August 20, 2014

Princeton’s Health Officer Jeffrey C. Grosser is warning residents, especially those in the Linden Lane area, to keep a safe distance if they discover bats inside their homes and to call the Princeton Police Department or the Animal Control Officer.

The warning comes after two bats taken from two homes on Linden Lane were tested at the New Jersey Public Health Laboratory. Residents contacted Animal Control Officer Mark Johnson who picked up the bats and took them to the laboratory for testing.

The Princeton Health Department received notification that the bats had tested positive for the rabies virus. The Health Department customarily receives notification from the state laboratory of all findings of rabies specimens.

According to a statement from the Department, the Linden Lane area has had a recent history over the past two years of rabies in its wild and stray animals. Last year a bat tested positive in the vicinity.

Mr. Grosser said that it was important for all Princeton residents to ensure that “their homes do not have openings” that might invite wild animals to take up residence inside. “Bats and raccoons are the two species of mammals that most often are infected with rabies,” he said, noting that while rabies in humans is rare in the United States, which usually sees just one or two human cases per year, the most common source of human rabies in the country is bats. “Among the 19 cases of rabies in humans from 1997 to 2006, 17 (90 percent) were associated with bats.”

If local residents discover a bat in their home, they should try to confine it to a single room or area of the home and contact the local police who will report the situation to the Animal Control Officer for response.

“It is imperative that they do not open a window and release the bat,” said Mr. Grosser. “In all instances of potential human exposure involving bats, the bat in question should be safely collected, if possible, and submitted for rabies diagnosis.”

The rabies virus attacks the nervous system and is fatal in humans without prompt treatment. The disease is spread when a rabid animal’s saliva contacts another animal or human through wounds in the skin, typically a bite.

After suspected exposure, prophylactic treatment should be given as soon as possible and consists of a dose of immune globulin and a series of five rabies vaccinations over a 28-day period. Current vaccinations are relatively painless and given as close to the injured area as possible.

If anyone is bitten, scratched, or otherwise comes into close contact with a bat, rabies post-exposure prophylaxis is recommended unless the bat is available for testing and found negative for the virus.

Princeton’s Bats

Bats are not uncommon in Princeton where some residents enjoy seeing them at dusk, often flying high with swallows. Last week, Richard and Karen Woodbridge, whose Prospect Avenue home backs up against Lake Carnegie, were disturbed to find one flying laps around their bedroom. “I grew up in Princeton at a time when it was quite usual to see snakes and box turtles around, and bats don’t bother me,” said Mr. Woodbridge. “In fact, we felt quite sorry for him but we’d rather he wasn’t in our bedroom.”

The Woodbridges took exactly the steps that Mr. Grosser advised above. They left the room, closed the door so that the bat couldn’t escape, and called the Princeton Police Department. Their letter to Police Chief Nick Sutter about the incident reports the actions of Patrol Officer Darwin “Bill” Kieffer and can be founding this week’s Mailbox.

Since the Woodbridges sent their letter, they have learned that, unlike the bats found on Linden Lane, “their bat” tested negative for rabies. “It looked like a healthy animal and was quite big with at least a six inch wing span. It took some effort to catch but we managed it and I was very impressed with the quick response of the Princeton Police Department,” said Mr. Woodbridge.

Bat-Proofing Tips

The Health Department, which cautions residents to keep a safe distance from all wild and stray animals, suggests the following bat-proofing tips.

At dusk, observe to see from where the bats are exiting your home — this is their principal entry point.

Once you know where they are entering your home, seal off all of the other openings and crevices greater than 3/8 inches.

To seal these areas, use 1/4 inch hardware cloth, fly screen, sheet metal, wood, caulking, expandable polyurethane foam, or fiberglass insulation.

To seal the principal entry point, wait until the evening when you are sure all of the bats have left. Don’t try to seal the principal entry point in June or July because bat babies are likely to be left inside.

Hang one-half inch bird netting about the opening with staples or duct tape, letting it extend, unattached at the bottom, to one foot below the opening. This will allow the bats to leave but not enter again. After several days the opening can be sealed.

Seal the openings between November 15 and March 15. Because most bats will have left for hibernation elsewhere, this is the ideal time to bat-proof a home

For anyone who is unable to carry out this work themselves, private companies such as some wildlife removal specialists, pest control and other contractors provide permanent bat exclusion services.

Residents are reminded to contact the Princeton Animal Control Officer/Princeton Police Department at (609) 921-2100 if they encounter a bat in their home, suspicious wildlife, or encounters between wild and domestic animals.

For more information on bats and rabies, please visit, www.cdc.gov/rabies/bats/index.html or www.princetonnj.gov/health/index.html.

 

August 13, 2014

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s opinion that the Williams/Transco company’s proposed pipeline project on the Princeton Ridge doesn’t pose major safety or environmental issues has members of a local citizens’ group planning to take action. The Princeton Ridge Coalition, which has been monitoring plans for the project, intends to challenge the agency’s official assessment, which was released this week.

“We’re going to fight this,” said Coalition member Barbara Blumenthal of FERC’s determination that the proposed project would result in “limited adverse environmental impacts.” The 474-page assessment also states that approval of the project “would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

Princeton Council passed a resolution last month encouraging FERC to reject Williams/Transco’s current construction plan. The company wants to install a new pipeline loop through Mercer, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties as well as two counties in Pennsylvania. The local portion that would run through the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge is part of the Skillman Loop. An existing natural gas pipeline built in 1958 is not sufficient to handle current production demands, the company has said.

Reacting to the assessment, Mayor Liz Lempert said Tuesday in an email, “The Princeton Ridge forest and the Mountain Lakes area are of exceptional environmental value. And the safety concerns raised by the Princeton Ridge Coalition are real and serious. I’m still making my way through the report, but the initial findings are disturbing and hard to fathom.”

The Coalition has met repeatedly with Williams/Transco representatives about safety and environmental issues, and the company has made some concessions along the way. In addition to worries about disturbance of wetlands, the Coalition has voiced concerns about possible blasting of the area’s boulders and bedrock. But the assessment calls on Williams/Transco to remove boulders and shallow bedrock by hammering and breaking of rocks rather than blasting.

Ms. Blumenthal said she was disappointed but not surprised by much of the assessment. “The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in June that FERC was violating NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act) in their environmental assessments,” she said. “And this is the first assessment that has come out since that ruling. Everybