interior design book Simplicity by Nancy Braithwaite.

Other newcomers are the decorative porcelain sculptor, Katherine Houston of Boston (a short video of her work can be viewed at: http://katherinehouston.com/video/) and glass artist Martin Kremer from Pound Ridge, New York. One other Southern artist is Lynn Pollard from Atlanta, Georgia, whose work with indigo on handmade paper can be viewed at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJTKckf5tsk.

“In the craft show world, Morven in May has really begun to make a name for itself among the top artists,” said Director of Development Barbara Webb. The museum’s largest event of the year, Morven in May raises over $100,000 in support for the exhibitions, historic gardens, and educational programs at National Historic Landmark that was formerly the official residence of the New Jersey governor.

This year, 125 fine craft artists from all corners of the Unites States applied. Only 35 were selected, but that number represents a substantial increase from last year’s 25 participants. The selections were made by Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward, art auctioneer David Rago, and Veronica Roberts, curator of contemporary and modern art at the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas.

The beautifully crafted art objects will be displayed in gallery-style booths under a grand tent on the museum’s Great Lawn. Visitors will find many returning artists whose work they enjoyed last year in glass, ceramics, decorative and wearable fiber, furniture, jewelry, wood, and mixed media. Furniture designer Barry Newstat from Chicago, will be returning, as will textile artist Erin Wilson from Brooklyn.

Besides the exhibition and sale, festivities will include an heirloom plant sale with unique perennials and annuals ready to plant.

The event begins Friday evening, May 1, with a preview party catered by chef Max Hansen, author of the best-selling cookbook, Smoked Salmon, Delicious Innovative Recipes (Chronicle Books, 2003).

Tickets for the preview party start at $125 and are available for purchase by calling (609) 924-8144, ext.113 or at: www.morven.org.

Tickets, which may be purchased at the tent entrance for Saturday and Sunday, are $10, $8 for Friends of Morven; parking is free.

The 4th annual Morven in May: A Celebration of Art, Craft and Garden will take place at Morven Museum & Garden, 55 Stockton Street, this weekend from Friday through Sunday, May 1 to May 3. Hours are Saturday, May 2, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, May 3 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

A full list of the 2015 Morven in May exhibitors and images of their work is available online. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org.

April 22, 2015
SEEING THE BIG PICTURE: Taken at last year’s Communiversity event, this photograph shows one Stone Soup Circus member enjoying the fun. The popular group will be back again this year when Communiversity takes over the town on Sunday, April 26, from 1 to 6 p.m. Booths include one from this newspaper, Town Topics, on Nassau Street in front of Landau and Forest Jewelers, so stop by and say hello!(Image Courtesy of the Arts Council of Princeton)

SEEING THE BIG PICTURE: Taken at last year’s Communiversity event, this photograph shows one Stone Soup Circus member enjoying the fun. The popular group will be back again this year when Communiversity takes over the town on Sunday, April 26, from 1 to 6 p.m. Booths include one from this newspaper, Town Topics, on Nassau Street in front of Landau and Forest Jewelers, so stop by and say hello! (Image Courtesy of the Arts Council of Princeton)

The Princeton University Marching Band and those madcap Stone Soup Circus people are set to entertain the 40,000 visitors expected to attend this year’s Communiversity on Sunday, April 26.

Between 1 and 6 p.m. the Arts Council of Princeton, in collaboration with Princeton University and the municipality, will turn the town into a giant outdoor music festival and market for the 45th Annual Communiversity ArtsFest along Nassau and Witherspoon Streets, on the Palmer Square Green and on the University campus in front of Nassau Hall.

The festival draws local and student performers, artists and crafters, chefs, merchants, community groups, and volunteers in celebration of Town and Gown with over 200 booths showcasing original art, contemporary crafts, unique merchandise, and food. Non-stop live entertainment for all ages will take place on six stages.

There will be music from returning artists Big Wake, Princeton School of Rock, Canto Del Sur, and The Shaxe. Up-and-coming newcomers are regional artists Lauren Marsh and Underwater Sounds. Other performers include Sarah Donner, The Blue Meanies, Sheltered Turtle, Yang Yi Guzheng Academy Ensemble, and the Princeton Girlchoir.

If you’ve been curious about how your name would look in Arabic script, the Arts Council’s newest Artist in Residence, Faraz Kahn, will enlighten you. Stop by his spot on Palmer Square Green to learn the rudiments of Arabic calligraphy and contribute your name to a pennant that will be featured in an outdoor display.

If you’ve longed to see the inside of the Chestnut Street Fire House, now is your chance. Members of the artists group Art+10 will be painting portraits of firefighters, their fire trucks and equipment between 1 and 5:30 p.m. at an open house for Princeton Engine Company No. 1, which dates to 1794. The station houses a rich collection of memorabilia and the paintings will be for sale with a portion of the proceeds going to the Fire Company.

Come hungry as there will be plenty to eat from local chefs. Vendors include D’Angelo Italian Market, Elements, Mistral, House of Cupcakes, Mamoun’s Falafel, Mediterra, Nomad Pizza, The Taco Truck, Triumph Brewing, Winberies, the Witherspoon Grill, and Blue Point Grill, to name but a small selection of what will be offered.

As usual there will be a large contingent of non-profit organizations presenting their causes and over 40 artists will showcase their individual and group talents. Dance performances will feature American Repertory Ballet/Princeton  Ballet School, the YWCA dance troupe, Lisa Botalico Fiesta Flamenca. Ballet Folklorico, Raks Odalisque, and others.

At the East Pyne Arch on the University campus there will be a cappella singing from student groups Old NasSoul, Tigerlilies, Katzenjammers, Wildcats, Acapellago, and others throughout the afternoon.

Princeton University’s radio station, WPRB 103.3 FM, will celebrate 75 years in broadcasting on the Chambers Street stage. According to its website, the student-run station was one of the first college radio stations in the country and began in 1940 as WPRU, “broadcasting through the heating pipes of a Princeton University dorm.” (Check out its history on wprb.com.)

Street performances will take place throughout downtown and visitors will be able to encounter art at almost every turn with visual artists in action throughout the day at several locations with ACP faculty members demonstrating different techniques and media.

Kids will be happy to see the ever-popular “Nana’s-Make-A-Mess” with an assortment of materials to inspire original artwork and Sidewalk Chalk at Tiger Park on Palmer Square.


The Town and Gown celebration began in 1971 when the Arts Council of Princeton held “The Art People’s Party” with musicians, artists and crafters. In 1974, the annual party was held on the McCarter Theater grounds and was dedicated in honor of William Shakespeare’s birthday. In 1976, when it was held on the Washington Road Bridge, festival attendees arrived by boat.

When students from Princeton University joined the party in 1985, the name “Communiversity” was coined. Over the years, highlights have included a giant banana split fundraiser in 1987 and a “Communiversity Brew” from Triumph Brewing in 2001.

In 1991, the event drew a crowd of some 10,000 people. In recent years that number has grown to four times as many.

Paint Out Princeton

In 2013, the Arts Council introduced Paint Out Princeton to great success and this time around, local painters will be at their easels around town painting scenes of the day. The painting en plein air will continue for the second year in a row on Sunday May 3, from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the grounds of the Morven Museum and Garden during the Morven in May festival from May 1 through May 3. Visitors will be able to see artists at work (register by emailing: info@artscouncilofprinceton.org) and the artwork produced at Communiversity and at Morven will be displayed in the Paul Robeson Center for the Arts through May 9, with a closing reception from 3 to 5 p.m.

Town Topics

Be sure to stop by and say hello to the staff at the Town Topics booth located on Nassau Street in front of Landau and Forest Jewelers. Witherspoon Media Group is a proud media sponsor of the event and will be receiving entries for its Youth Poetry Contest on the theme of “What Princeton Means to Me.” Student poets should drop off their poems to the Town Topics table before 5 p.m. Submission should include name, age, grade, and school. Don’t forget to title your poem and include a contact phone number. Winning poems will be published in an upcoming issue of Town Topics newspaper.


In addition to street parking where it can be found, parking garages can be accessed via Hulfish and Chambers Streets. The Spring Street garage can be also accessed via Wiggins Street as well.

The owner and operator of Princeton Shopping Center, EDENS, is sponsoring a Communiversity shuttle that will transport passengers from the Princeton Shopping Center to the festival entrance at the corner of Wiggins and Witherspoon streets between from 12:30 and 6:30 p.m. Visitors can park for free at the Shopping Center and take the shuttle. Signage will be posted at the various pick-up locations.

Additional free parking can be found in Princeton University’s parking lots, which will be open during the event. For more information, visit: www.princeton.edu/parking.

For more information on Communiversity, visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org or call (609) 924-8777.

Members of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) and representatives of the teacher union, Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) met face-to-face for the third time in recent weeks last Wednesday.

In spite of positive expectations on both sides following their earlier meeting on April 9, no agreement has yet been announced. Instead, yet another session with the state-appointed mediator Kathleen Vogt has been scheduled for May 4.

“The parties remain in mediation as a legal matter, so the Board continues to adhere to the mediator’s confidentiality recommendation regarding the details of the discussions,” said School Board President Andrea Spalla.

“In addition to that agreed-upon mediation session, the Board team offered the PREA two other possible face-to-face meeting dates. We’re waiting for their response to those dates,” she said.

After the April 15 talks, union negotiator John Baxter sent the following statement to Town Topics: “Our meeting with the Board ended late Wednesday night. We thought progress had been made. The Board agreed that progress had been made, but then they insisted on bringing back the mediator on May 4. The Board could not explain why face-to-face negotiations are unsatisfactory and their decision certainly came as a shock to us given the praise they have publicly heaped upon these sessions. This is a bitter disappointment given that we made essentially no progress in our four sessions with the mediator. The Board further stated they are not available to meet prior to May 4 as we had hoped. We asked the Board to reconsider its decision.”

But according to Ms. Spalla, PREA agreed to a May 4 mediation session and it was not the sole decision of the Board to include Ms. Vogt.

Princeton’s teachers have been working under the terms of an expired contract since July 2014. The long drawn out negotiations have repeatedly foundered on the issues of health insurance contributions and salary increases.

Parents have called on both sides to compromise and have appeared before BOE monthly meetings to support the teachers. In a Letter to the Editor in this week’s Mailbox, PREA President Joanne Ryan thanks parents, students, community members, and local businesses for their support.

“The parties are making progress, although we recognize that it is happening more slowly than the community would prefer,” commented Ms. Spalla. “The Board team hopes to keep pushing forward, using the resources available to support and guide the parties.”

The BOE is also in negotiations with its other two bargaining units: PRESSA, which represents support staff, and PAA, which represents district administrators. While pointing out that those negotiations are also subject to confidentiality agreements, Ms. Spalla was able to say that the BOE team is “pleased with the progress being made in those discussions.”

The next meeting of the Board of Education will take place on Tuesday, April 28, at 8 p.m. in the John Witherspoon Middle School, 217 Walnut Lane. The agenda will include public comment as well as a vote on the 2015-16 Schools Budgets.

NJ Transit wants to eliminate bus service between Princeton and the University Medical Center on Route 1 as part of cost-saving measures. The move would also include a hike of approximately nine percent in fares for trains and buses.

A public hearing on the proposal is set for Thursday, May 21 at the Trenton Transit Center, 72 South Clinton Avenue in Trenton, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The agency claims that ridership has been low on the bus between the town and the hospital, and if the measure is approved it would stop service on September 1. The bus route was introduced when the hospital moved from Witherspoon Street to Plainsboro.

According to Mayor Liz Lempert, the town is committed to continuing transportation in some form between Princeton and the hospital.

“Whatever the outcome, the municipality will be working closely with officials from NJ Transit, Plainsboro, and Mercer County as well as the hospital and Princeton University to make sure that a transit link is preserved between Princeton and the new hospital, and that residents who need medical care are able to get to the hospital clinic for treatment,” she said in a written statement on Monday.

NJ Transit cites increased costs of healthcare and benefits, general liability insurance, workers’ compensation, and pensions as reasons for the proposed changes. “Although NJ Transit has identified more than $40 million in reductions in overtime, fuel savings, energy, and vehicle parts efficiencies, the agency still faces an approximate $60 million budget gap for the 2016 fiscal year,” a press release said. “To close the gap, fare and service adjustments are being proposed.”

The agency has planned nine public hearings and one information session before its board convenes to vote on July 8. Fares would rise as of October 1 if approved. Currently, it costs $29.50 roundtrip to travel between Princeton Junction and New York’s Penn Station. The measure would raise the fare to about $32.

Officials from the hospital, which has been subsidizing the bus service, issued a statement saying they will keep funding it if the decision is made to keep it running.

“We are actively working with other area organizations, including NJ Transit, to develop even more transportation solutions so that community members can have additional options for convenient access to the Princeton Health campus,” the statement reads. “PHCS remains committed to finding access solutions for the residents living in the neighborhood of the former hospital site.”

Among the other options available are Princeton University’s Tiger Transit. Seniors and people who have disabilities are also eligible for free transportation to and from the hospital.

In addition to the public hearings, comments can be submitted online by visiting www.njtransit.com, or by mail to Public Hearing Office, Fare Proposal Comments, 1 Penn Plaza East, Newark, NJ 07105.

April 15, 2015

An alumnus of Princeton University has donated $10 million for the 23,000-square-foot Music Building that will be part of the arts complex currently under construction near University Place and Alexander Street. The donor and his wife have remained anonymous for now, but the building will eventually be named by them.

“Attending Princeton was a formative experience,” said the donor in a statement issued Monday by the University. “It was there that I developed a deep and lasting interest in the arts. When my wife and I visited campus and witnessed the engagement, curiosity, and passion of so many students in so many areas of arts study, the decision to be a part of the team in promoting the arts at Princeton was an easy one. We believe that all students should have access to the arts and to the music program as part of the unique educational experience of Princeton.”

The three-story building, designed by architect Steven Holl, will house the University’s Department of Music and the Lewis Center for the Arts, which is currently operating out of a building at 185 Nassau Street. With a performance and rehearsal space, acoustically advanced practice rooms, teaching studios, and a digital recording studio, there will be room for increased and enhanced programming.

Dance activities will be located at the Wallace Dance Building and Theater, which was donated by Monte and Neil Wallace, members of the classes of 1953 and 1955, respectively. Administrative and faculty offices and an art gallery will be housed in a tower next to the music building, which will provide supplementary space at the 47,000-square-foot Woolworth Center of Musical Studies near the center of the campus.

The $320 million arts complex was launched in 2006 when then President Shirley M. Tilghman announced plans to substantially increase arts activities on campus, including establishment of an arts neighborhood. Late alumnus Peter B. Lewis, a 1955 graduate and trustee, contributed $101 million to help launch the initiative.

As part of the project, the Princeton Dinky train station has been relocated 460 feet south of its former location. The new station opened last November. A restaurant and cafe planned for the historic, former station buildings was to be operated by the Terra Momo Group, but the company withdrew from the project last January. A new operator has yet to be selected.

“This splendid gift will benefit our student musicians and the audiences who come to hear them,” University President Christopher L. Eisgruber said of the recent donation. “The additional space is an essential element in enabling our arts intiatitve — launched less than a decade ago — to flourish. We are excited about seeing the arts at Princeton reach their full potential, and we are grateful to our generous alumni and friends for helping to make it possible.”

Students at the American Boychoir School will finish the academic year earlier than usual due to the school’s precarious financial situation, according to a letter that went out to supporters on Monday. The school filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last Friday.

A letter from Board of Trustees chairman Rob D’Avanzo announcing the decision stated that $350,000 was needed in order for the school to complete the academic year. Since then, gifts and pledges totaling $82,400 С 24 percent of the goal С have been received. The second letter from Mr. D’Avanzo urged those who have made pledges to “Й be sure that your funds follow quickly: get that check in the mail or simply go to our secure website to make your donation now.”

For those who have supported previous emergency fundraising efforts, “…this time is different,” he wrote. “We have no safety net. Without an immediate infusion of cash, we will be forced to close our doors quickly.” The letter goes on to say that “funding permitting,” the school will end its academic year the weekend of May 16-17. The school usually holds a much-anticipated graduation the second weekend in June.

Staff members of the organization could not be reached for comment.

The renowned Boychoir School was founded in 1937 in Columbus, Ohio and has been located in Princeton since 1950. Boys in grades four to eight are selected from across the country to train for the concert boys’ choir, considered among the nation’s finest. The choir has performed with such ensembles as The New York Philharmonic, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and The Boston Symphony, under the batons of such conductors as James Levine, Charles Dutoit, and Alan Gilbert.

A 2014 film titled Boychoir starring Dustin Hoffman, Kathy Bates, Josh Lucas, and Debra Winger, based on the school, failed to gain national distribution after debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. The film featured performances by the choristers and appearances by staff members.

The choir is currently on tour in Texas. A quote from Mr. D’Avanzo’s letter demonstrates the gravity of the financial situation: “On Saturday, flight delays into Dallas caused an unexpected hotel stay, with our weary travelers arriving in Abilene after midnight,” he wrote. “Our hosts made arrangements and paid for the hotel. Thanks to their generous spirit, we avoided what could have been a damaging hit to our finances, and our boys performed for this appreciative audience at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.”

The Boychoir sold Albemarle, its longtime Princeton location, the former estate of pharmaceutical magnate Gerard Lambert, for $6 million in January of 2013. The school moved to the Princeton Center for Arts and Education, on the campus of the former St. Joseph’s Seminary on Mapleton Road in Plainsboro, where it became lead tenant on the multi-school campus it originally shared with the Wilberforce School and the French American School of Princeton. Wilberforce moved to West Windsor in September, 2014.

Members of the teachers’s union, Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA), and parent supporters turned out to celebrate Princeton’s “lighthouse district” schools last week just prior to the April 9 session between union negotiators and members of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE).

The event, described as a Community Unity Rally, brought a festive feeling to the lawn in front of the district administration building on Valley Road with more than 200 people attending.

They heard a statement from Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) read by Kari Osmond and remarks by guest speaker Shirley Satterfield; teacher Bryan McKenna played guitar and sang, and members of the Princeton University Juggling Club performed.

PREA solicited and received many donations from area businesses including Bon Appetit, Hoagie Haven, Terra Momo Learning Kitchen, Bai, Olives, House of Cupcakes, Tico’s Juice Bar, and Jazams, among others. Picture books were collected for the Princeton Nursery School and non-perishable food items for the Crisis Ministry of Mercer County.

PREA Chief Negotiator John Baxter and PREA President Joanne Ryan addressed the crowd before sitting down with their BOE counterparts. The two sides had failed to reach agreement when they met face-to-face on Thursday, March 26.

But some parents see the fact that the most recent negotiating sessions have been conducted without the help of state-appointed mediator Kathy Vogt, Esq. as a positive sign. Parent and Save our Schools member Jennifer Lea Cohan described the face-to-face nature of the meetings as “encouraging.”

This is the second time the two sides have met without Ms. Vogt since March 26, which BOE negotiator Patrick Sullivan described as “a constructive negotiation session” that had resulted in “material progress on the key issues of salary and benefits.” After the March 26 talks, Mr. Sullivan said “I think it is fair to say that both sides are happy with the progress we made last night.”

PREA negotiator Mr. Baxter seemed to agree. “The face-to-face negotiation session on March 26 was a more efficient, effective way of communicating and working compared to the mediation format,” he said. “Questions were asked and answers provided, or areas needing work to provide answers were identified.”

While neither side would reveal details of their recent talks, it seems clear that progress is being made. They are due to meet again today, April 15.

So far, neither side has requested to move to the fact-finding stage, which would follow mediation if no progress was being made.

Since July 1, teachers in Princeton’s public schools have been working under the terms of their previous 2011-2014 contract.

“Patrick [Sullivan] and I both feel that the parties made meaningful progress towards compromise on March 26 and again on April 9 with respect to the key open items of salaries and health benefits,” commented Board President Andrea Spalla yesterday. “The Board team is eager for our April 15 meeting so we can continue to work towards a resolution.”

April 8, 2015

Town Topics has moved from its most recent home on Witherspoon Street to the historic Union Line Building in Kingston.

“We outgrew our office on Witherspoon Street,” said publisher Lynn Adams Smith. “The move doubles our square footage, giving us ample storage for magazines and newspapers, and triples our number of parking spaces; it not only meets our current needs, it gives us room to expand.”

The move also takes Princeton’s Community Newspaper back into an historic building of similar vintage to the one it left eight years ago when it relocated from 4 Mercer Street. Town Topics had occupied the red-brick building that had previously been Priest’s Pharmacy, for most of the years since its founding in 1946 until 2007. Even today the site is referred to as “the old Town Topics building.”

That building and the paper’s new location stand almost as bookends to Princeton, one at the southern end of Nassau Street close to the intersection with Route 206 and the other on Route 27 just beyond the northern end of town at the crossroads in Kingston.

Founded by Princeton University graduates Donald Stuart and his brother-in-law Dan Coyle together with Don’s wife Emily and Dan’s wife Mary, Town Topics was run as a family business until it was sold to current publisher Lynn Adams Smith in 2001.

Ms. Smith took over the running of the paper with the help of a small group of newspaper employees and Princeton architect J. Robert Hillier, as investors. “I will always be appreciative that Jeb Stuart trusted me to carry on the Town Topics tradition and grateful to Bob for his support,” said Ms. Smith.

Having assured its former owners that Town Topics would retain its independence and not become part of a chain, Ms. Smith has maintained the  newspaper’s look while expanding into new print media. Town Topics is now part of the Witherspoon Media Group, which also publishes Princeton Magazine and Urban Agenda: New York City.

Light-filled Space

The newspaper’s new headquarters dates to 1878 when the Union Line Hotel was erected to serve stage coach traffic between Philadelphia and New York City. The hotel replaced an earlier hostelry, the Withington Inn, which had been destroyed by fire. More recently the building was home to Tuscan Hills.

According to historian Jeanette K. Muser, author of the 1998 pictorial history, Rocky Hill, Kingston and Griggstown, the new Town Topics building sits on what used to be known as the King’s Highway. Following the route of a once-narrow trail formed by Lenni Lenape traveling between the Delaware and Raritan rivers, the road linked New York City and Philadelphia. In 1913, it became part of the Lincoln Highway, the coast-to-coast road that was the result of a national effort to encourage automobile traffic. An interesting history by Ms. Muser of the Kingston area is available online: www.kingstongreenways.org/history.html.

Remodeled by owners Carlo and Raoul Momo in 2009, the building has 4,248 square feet of space on three floors with a basement. It retains its vintage appeal through custom mahogany doors, covered porches, and pine flooring.

“It is fabulous to have Town Topics here in Kingston where we opened our Eno Terra restaurant in 2008 as a companion to our Princeton restaurants; we feel that the histories of Kingston and Princeton are entwined. In fact if you consider that the king is traditionally more important than the prince, what does that tell you about Kingston?” said Raoul Momo.

The Momos are something of champions for the village of Kingston. If Raoul Momo had his way it would be annexed and joined to the municipality of Princeton. “The history of this place is amazing,” he enthused Tuesday while stopping by to welcome the new tenants, “but the bureaucratic hurdles are complex — Kingston comes under four municipalities: South Brunswick, Plainsboro, Franklin Township, and Princeton and it straddles three counties: Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset.”

As entrepreneurs, the Momo brothers faced numerous hurdles when they acquired Kingston’s former Wine Press building. Because there was insufficient parking to serve the anticipated needs of employees, they were required to buy the Union Line Hotel property at 4438 Route 27, which had ample parking in the rear.

Access to parking is now one of the aspects of the move to the new location most appreciated by Town Topics staffers. “It’s a relief to be able to throw away our complicated shared parking roster now that we have parking for everyone and for visitors too,” said Operations Manager Melissa Bilyeu, who has been with the company for more than a decade.

“The new building is filled with light from morning until we leave at night; it has so much more storage too,” said Ms. Bilyeu who coordinated the move from Witherspoon Street. “It was a challenge to get it all done smoothly but we did it and this new space will allow everyone to work at full capacity, and this location offers easy access to Princeton and to Route 1.”

The entire advertising department is located on the first floor in a large open-plan light-filled space with buttermilk yellow walls, masses of windows, a brick fireplace, and wide passageways. “It’s more our style,” said Advertising Director Robin Broomer, who has been with the company for 12 years.

“This space has a wonderful atmosphere and it’s so much easier to communicate with one another,” said newcomer Cybill Tascarella.

Kendra Russell, however, who’s been on the staff for a year and a half, is miffed that she can no longer cycle to work. “It’s not such a safe ride along route 27 but it’s worth it for the space.”

Jennifer Covill agreed. “This improved space is a reminder of how far we have come as Witherspoon Media Group. In the six years that I’ve worked here, we’ve evolved and that will continue here,” she said.

One other task the new tenants had was to have the building wired to meet the needs of a media company. That has pleased Steve Marks, who has been with the company for 12 years. As well as working in the composing room, he’s the go-to IT guy, so it’s no surprise that he thinks the most significant change at the newspaper in recent years is the addition of magazines and the newspaper’s online presence.

The best part of the move from Art Director Jeff Tryon’s point of view is having the writers and the production staff in adjoining rooms. “That’s good for productivity and once we get some carpeting to go under our chairs we’ll be able to stop rolling into the middle of the room,” he laughed. “One of the quirks of being in a historic building is that the floors are not exactly level,” said Mr. Tryon, who has been with Town Topics since 2010 and works on both magazines as well.

After 25 years with Town Topics, Julie Gonzalez-Lavin is one of the few staffers who remember the newspaper at the beginning of its transformation into the digital age. “I came in when Town Topics had just acquired its first computer and I recall the infamous ‘wing mailer,’” a mid-1940s labeling machine that was still in operation when Ms. Smith first joined the paper. “I got tennis elbow using that machine and it was a relief to my arm when the printer took on the task,” Ms. Smith recalled.

“It’s nice to be back in a building that has a rich history, and perhaps even a ghost or two; who knows; perhaps we’ll find out,” said Ms. Gonzalez-Lavin, referring to the legend that 4 Mercer Street is haunted by the ghost of Mrs. Priest, wife of the owner of Priest’s Pharmacy.

“Princeton is an incredible place, Town Topics’s readers are interested in issues that go well beyond municipal boundaries. Town Topics reaches many parts of the greater Princeton area. All of that will continue in our new location,” said Ms. Smith, adding that she will miss some aspects of the old location, such as “hearing and seeing the kids coming and going at Community Park School and witnessing the changes that are to come along the Witherspoon Street corridor.”

Distributed free to every household in Princeton, and to parts of Hopewell, West Windsor, Lawrence, Pennington, Skillman, and South Brunswick, Town Topics will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2016.

The newspaper will have a table at this year’s Communiversity on Sunday, April 26, from 1 to 6 p.m. and the staff invites readers to stop by and say hello. The same goes for the new building.

At a meeting of Princeton’s Board of Health on April 21, the public will have an opportunity to comment on an ordinance that would prohibit the sale of tobacco and nicotine delivery products to anyone under the age of 21. Introduced and unanimously approved by the Board last month, the ordinance is focused on cigarettes and e-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes), other smoking devices and forms of tobacco.

The ordinance would be enforced by the town’s Department of Health. Any retailer caught selling the products to those under 21 would be charged $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second, and $1,000 or more for subsequent violations.

“Princeton has always been at the forefront of prevention, especially when it comes to smoking and public health,” said Jeffrey Grosser, the town’s Health Officer. “This is one of those things that has so many benefits based upon how many people it will protect moving forward.”

Mr. Grosser cited a recent study by the Institute of Medicine that said extending the age to 21 would result in 50,000 fewer deaths from lung cancer for anyone born between the years 2000 and 2019. Teens aged 17 to 19 are particularly vulnerable when it comes to getting addicted to tobacco and nicotine products.

“We’ve noticed that 19 is really not good enough,” he said. “Eighty-five to 90 percent of people that become addicted are between 19 and 21. You do have a different sense of judgment when you hit 21. It’s a little different from 19.”

It would take several years to realize the public health benefits of raising the age, but they would be significant, according to the study. It estimates that between now and 2100, the effects of secondhand smoke on children would be lessened, and 286,000 fewer babies would be born prematurely.

E-cigarettes use a battery-powered vaporizer of nicotine and other liquids and flavorings (though some do not use nicotine). They were introduced in the United States in 2007. “The health effects of e-cigarettes are not clear, especially in terms of what the long-term ramifications are,” said Mr. Grosser. “People see it as a safe alternative, but we don’t necessarily know that it’s safe. And it can be a gateway into tobacco products.”

The state age requirement for buying tobacco products is currently 19. But individual towns can adopt their own ordinances. Princeton would be the fifth municipality in New Jersey to raise the minimum age to 21. Englewood was the first. New York City raised the age to 21 in 2013. A bill pending in the legislature would make New Jersey the first state to increase the legal age to 21.

Princeton was the first town in Mercer County to ban smoking on town property in March 2013. This includes municipal buildings, the community pools, parks, and recreation areas.

The Board of Health meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the East Conference Room of Monument Hall on Tuesday, April 21. The law, if adopted, would be put into effect 20 days later. “We’ve seen very good studies on the benefit of this to the community,” said Mr. Grosser. “The Board has been proactive on this, which is really good. I’m excited about it.”

The personal working library of famed deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) arrived at Princeton University’s Firestone Library just three weeks ago and scholarly blogs and social media sites are already buzzing with the news.

One Columbia University professor has called it “an inestimable treasure; working materials from the most important philosopher of reading of our times.”

“And all of that is before we’ve even finished bringing all the books out of their international shipping crates,” said librarian David Magier, who works in collection development. The collection is still being unpacked from giant wooden crates shipped air freight from Paris.

Researchers believe that access to central works in the Derrida collection will allow scholars and students to examine the development of the philosopher’s thinking in new ways. While Mr. Derrida’s papers are archived at the University of California, Irvine, the 13,800 collection of published books and other materials brought to Princeton will reveal what Derrida was reading.

And since Mr. Derrida actively engaged with the texts he read and covered pages with notes and cross-references, it is hoped that this material will reveal much about its owner. As Derrida himself said in an interview later in his life, his books bear “traces of the violence of pencil strokes, exclamation points, arrows, and underlining.”

“Reading marginal notes, we stand at the scholar’s shoulder and listen in on the discussion between scholar and author, as it takes place,” said Anthony Grafton, Henry Putnam University Professor of History. “It is wonderful, in an ironic way that would have appealed to no one more than Jacques Derrida, that scholars and students will be able to reconstruct his part in this great humanistic tradition in Firestone Library.”

“Derrida developed his own thought through a meticulous engagement with other thinkers, past and present, thinkers who at once constitute the Western traditions of philosophy and literature and defy them (indeed they constitute them in part because they defied them),” said Hal Foster, the University’s Townsend Martin, Class of 1917, Professor of Art and Archaeology, and co-director, Program in Media and Modernity. “What a boon it is for us at Princeton to have his notes on these thinkers and writers, to see the master of textuality perform, as it were, on other master texts.”

Known as the founder of “deconstruction,” an investigative technique that finds inherent contradictions in a subject as part of an analysis of meaning, in political institutions as well as texts, the famously controversial Algerian-born French philosopher is considered one of the most influential thinkers, writers, and critics in the fields of literary criticism, philosophy, art and architecture, linguistics, and political theory, among others.

According to Mr. Magier, the library acquisition is something of a coup. It belonged to Mr. Derrida’s widow Marquerite, who had kept his study and his vast collection wonderfully intact since his death. “A number of scholars eager to get this collection preserved and to make it broadly accessible for academic research approached us in the library and urged us to explore the possibility of acquiring the collection,” he said.

University representatives visited the Derrida home outside of Paris to examine the collection. “While there were many logistical complexities, the outcome in terms of the benefit for scholars everywhere is definitely worth it,” said Mr. Mangier.

The acquisitions process took more than a year of discussions and complex arrangements coordinated by the Collection Development Department. But now that the library is here, it is being unpacked, sorted, described, organized, preserved, and housed as speedily as possible so as to be available through Firestone Library’s department of rare books and special collections. With that, scholars will be able to “deconstruct” the philosopher’s own reading habits.

“Derrida’s working library fits perfectly with current interdisciplinary campus interest in understanding how an individual person’s library, particularly when it is significantly annotated as Derrida’s is, can be ‘unpacked’ and analyzed to track the development of his or her thinking as well as the role of reading and its connection to writing,” said Mr. Magier.

April 2, 2015

Princeton’s former Animal Control Officer (ACO) Mark Johnson has formally rejected the separation agreement he was offered by the municipality last month following his suspension in February.

Mr. Johnson confirmed yesterday by telephone that he had sent a letter on March 20 in advance of the March 23 deadline he had been given to accept or reject the separation agreement. He is being advised by attorney Donald Barbeti and declined to comment on the reason for what he calls his “termination” or on the terms offered in the separation agreement.

After being suspended with pay for a week beginning February 23, Mr. Johnson was off the municipal payroll by March 2. The reason for the suspension and the terms of his separation agreement have not been disclosed by officials.

At last week’s meeting of mayor and Council, municipal attorney Trishka Cecil said that in order to protect the animal control officer’s privacy, officials could not discuss the reasons for Mr. Johnson’s suspension or the separation agreement. She said, however, that the suspension was not due “to the issue with the deer summonses,” referring to tickets that Mr. Johnson had given to a local resident for allegedly feeding deer and interfering with a bait station. The charges against the local resident were dismissed in Princeton Municipal Court on the same day that Mr. Johnson was suspended.

With no an animal control officer in Princeton, the municipality has contracted with the neighboring town of Montgomery to share their animal control services until a replacement is hired. The contract, which is not to exceed $15,000, will run until June 30.

Residents have expressed doubts that their animal control needs will be met with this arrangement. “Mark was spread thin and the staff being brought in from Montgomery will have to cover Princeton as well as Montgomery,” said Edgerstoune Road resident Martha McKinnon in a telephone call to Town Topics.

Ms. McKinnon was one of a number of locals who turned out to show support for Mr. Johnson at last week’s meeting of the mayor and Council. They spoke about his knowledge, his respect for animals, and his helpfulness to residents. Several called for his reinstatement.

Mr. Johnson has served as Princeton’s Animal Control Officer for over two decades and is well-known to the community.

Voices of Support

Dawn Day has lived in Princeton for 38 years and has called upon the animal control officer several times. “He has always been conscientious and done a good job. How can be be let go?” she asked, adding that she is a supporter of the town’s animal control program. “A herd of six deer pass through my yard with some frequency and I am concerned that with the departure of Mr. Johnson, the deer management program will be eviscerated,” she said. “Who will give tickets to those people who are not in support of deer management?” she asked.

“With Mark Johnson gone, will his replacement have the confidence to write those tickets?” asked Ms. Day, raising the question about enforcing Princeton’s ban on feeding deer.

Town Administrator Marc Dashield was not available for comment for this article. In his absence, Financial Officer Kathryn Monzo said that “the deer feeding rules have not changed and will continue to be enforced.” She also said that the municipality will be “moving forward to find a permanent solution for Animal Control, and that most likely will be hiring a new ACO, but we will explore all options.” She was not allowed to discuss the terms of the separation agreement.

“What is being done to Mark Johnson is unfair; they are trying to force him out of his job; this is a huge injustice to a decent human being,” said Ms. McKinnon, adding that if Mr. Johnson needs someone to speak for him in court, she’d be willing to do so.

Town Topics has received letters to the editor in support of Mr. Johnson. Carolyn and Bruce ‘Rob’ Robertson of Mercer Street wrote of Mr. Johnson’s help “many times over the past 10 years or more with groundhogs and other animal concerns including the death of our cat. He has always quickly returned our calls for help and been professional, informative, and considerate of the animals in question.”

Thomas John Muza, 56, of Hightstown, appeared before Judge Timothy P. Lydon in Mercer County Superior Court last week. The former Triangle Club accountant, who also served for years as general manager of Princeton’s McCarter Theatre, pleaded guilty to a charge of “second-degree theft by unlawful taking.”

In pleading guilty, Mr. Muza, who was the Club’s accountant from 1993 until May 2013, admitted that between January 2008 and February 2013, he used his position to steal approximately $240,000, abusing his privilege as a signatory on the Club’s bank account.

An investigation into the Triangle Club’s finances by the law firm that serves as its counsel revealed that while being compensated for his work with an annual salary of $4,000, Mr. Muza wrote Triangle Club checks directly to himself and cashed them or deposited them into his personal bank account. The law firm contacted the Division of Criminal Justice and Mr. Muza was charged on November 27, 2013, and indicted on June 2, 2014.

The Princeton University Police Department provided assistance in the case with Detective James Lanzi handling the investigation. Deputy Attorney General Mark Kurzawa and Detective Benjamin Kukis conducted the investigation for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial and Computer Crimes Bureau and presented the case to the State Grand Jury.

It was discovered that Mr. Muza had used the stolen money primarily for living expenses, including credit card debt, mortgage payments and utility bills. In addition, he wrote Triangle Club checks to make direct payments on his personal credit cards.

Mr Muza was dismissed from his position with the independent nonprofit theater troupe shortly after discrepancies and suspicious expenditures were discovered in the troupe’s financial records. As a result of the theft investigation, he was removed from his position with the McCarter Theatre.

“Instead of exhibiting the loyalty he should have felt for this celebrated musical-comedy troupe after serving as their accountant for 20 years, Muza exploited the trust he had garnered by stealing nearly a quarter of a million dollars,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “This was a shameless betrayal.”

The Princeton Triangle Club, which was founded in 1891, has had a number of famous members through the years, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jimmy Stewart, José Ferrer, and Brooke Shields.

“The message here is that white collar crime does not pay,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Muza will pay back every dollar he stole, serve a state prison sentence, and carry a felony record with him the rest of his life.”

Mr. Muza is scheduled for sentencing on September 4. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that he be sentenced to three years in state prison and must pay restitution of $240,000, including $200,000 that he must pay at sentencing.

The Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free tip line (866) TIPS-4CJ for the public to report corruption, financial crime, and other illegal activities. Additionally, the public can log on to the Division of Criminal Justice webpage at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing. All information received through the tip line or webpage will remain confidential.

Representatives of both the teachers’ union, Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA), and the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) failed once again to agree on a contract when they met face to face Thursday, March 26.

In recent months the two sides have worked with state-appointed mediator Kathy Vogt, Esq., so it seemed to be a step toward conciliation when they agreed to sit down together.

“The parties had a constructive negotiation session and made material progress on the key issues of salary and benefits,” said BOE negotiator Patrick Sullivan Friday. “I think it is fair to say that both sides are happy with the progress we made last night.”

According to Mr. Sullivan, the two sides agreed to meet again with the help of mediator Vogt on April 9, which will be the fifth time they will have met with her. They have also scheduled an additional session on April 15 but it has yet to be determined whether this meeting will be with or without mediation.

PREA Chief Negotiator John Baxter and PREA President Joanne Ryan could not be reached for comment. Since July 1, teachers in Princeton’s public schools have been working under the terms of their previous 2011-2014 contract.

Ms. Vogt helped bring both sides together during negotiations for that contract and she agreed to a fifth session with both sides in an attempt to bring the two sides into agreement once again.

So far, the stumbling blocks to progress are health care and salary increases. PREA members have ceased to donate their time to non-paid extra-curricular activities and volunteer work.

Ms. Vogt’s services are provided at no cost to the district or to the teachers’s union; they are paid for by the state. But if no agreement is reached in mediation, a fact-finder would be called in to move the parties toward an agreement at a cost of $1,500 per day. The cost of a fact-finder would be split between the two parties.

The failure of the teachers’s union and the BOE to resolve their differences has provoked anger and sadness on the part of numerous parents, teachers, and district students in recent months who have appeared before members of the BOE to express their concerns and to beg both sides to compromise.

March 25, 2015

At its meeting Monday night, Princeton Council voted 4-2 to set aside $600,000 to acquire two lots at 31-33 Lytle Street, next to the Mary Moss Park, in the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood. Mercer County open space funding would finance part of the purchase.

While the original plan was to tear down the house that sits on the property and extend the adjacent, small park to include a “spray ground” and other improvements, Council has not decided the fate of the parcel because so many members of the community have spoken out against the plan.

Numerous residents of the neighborhood and other citizens, speaking at Monday’s meeting and at a separate meeting last week, have expressed a desire to see the house saved. Some urged that it be turned into units of affordable housing, while others have suggested different uses such as a type of museum of the neighborhood’s history. Princeton’s Historic Preservation Commission passed a resolution earlier this month encouraging the town to spare the house, which dates from 1870 and is said to be the oldest house on the street.

Resident Kip Cherry told Council that Habitat for Humanity is interested in rehabilitating the house, raising money from private donors and having volunteers handle the labor. The plumbing and electrical work would be done by licensed professionals. Town administrator Marc Dashield said he had spoken to the executive director of Habitat for Humanity, who had some concerns about the financing. To renovate the house, which is in disrepair, it would cost at least $200,000, he said.

The property is currently owned by developer Roman Barsky, who has had a demolition permit since October but has held off on tearing down the house to allow the governing body time to decide whether to purchase the lots. While Mr. Barsky can tear down the house at any time, and build new houses, Princeton’s municipal attorney Trishka Cecil told the Council that voting to introduce the ordinance would likely send the developer a message that the town is serious about the acquisition.

According to Ms. Cecil, it is not clear whether the municipality can purchase the property with open space funds, preserve it, and then sell it or turn it into affordable housing. The county cannot contribute to the purchase if the house is still standing on the property, and that doubles the cost for the town, Mayor Liz Lempert said, adding, “From my perspective, if we’re buying it with open space money, I believe there is an expectation from the public that the building would be a public building and would be open to the public.”

Princeton resident Daniel Harris said local citizens will meet with Mr. Barsky this week to tell him of their hopes for the property. The Trenton-based community development organization Isles “has not been approached, but they are on our radar,” he said. Heidi Fichtenbaum, another local resident, said the issue is about more than just saving a building “Sustainability encompasses not only our natural environment, but our cultural environment,” she said.

Council member Jenny Crumiller introduced a motion to table the vote, but no other members seconded that motion. “I think we owe it to the people to table it and give them time to come up with a solution,” she said. “I made a radical shift in my thinking because I thought everybody would be happy about it. I’m definitely having second thoughts.”

Councilman Lance Liverman said that while he supports affordable housing, spending $600,000 for this property to turn it into affordable housing is not worth it. But he would be willing to listen to ideas for a partnership.

The governing body voted to table a vote on the issue earlier this month. Council president Bernie Miller stressed that by voting to introduce the ordinance, “we’re just putting the funds in place. Tabling it means we bring it up again, which probably defers action for another five or six weeks,” he said.

Councilman Patrick Simon said he was saddened by the situation because “we’ve been asked to deliver something we can’t deliver in a fiscally responsible way. The house is simply not worth it. The people who are pushing for this are going to have to come up with a solution,” he said. “Give us time,” yelled Mr. Harris.

Mr. Simon and Ms. Crumiller voted against the introduction, while the rest of the Council voted in favor.


The Council voted unanimously to introduce Princeton’s 2015 budget, which is $60.9 million and includes a tax rate increase of 1.6 cents. Homeowners with an average home assessed at $800,560 could expect to have their municipal tax bills raised by $147, said the town’s administrator Marc Dashield, who presented the budget to Council.

“It continues to maintain or increase services at financially sustainable levels,” he said. Different departments prepared their baseline budgets as part of the process, and help was provided by the volunteer Citizens Finance Advisory Committee (CFAC). Last year’s plan for spending was $59.2 million. If the proposed budget is passed, it will bring the municipal tax rate back to where it was in 2010, Mayor Lempert said.

A public hearing for the budget will take place at the April 27 Council meeting.

Princeton’s Planning Board voted unanimously last week in favor of a plan to allow a 7-Eleven to move into the former West Coast Video location at 259 East Nassau Street. The convenience store would be located in the front of the building, while the Princeton branch of the U.S. Post Office would move into the rear. The Post Office would vacate its long-time location on Palmer Square.

The Nassau Street property has been mostly vacant for a decade. Owned by the Bratman family, who ran a Viking Furniture store there for several years, it was originally an auto dealership in the 1920’s and has also housed a Johanna Farms, Eckerd Drugs, Wawa convenience store, and a laundromat during the past decades.

The store would occupy 4,945 square feet, while the post office would take up 3,505 square feet. 7-Eleven would not alter the footprint of the building, but plans to make small improvements, said the town’s planning director Lee Solow, at the meeting March 19. The parking lot would be resealed and restriped.

Additional landscaping would be added to act as a buffer to homes on Murray Place that back up to the site. Some residents of that street voiced concerns at the meeting, particularly about lighting, privacy, and the possibility of rats and other vermin around the garbage disposal area. “Please investigate this personally before you decide,” said resident Elizabeth Chang, who was especially worried about the height of the buffer zone.

The convenience store was represented at the meeting by an attorney, engineer, and traffic consultant. Stuart Kimmel of the 7-Eleven company told one resident who was concerned about children crossing the street in front of the store that stop signs and a striped crosswalk are part of the plan. He assured those worried about the garbage bins that trash would be picked up two or three times a week. He also said he understands the neighbors’ concerns.

“We don’t want rodents,” he said. “That doesn’t help our business. We are not going to allow an overflow situation. We will increase the pickups if needed.”

Since the early 20th century, Princeton University has owned a driveway that runs between the property and the one next door, which is owned by Lou Carnevale and most recently housed the Wild Oats market. Since a lot of foot and bicycle traffic is expected at the site, the town asked 7-Eleven to consider installing a sidewalk from Nassau Street into the site and through to the University, at the rear of the property. Planner David Cohen and resident Kip Cherry each expressed concerns about traffic jams because of cars entering and exiting the site.

The 7-Eleven would be open according to the town’s ordinance, adopted in December, that prohibits any retail establishment touching a residential zone from operating between the hours of two and five a.m. The post office would have hours between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. It would be closed Sundays.

While contract negotiations between the teachers’s union and the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) have taken center stage at recent public Board meetings, those between the district’s food service workers and their employer Nutri-Serve seem to have dropped out of sight.

The district’s food service workers have been hoping that their union, Local 32 BJ Service Employees International Union, will come to an agreement on a contract dispute with Nutri-Serve that began shortly after the company took over management of school food services last year.

In June 2014, the BOE unanimously approved a $61,245 food service contract with Nutri-Serve Food Management, Inc. for the 2014-15 school year. Existing cafeteria staff were offered jobs with the new contractor, which replaced Chartwells School Dining Services, which had served Princeton’s schools for 15 years.

Nutri-Serve was contracted for one year with the option for four additional one-year renewals.

Although the BOE has repeatedly pointed out that it is not a party to the negotiations between the company it hired and its employees, a number of food service workers have appealed to the Board to intercede on their behalf at recent meetings.

Many of the school cafeteria workers earn in the region of $9 an hour and have been serving food to Princeton’s school children for more than a decade. They claim that Nutri-Serve has not only taken away their health insurance and sick day benefits, it has been disrespectful to their needs. According to their union, Nutri-Serve unilaterally and unlawfully changed the terms of its contract with the employees.

Union representatives last met with the company on February 23 but as yet no further meeting has yet been scheduled.

“The Union sets the schedule for our meetings which have so far been held at the Princeton Public Library,” said Karen Maier, founder, owner, and president of Nutri-Serve. “The negotiations started last August and the meetings take place when the Union rep Edith Villavicencio is available; she has a lot to do and isn’t always available,” said Ms. Maier.

Despite being advised by her lawyer not to talk to the press, Ms. Maier spoke candidly with Town Topics about the dispute, the only union negotiation that the company is involved in.

According to Ms. Maier, an unfair labor practice suit that the union filed against her company was dismissed; the union filed an appeal on March 6. Ms. Maier, who has been working in the school food service industry since 1976, launched Nutri-Serve 28 years ago from the second bedroom of her condominium home. Today, the company serves some 78,000 children every day and over 60 percent of the company’s business is contract work with boards of education.

As far as Ms. Maier is concerned, the operations in Princeton’s schools are fine. “We hired a bi-lingual manager Joel Rosa and we have good relations with the employees,” she said. And while she believes progress has been made in the negotiations, with some better benefits being offered, she reports that holidays are the “hold up” for employees who work for 180 days in the year.

“But morale-wise things are good and we have a nice relationship with the employees,” said Ms. Maier. “We’ve made a good faith effort and our operation is working, the workers get sick days and we are providing health benefits.” The company has also provided more staff training.

“Our employees are really nice people, they gave gifts to our managers at Christmas time; they are family people who love children and need their jobs. I’m available, they can talk to me if they want to,” said the business owner who pointed out that a union contract is not essential for operations to continue.

Ms. Maier laughed at the accusation made in the public comment session at last month’s Board meeting that Nutri-Serve is a “union-busting organization.” “That’s ridiculous, we aren’t some big international operation, we’re regional,” she said of the company which is headquartered in Burlington Township.

“I respect unions, my brother is a union electrician. We’ve been respectful to them, even offering to go into mediation, which they declined,” said Ms. Maier. “It’s up to the Union to set the date for the next talks.”

Ms Maier makes no apology for being “proactive” when it comes to feeding children in a nutritious way and saving money so that more district spending can go toward education. “Look at my mission statement,” she said. “I wrote that myself and a third of it concerns our employees. This is my life. I care about children and about employees.

Nutri-Serve’s Mission Statement reads: “To provide nutritious, high quality food and customer service by a food service staff who model a professional attitude. They are guided by a teamwork approach to management. This results in satisfied customers and a more effective program saving taxpayers money. Nutri-Serve Food Management is a responsive company with the support system and integrity to best meet the needs of our employees and clients.”

Town Topics contacted 32 BJ representative Edith Villavicencio and received this statement from the Union’s Vice President and New Jersey State Director Kevin Brown: “Food service workers provide nourishment and a clean and safe environment for students, but they can barely feed their own families when wages don’t keep up with increasing costs. In a caring and affluent community like Princeton, why is it that food service workers must struggle to make ends meet? These hardworking men and women need a living wage, paid holidays, and benefits that allow them to provide for their families. Their children deserve a bright future just like the Princeton students they serve with pride and dedication.”

According to a union spokesperson, “a fair deal has not been offered” as yet and the workers continue to hope for “a fair contract with wage increases, health insurance, and paid holidays.”

Asked whether it was likely that the district would be renewing its contract with Nutri-Serve, BOE Secretary Stephanie Kennedy said that would be her recommendation to Superintendent Steve Cochrane and the Board. “New food service managing companies generally need more than one year to be settled in to a district,” she said in an email. “It is fair to allow Nutri-Serve the opportunity to return.”

March 18, 2015

Michael Graves spent the last 12 years of his life in a wheelchair. But the spinal cord infection that left him paralyzed from the waist down did not keep the renowned architect from continuing to create innovative designs for buildings and household products. In fact, say his former colleagues at Michael Graves & Associates on Nassau Street, being wheelchair-bound served as an inspiration.

“When Michael became paralyzed in 2003, he realized he had an incredible expertise as an architect and designer to make a major impact on the world’s healthcare,” said Karen Nichols, an architect and principal in the firm. “A few days before he died, he was in Washington participating on the United States Access Board that President Obama had appointed him to, looking at accessibility issues in architecture and transportation.”

Mr. Graves’s death on March 12 came as a shock to his family and colleagues. But while his passing was unexpected, the firm Mr. Graves founded in 1964 had a succession plan in place. Joe Furey, the company’s chief financial officer and principal, has been working on the plan since joining the company just over seven years ago. The company has about 60 employees and is about to hire several more.

“I had a conversation with Michael several years ago on the final wrap up of the succession planning,” he said. “I mentioned to him, ‘The firm is coming up on 50 years. Wouldn’t it be cool if 100 years from now this place is still going strong?’ He got a smile on his face from ear to ear. I really believe he wanted that.”

Mr. Graves was on the faculty of Princeton University’s School of Architecture for nearly four decades. “I’ve been amazed that in what’s been written about him, more attention hasn’t been paid to his career as a teacher,” said Robert Geddes, the school’s former dean and now the William Kennan Professor Emeritus. “It was an extraordinary 40 years of leadership and really high devotion to teaching. From the moment I met him, I knew he had extraordinary talent, and he used those skills in teaching.”

Mr. Geddes continued, “In his early career he was so devoted to Matisse and Cubism and seeing the world from the explorations of modernism. He was a splendid teacher and colleague in that respect. We had courses on visual studies, drawing, and he was right on concerning the importance of drawing — the connection between the eye and the hand and the mind.”

Princeton-based architect Michael Farewell was one of Mr. Graves’s students and an intern at his firm. “His impact as a teacher and mentor matched his work as an artist,” he said. “His passion for drawing, for the close relationship between the eye and the hand, connected his work deeply to architectural history and the exploration of form. And because drawing was at the center of his way of working, he pushed his students to connect to these rich traditions in their own work. Like all great teachers, he taught through the extraordinary conviction of his work.”

Princeton architect J. Robert Hillier (a Town Topics shareholder), a member of the core faculty of the School of Architecture, knew Mr. Graves for decades. “Michael Graves’s life and work are truly remarkable in that he created his own unique architectural language which was relatively simple to build, somewhat pragmatic, and always colorful,” he said. “Though a competitor, I always admired him as a consummate professional and a huge talent.”

Mr. Geddes also praised Mr. Graves’s renovation of the Arts Council of Princeton building on Witherspoon Street. “With all of this stuff about globalization, local knowledge is important,” he said. “His one building in Princeton for the Arts Council is excellent. My judgment for it is not only in its formal characteristics, sitting as it does on the corner with various entrances and the fact that it is an addition to an existing building. But the proof of the patina is use. You just feel from the way the banners are up and the displays are there and the people are sitting on it that it is really beloved. It’s local and it’s very, very good.”

Mr. Graves’s paintings were the subject of an exhibit at Rider University a few years ago. “He loved to paint,” said Ms. Nichols. “From the time he was in Rome as a student from 1960 to 1962, he did beautiful drawings and paintings. He also painted murals in many of his buildings. And since his paralysis, when he had to give up golf, he started to paint more and more. He did it every weekend. It just became a continuation of the things he loved.”

The fact that Mr. Graves died in his home, surrounded by the things he loved, is a comfort to Ms. Nichols and others who knew him. “When he was first paralyzed, he spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals,” she said. “And he used to say, ‘I can’t die in here. It’s too ugly,’”

For more on Michael Graves, see the obituary on page 37.

If the average Princeton home owner could guarantee that all students at Princeton High School could have all the teaching they needed for a few dollars more on their annual property tax bill, would they begrudge the extra amount?

This was one consideration among many that came up when members of the Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) got down to the nitty-gritty with Superintendent Steve Cochrane and Board Secretary Stephanie Kennedy at a budget workshop last Thursday in advance of Tuesday night’s Board meeting.

The BOE was scheduled to vote on a tentative school budget that, if approved, could see local property taxes increase beyond the two percent cap mandated by the state. The increase is possible because the district is eligible for waivers due to increased costs of healthcare and rising enrollment. Although the vote took place after Town Topics press deadline, budget details were posted on the district’s website Friday.

“School budgets are not about dollars, they are about children; they are about balancing priorities,” said Mr. Cochrane at the annual workshop, which was open to and attended by members of the public and teachers.

The district’s goals, said Mr. Cochrane, included: maintaining class sizes in the face of rising enrollment; a fair and reasonable salary increase for all staff; and limiting the impact on tax payers.

“We budget as tight as we can on non-instructional items before we go to instructional items,” said Ms. Kennedy, who described the budget as “fluid,” constantly being adjusted and reviewed during a process that starts in fall and culminates in a tentative proposal for the annual budget workshop in March.

This year, she said, the Board had to decide whether to go above the state-mandated two percent cap on property taxes by means of two state-approved waivers: a health benefit waiver amounting to $413,110 and a rising enrollment waiver which would amount to some $1.7 million.

The district is eligible for the health waiver, which it last qualified for in 2011-12, because of increased health benefits costs. In that year, taxes also increased beyond the two percent cap to 2.85 percent. The district is eligible for the enrollment waiver because of an increase in the number of students. It is anticipated that 60 students will be added at the high school alone said Mr. Cochrane.

The enrollment waiver could be raised in its entirety during the 2015-16 tax year or over the course of the next three years. Ms. Kennedy advised that taking the entire amount in the first year might not be approved at the county level. Her recommendation was to apply the full health benefit waiver and a portion of the rising enrollment waiver, roughly one third of the $1.7 million that could be raised through the eligible cap adjustment. The money raised in the first year would be used to pay for textbooks (approximately $92,500), computers (approximately $92,500), and to hire three new teachers at the high school (approximately $240,000).

At the workshop, Ms. Kennedy sought direction from Board members as to their preferences with respect to balancing the budget. The pros and cons of various strategies were discussed at length along with the impact on taxes to Princeton homeowners.

Tax Impact

If the tentative budget with the two waivers was approved at Tuesday’s meeting, the average homeowner with a property valued at $800,560 would see an annual increase in property taxes of $179 as opposed to an increase of $141 if the two percent cap was maintained. With both waivers in play, the tax levy would be 2.39 percent.

After Mr. Cochrane had described a list of new staffing requests amounting to $734,000 from Princeton’s school principals, Board member Patrick Sullivan wondered what the impact on taxes would be if the district were to add more of the items from the district’s “wish list.” What would be the impact of adding a teacher to the high school? A teacher with a health care plan was estimated to cost some $80,000, which would mean another three dollars on the annual tax bill of the average Princeton homeowner, taking the increase from $179 to $181. Board members differed as to whether they thought this would be acceptable to taxpayers.

Board member Tom Hagedorn, addressing Mr. Cochrane, said: “Our first obligation is to protect students and we appreciate your consideration of taxpayers but if there are real needs we should address them.”

According to BOE President Andrea Spalla, Mr. Cochrane, Ms. Kennedy and individual Board members would “welcome input from the public via email” in advance of their final budget approval vote scheduled to take place at a public hearing on April 28.

One member of the public questioned the district’s timeline. “Why is the vote on the final budget taken on the same evening that members of the public are invited to give public comment,” she asked, suggesting that the Board might benefit from public comment well before it has to give final approval rather than just prior to the vote.

Town Topics put this question to Ms. Spalla, who explained by email that the annual budget process and timeline “is based on key dates as set by state law and regulations.”

“Stephanie and her staff do an immense amount of work to develop the draft budget in preparation for the budget workshop, and many key dollar numbers (healthcare cost estimates, state aid amounts, charter school obligations, to name the biggest) are not even received by the district until late February or the first week of March,” she said. “Until those amounts are received and confirmed, Stephanie cannot begin the many analyses required for the Board’s budget discussions. Thus, our budget workshop — which has to happen before tentative budget approval — could not have occurred any earlier than this past week.”

“The deadline by which tentative budgets must be approved by the Board and then submitted to the Executive County Superintendent is March 20,” she continued, adding that members of the public are welcome to offer suggestions to Ms. Kennedy, Superintendent Cochrane and BOE Members before the budget is submitted to the county for approval on that date.

Members of the public have six weeks to review and comment on the budget before it is finalized by the Board on April 28.

March 11, 2015

The Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society (PBS) is preparing to file an appeal of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission’s approval of the Institute for Advanced Study’s plans to build faculty housing on land adjacent to Princeton Battlefield Park.

Calling the DRCC approval an “illegal do-over,” PBS attorney Bruce Afran said Monday that he would file the appeal later this week.

In January, the DRCC, which oversees and manages the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park and protects the streams that feed into the canal, heard arguments from PBS that construction at the site would negatively impact wetlands. The site borders a stream corridor and comes close to wetlands overseen by the DRCC. After reviewing the Institute’s plans and hearing from both sides, the DRCC voted on the issue. The six commissioners present voted 3-2 in favor of the IAS. There was one abstention. According to the DRCC’s rules, four votes are necessary for approval. So, the IAS plans failed to gain the approval sought.

In February, the DRCC commissioner Mark Texel, who had abstained in January brought a motion to reconsider the previous month’s vote. With this second vote, the Institute’s plans were approved 5-2.

Mr. Texel is a state park service director and the change brought about by his reopening the matter has caused some concern.

Mr. Afran’s appeal of the DRCC decision will be based on the illegality of revoting after the agency had denied the application. “It is illegal for a member like Mr. Texel to re-open the vote on the grounds he gave. The only time a vote can be reconsidered is if there is a change of fact. Otherwise there would be no end to the process. Agency decisions are and must be final.”

When Mr. Texel asked the DRCC to reconsider the IAS plans in February, he gave the following explanation of his January abstention: “I believed on that day, as I do still today, that the project as presented by the applicant [IAS] fully complies with our commission’s regulations. As you recall, at last month’s meeting, I abstained from voting on the motion on the floor at that time to approve the proposal. I did so based on comments by our commissioners prior to the roll call vote that there were already sufficient votes in support of the proposal for it to pass without my vote needed. Therefore, I chose to abstain from voting out of respect to the objector, the Princeton Battlefield Society, which has been a very strong and faithful non-profit partner of the State Park Service. However, I believe the appropriate outcome is that this project be approved because it does comply with the D&R Canal Commission’s regulations. Therefore, I respectfully request reconsideration of the proposal so that I may cast my vote in support of it.”

Mr. Texel’s explanation has prompted cries of ”foul” from some quarters, along with questions about a process that would make “every agency vote subject to change.”

“An agency vote is final” said Mr. Afran. “The only time it gets reconsideration is if there is fraud or a fact was misunderstood. In this case there was no misunderstanding of the facts.”

“The IAS appears to have lobbied to get the vote changed and at some point they have to consider that what they are doing is historically and environmentally damaging,” he said.

Taking his criticisms a step further, Mr. Afran said: “This type of manipulation is common in New Jersey and this is why we have an independent court system. Across the state there are some 1500 planning, zoning, and governing bodies that are manned by unpaid volunteers who can be pressured and manipulated. The DRCC is an environmental agency. This governor favors development. He’s been trying to put pro-development commissioners on the DRCC and saw an opportunity in his bid for the presidency to curry favor with an important institution and to turn the DRCC.”

Chris Tarr, attorney for the Institute for Advanced Study would not comment for this article.

The Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society (PBS), which has long opposed the Institute’s plans to build seven single-family homes and two four-unit townhouses on environmental grounds and because, they contend, it would destroy a part of the battlefield where British and American forces fought in January 1777 during the Revolutionary War.

On behalf of PBS, Mr. Afran also filed an appeal in Mercer County Superior Court, Monday, March 2, of the Princeton Planning Board’s unanimous approval of the development last November.

Of the two appeals, Mr. Afran believes that the one against the DRCC is the more important. “If overturned, it would leave the Institute with few options,” he said. “Even so, it isn’t clear that the IAS can go ahead anyway, since they still have to demonstrate that they can engineer a way to keep drainage pipes out of the stream corridor. Our engineer has advised us that this would be impossible without a wall being moved some 20 feet and that would constitute a major redesign which would have to go back to the planning board.”

“This story is in its beginning stages” said Mr. Afran.

While Institute spokesperson Christine Ferrara declined further comment Tuesday, March 10, she reiterated the Institute’s pleasure of the DRCC’s approval of its “fully compliant faculty housing plans.”

“With the DRCC’s approval, we may now move to complete the other procedural steps necessary to officially begin the project,” she said, adding that with respect to the drainage pipes mentioned by Mr. Afran. “The nature of the DRCC’s approval is that we do not intrude into the corridor and we will not.”

Princeton Board of Education (BOE) will hold its annual budget workshop in the Valley Road Administration Building Thursday, March 12, at 7 p.m. The public meeting, which is not routinely televised, will provide an opportunity for Princeton residents to learn about the school’s budget.

The Christie Administration has just released state school-aid figures for the fiscal year 2016 and announced that all school districts will continue to receive as much K-12 aid as they did last year, including the continuation of the Per-Pupil Growth Aid and PARCC Readiness Aid.

According to the state website (www.state.nj.us), which shows district-by-district allocations, state-aid for Princeton in 2015-16 will be $3,429,578.

Thursday’s workshop will share details of “where we started and where we are now in the budget process,” said Board Secretary Stephanie Kennedy.

The school budget process is of particular concern to property tax payers and teachers alike. The BOE has been embroiled in ongoing contract negotiations with the teachers’s union Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) since their contract expired at the end of the 2013-14 school year. Both sides have been working with state-appointed mediator Kathleen Vogt since last December.

On February 17, they had a fourth session with Ms. Vogt, who has advised confidentiality throughout the process. A fifth session with Ms. Vogt is scheduled for April 9. In the interim, both sides have agreed to meet face to face without mediation on Thursday, March 26.

At the Board of Education’s monthly meeting in February, Board President Andrea Spalla reminded both sides that Ms. Vogt’s services are being provided at no cost to the district and that if a satisfactory end to the process is not reached with Ms. Vogt’s help, the negotiations would move to the “fact-finding stage.” The fact-finding process, said Ms. Spalla, could take anywhere between six to 12 months and the per diem cost of $1,500 would be split by the district and the PREA.

One point of contention between the Board and PREA was brought up during that meeting’s public comment session when Princeton teacher and PREA negotiator John Baxter questioned the Board’s claim that it must not exceed the 2 percent cap on budget increases. Mr. Baxter said that there was an exemption in the case of money used for increased health care costs. “If I am wrong, correct me,” said Mr. Baxter.

In response to Mr. Baxter’s remark, Ms. Kennedy called it “incorrect.”

Asked for clarification by Town Topics via email, Ms. Kennedy explained further: “John [Baxter] implied that the Board could simply increase the tax levy cap if they chose to. Fact is, there are few possibilities for increasing the tax levy cap — one is enrollment and the second is a health benefit waiver. Both opportunities are calculated through the budget software. So although it is possible, it is driven [by] many cost factors, not the board’s desire to just increase the levy. If a waiver is permissible then the Board would have to ‘decide’ to use the waiver. Any waiver is applied to the entire revenue detail and is part of the whole budget; it is not used in isolation.”

Chances are that questions about such a waiver will come up at Thursday’s budget workshop.

One other way to increase the tax levy, said Ms. Kennedy, is through a Second Question which would have to be voted on by the community in a November election. In such a case, the levy would follow rather than precede the budget process and, therefore, according to Ms. Kennedy, could not be applied until after a positive election result.

Do Teachers Matter?

Also speaking in the public session at last month’s board meeting were several teachers, many of whom described the hardship incurred by the increased burden on them of medical insurance costs. One said that she had advised her daughter that teaching was no longer a good career option. Another described living “paycheck to paycheck.” Addressing the Board, she said, “This Board has dug in its heels and teachers in Princeton have their backs against the wall.”

“This Board did not create Princeton’s ‘Lighthouse District,’ they inherited it from those who came before,” said another. “Please protect the legacy of public education in Princeton.”

One 20-year district veteran said she was “baffled” by what was happening. “Either the district does not fully understanding or is blatantly disregarding what we do,” she said. “Why is the Board treating us like we no longer matter?”

The BOE also heard from cafeteria workers unhappy with the ongoing negotiations between their union, Local 32 BJ Service Employees International, and Nutri-Serve, the company hired last year by the district to operate school cafeterias. Describing the negotiations as “one-sided,” one worker said the company “wants to go backwards instead of forward.”

On the other hand, Ms. Spalla described “positive” negotiations with PRESSA (Princeton Regional Educational Support Staff Association). “Significant progress was made by the parties towards an agreement,” said Ms. Spalla, adding that talks would continue today, March 11.

The Board’s negotiating team is also scheduled to meet with members of the Princeton Administrators Association, which represents principals, assistant principals, and supervisors, on March 24.

A vote to approve an ordinance that would allow Princeton to purchase a property in the Witherspoon/Jackson neighborhood and expand the adjacent Mary Moss Park was tabled by Council Monday night, following a round of objections from neighborhood residents and historic preservation advocates.

The property at the corner of Lytle and John streets is next to the small park, which has a wading pool that is said to be deteriorating and unsafe. Under the proposal, the town would appropriate $600,000 from the Princeton Open Space Trust Fund to purchase the plot from R.B. Homes, and tear down the existing house on the property to make room for a “spray ground” for children.

At a press conference earlier in the day, Mayor Liz Lempert expressed enthusiasm about the proposal, which has been under consideration for over a year. But opponents of the idea, some of whom had just attended a meeting of the town’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), were quick to express their concerns at the evening meeting. The HPC had just passed a resolution recommending to Council that they purchase the land but not tear down the house, which was built in 1870 and is “really just a classic of that period,” said Princeton resident John Heilner during the public comment period. “If you tear it down, you will actually be destroying a significant piece of history.”

Several opposed to the demolition said they would like to see the house saved and turned into two units of affordable housing. “Purchase the property but do not tear the house down to expand Mary Moss Park,” said Hendricks Davis, who lives across the street. “There is a tremendous need for affordable housing in this community, and not just in our neighborhood.” His sentiments were echoed by former Mayor Jim Floyd, Princeton resident Kip Cherry, and others.

Some Council members had reservations. “I will say that spending $600,000 plus the cost of rehabilitation is a lot to pay for two units of affordable housing,” said Council president Bernie Miller. Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said it was unlikely that the house could be turned into affordable housing. “I support the idea of the park but I am taken aback by the comments tonight,” she said. “I would want to table this to have discussions with the neighbors.”

Councilman Lance Liverman said he is in favor of the plan to tear the house down and build a spray park. “This house was going to be torn down before we got involved,” he said. “We felt that for the good of the community, this would be a park where children and families could go. I don’t think this program has to say we don’t support affordable housing. We do support it. This park would be an asset to the community. I’m for this project.”

Councilwoman Jo Butler, who is the liaison to the HPC, said using the building for affordable housing is only one option. Mayor Lempert commented that the Witherspoon/Jackson area is one of the town’s densest neighborhoods, and the spray park would provide a service for a lot of children.

R.B. Homes has filed for demolition permits with the town, said Municipal Engineer Bob Kiser. “We would have no reason to deny them,” he said, because all of the requirements have been met. The owner could raze the house and build something in its place if the town decides not to purchase the property, a possibility that worried people at the meeting.

The matter will be taken up again at the next Council meeting on March 23.

Council also heard an update on the 2015 budget, which is on track to be introduced at the next meeting. The budget currently totals approximately $60.9 million, Princeton Administrator Marc Dashield said. That figure represents a rise from $59.2 last year, which Mr. Dashield attributed to a new trash removal contract, health and liability insurance, and higher capital debt, salary, and wages.

A discussion of signage in town, which has been under consideration by the code review committee working on harmonizing ordinances of the former Borough and Township, drew comments from merchants and residents. Ms. Crumiller, a member of the committee, said that while changes to permanent signs were not being proposed, temporary signage was another matter. The issue will be raised at a meeting of the Princeton Merchants Association before recommendations are made.

March 4, 2015

Princeton’s Animal Control Officer Mark Johnson has been suspended as of Monday, February 23, the same day on which charges brought by Mr. Johnson against Littlebrook Road resident Edward Linky were dismissed in Princeton Municipal Court.

The timing of the suspension raised the question as to whether there was any connection between it and the dismissal of the case against Mr. Linky who was given two tickets by Mr. Johnson on February 8.

When asked, neither Police Chief Nick Sutter nor Town Administrator Marc D. Dashield would comment on a purported connection between Mr. Johnson’s suspension and the dismissal of the case brought against Mr. Linky. “Because your question is related to an on-going personnel issue, I am not at liberty to respond at this time,” said Mr. Dashield. “Mr. Johnson has been suspended with pay pending the outcome of his personnel process. In fairness to all involved I cannot comment any further at this time.”

What is clear is that Mr. Johnson issued two tickets to Mr. Linky, one for feeding deer and the other for interfering with a bait station, located on Littlebrook Road. After the tickets had been issued, they were questioned by a local resident in a telephone call to the Princeton Police Department.

“The Department had concerns about the charges as filed,” said Mr. Sutter, Monday. “And this was brought to the attention of the prosecutor as is required; the prosecutor then presented those facts to the court and requested that the charges be dismissed.” The charges against Mr. Linky, who appeared in court Monday, February 23, were indeed dismissed. Later that day Mr. Johnson was suspended on full pay.

Born and raised in Hopewell, where his father had been animal control officer, Mr. Johnson has served Princeton in that capacity for over two decades. He was certified in 1991 after attending animal control school and then added certification in animal cruelty investigation a decade later, allowing him to do similar work at the SPCA [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals].

Besides handling incidents of unwelcome bats intruding into people’s homes, cats stuck in trees, groundhogs tunneling beneath backyards, snakes making themselves comfortable in basements, and unusual wildlife sightings, over the years he’s had to investigate dogs locked in hot cars, and even dog fights. He also keeps track of local deer, foxes, coyotes, and bear sightings.

What Is a Bait Station?

A municipal ordinance prohibits anyone from interfering with bait stations that are set up to attract deer so that they can be captured and euthanized. Princeton’s deer culling operation has several such stations. The technique, it has been argued, is more effective and more humane than allowing an excess numbers of white-tailed deer to starve or be killed in road accidents.

The bait station that Mr. Linky had allegedly interfered with is located on Littlebrook Road. Perhaps the more important question raised by this incident, is why a bait and deer culling station is located in a residential area not too far from a neighborhood school?

Princeton Council’s vote last week to table an ordinance that would replace street parking on Hamilton Avenue with bike lanes on both sides was met with relief by some, particularly residents who do not want their parking privileges taken away. While many of those who spoke out against the ordinance say they have nothing against making the town more bike-friendly, they see removal of on-street parking not only an inconvenience, but an issue of safety.

On the other side of the issue, there is the town’s active and growing community of cyclists. Several testified at the February 24 Council meeting that removing the parking to build bike lanes on both sides of the roadway would, in fact, make the street safer in the long run. While some see the governing body’s decision as a temporary roadblock, others find the action discouraging.

“The thought of cycling on busy Princeton roads is a scary prospect for many local residents, and this vote adds to a long history of failure to make streets safe for everybody,” said Sam Bunting, who is stepping down from the Princeton Pedestrian and Bicycling Advisory Committee (PPBAC) and Traffic Transportation Committee. “What the Council members are trying to call a ‘compromise’ is really yet another cop out. Maybe this is what Princeton wants, but we cannot complain about traffic and parking if we are only willing to do the absolute minimum to facilitate residents who choose other ways of getting around,” he said in an email.

Cyclists say that bike lanes promote safety because a person riding a bike in a designated bike lane is predictable to drivers and does not pose a risk to those walking on sidewalks. This makes bike lanes a help not only to cyclists, but to drivers and pedestrians.

“I think that everybody who got up to speak in favor of the ordinance is a confident enough cyclist so that they were not advocating for the bike lanes for themselves,” said David Cohen, a member of the PPBAC. “I’m trying to help people understand that installing bike lanes is not just for cyclists. It’s for motorists and pedestrians, too. The way it is right now when I ride around town, I get yelled at by motorists if I’m in the auto lane, and I get yelled at by pedestrians if I’m riding on the sidewalk. This is really a way to help all three, a variation on the old saying that good fences make good neighbors. If we all have our own space on the road, we can all get along most cooperatively. And that makes the streets safer.”

Mr. Cohen said he was not surprised by Council’s decision to table the ordinance, a move that was suggested by Councilman Lance Liverman. “I had a little warning in informal conversations leading up to the meeting,” he said. “I had gotten wind that Lance would introduce it.” He added that he thinks Council will eventually approve the ordinance.

Steve Hiltner, who is active in local environmental and sustainability issues, said the idea that bikes are a public good was made clear at the Council meeting, which he watched on television. “The case that needs to be made stronger is the benefits to those living along ‘major collectors’ who will have to sacrifice on-street parking privileges,” he wrote in an email. Among Mr. Hiltner’s suggestions to members of the PPBAC following its monthly meeting February 26 was to look into whether property assessors typically reduce the value of homes along busy streets.

In response to some who have called the targeted stretch of Hamilton Avenue, which lies between Harrison Street and Snowden Lane, a bike lane to nowhere, Mr. Hiltner wrote that the roadway “… is the only way people can bicycle toward town from the Rollingmead Street neighborhood. Once they reach Harrison Street, which would have marked the end of the bike lanes, they can improvise a safer route, such as to bike up through Spruce Circle, through the park, or up Linden Lane and onto Spruce Street, which runs parallel to Hamilton Avenue into town. So it’s not at all a bike lane to nowhere.”

Mike Suber, a chair of the former Princeton Township’s Sidewalk and Bikeway Advisory Committee, reiterated a point he brought up during the public comment period of the Council meeting. “Hamilton Avenue, like all our streets, is not a private parking lot,” he said. “It is a public facility owned by all taxpayers. The right of way is 60 feet. It’s customary for residents to look out their window or walk in their front yards and see what appears to be their lawn or shrubbery, and forget, if they ever knew, that the town owns a lot of what they’re examining. So that’s an issue that is not so well appreciated.”

The ordinance to eliminate parking on Hamilton Avenue and install bike lanes on both sides was first introduced last January. Residents have complained that they were not properly notified about the plan, which they said was left out of information about sidewalk and storm sewer improvements. Parking is currently not permitted on the north side of the street, and sidewalks line both sides of the road.

The town’s Traffic and Transportation Committee unanimously voted for the ordinance last fall after considering five separate options, and then recommended it to Council. Under the terms of the tabling of the ordinance, a bike lane will be added on the side of street where parking is already not allowed, leaving the existing parking on the opposite side. The Council can revisit the idea of adding another bike lane and removing the parking in the future.

Steve Kruse, a member of the PPBAC, said in an email of the decision, “We are basically failing badly, if our mandate does not include making it practical for kids to develop a life-long love affair with bike riding and healthy active transportation.”

February 25, 2015

At a public meeting held by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Monday night, several residents of the Princeton Ridge and experts hired by the citizens’ group Princeton Ridge Coalition aired concerns about methods the Williams Transco company plans to use in construction of a natural gas pipeline through the area.

In a packed meeting room at the Nassau Inn, DEP representatives listened as members of the public expressed their worries about effects of the project. Williams Transco wants to add a 42-inch-diameter pipeline to an existing line as part of a 30-mile installation through Mercer, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties and counties in Pennsylvania. The Princeton section, part of the 6.36-mile Skillman Loop, is an environmentally sensitive area of boulders, bedrock, and wetlands.

Williams Transco won federal approval for the project last December, but the company still needs freshwater wetland and flood hazard area permits from the state. While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled that the pipeline would pose “no significant impact” on the surrounding community, many people think otherwise.

“We have been deeply concerned about the safety risk to our residents and the environmental damage to our pristine woods, streams, and wetlands posed by this expansion project,” Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said in a statement to the DEP. “Й The impacts identified by Williams Transco in their permit application provide ample evidence that the proposed activity is inconsistent with the objectives of New Jersey’s water quality standards for anti-degradation waters, which are designed to protect the existing quality of New Jersey’s surface waters.”

Rick Reilly, from the DEP, said the public has until Tuesday, March 10 to submit comments in writing. In a brief presentation before the public comment, Williams Transco representative John Todd said that the proposed pipeline would transport gas to produce enough energy to heat about two million homes.

Princeton University astrophysics professor Rob Goldston, a member of the Coalition, said that Williams Transco’s plan to use heavy equipment and do open trenching across the boulders and bedrock of the Ridge is not safe. Instead, he recommended horizontal directional drilling (HDD) under the Ridge, which is safer and would not involve cutting down any trees. “Williams says they can’t do HDD,” he said, “but we disagree. We want the DEP to do an investigation. This is a viable alternative.”

Coalition member Adam Irgom said that no part of Williams Transco’s project is more environmentally sensitive than the Princeton Ridge. “By law, they cannot trench through the wetlands, because there are practical alternatives,” he said. Mr. Irgom added that Williams Transco would rather pay a fine and settle any lawsuits that could be a result of accidents along the pipeline than pay for horizontal drilling. “It’s cheaper and faster to pay fines than drill under the Ridge,” he said. “A $1 million fine on a $165 million project would be a drop in the bucket for them.”

Resident Patricia Shanley, an ecologist who has worked in the Brazilian Amazon, said that the forest on the Ridge is unique. “There is an intelligence in the landscape, and that’s why so many people are here,” she said, also noting the diversity of species. “We need to be extra careful because water is the foundation of life.”

Coalition member Barbara Blumenthal told the DEP that Williams Transco has indicated that if the DEP doesn’t act quickly to approve the project, the company will change its plan to take the existing pipeline out of service during the most intrusive methods of construction, a period of three to six weeks. The plan was to remove the gas and replace it with water during that period.

But the company has indicated it will go back to FERC and ask to leave the gas intact, relocating residents during the construction instead of replacing the gas with water and having residents remain in their homes. “Our response is that we’re not responsible for the timing of the DEP permits,” Ms. Blumenthal said, citing delays in the approval process caused by the company itself.

The Coalition last week sent a letter to DEP Commissioner Bob Martin making the agency aware that Williams Transco “has presented easement holders on the Princeton Ridge with a side agreement.

“The rock handling and construction plans approved by FERC were the result of lengthy negotiations with citizens of New Jersey seeking to minimize environmental damage and ensure public safety, both required under NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act),” the letter reads. “Transco now suggests that these critical concessions will be abrogated if NJDEP does not somehow accelerate the process for issuing permits. The implication to us is that to preserve the concessions Transco has already made, we should not exercise our rights as citizens by testifying before you in the NJDEP permitting process about the numerous shortcomings of the current applications.”

The letter concludes with a request that any approvals of federal permits the DEP makes for Williams Transco should honor commitments the company made last June and October. “Unfortunately, this request is made necessary by the threat to protected environmental assets and public safety that inheres in Transco’s requested easement side agreements, and by the clear implication that Transco may attempt in the future to use another excuse to renege on these commitments to the environment and public safety,” the letter reads.

AvalonBay, the developer of 280 units planned for the former Princeton Hospital site, announced last week that it has voluntarily upgraded its fire protection systems for the Princeton complex as well as another planned for Maplewood. The announcement came in the wake of a devastating fire at AvalonBay’s Edgewater rental community in Bergen County last month, which destroyed the complex and left some 500 people homeless.

While the construction of Edgewater was up to code, officials have blamed the lightweight wood construction and lack of masonry fire walls for the quick spread of the blaze after it was started by maintenance workers using a blowtorch to do plumbing work in a wall. At the two new developments, AvalonBay will incorporate more sprinklers throughout the building, including the attics, closet spaces, and between the ceilings and floors. The company has also said it will install masonry firewalls, which are currently not required by the National Fire Protection Association Standard.

The move was praised by Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, who hopes it will lead to a revision of the state’s construction code. “I was happy to see that they’re going above and beyond the code in two important areas,” she said on Monday. “I still hope that the code will be changed. I think it’s important to recognize that the provisions that AvalonBay has said they’re going to incorporate into their design are voluntary. It would be better for everybody if those things are required as part of all developments in New Jersey.”

Ms. Lempert and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes were among those calling for a review by the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) of New Jersey’s Uniform Construction Code last month prior to evaluation of AvalonBay’s plan for the apartment complex on Witherspoon Street. In a press release from AvalonBay announcing the fire safety changes, DCA Commissioner Richard Constable praised the company for its action.

“AvalonBay’s decision to voluntarily hold themselves to a higher standard when building these communities is a very positive development for the Princeton and Maplewood communities,” he said.

Last month, Assemblyman Scott Rumana introduced a bill that would impose a moratorium on light-frame construction for multi-family housing in New Jersey. The bill has garnered support among several local residents. On Monday, a group of local officials and staff met to put together some recommendations related to the issue. The recommendations were to be considered by Council at it’s meeting Tuesday night, Ms. Lempert said on Monday.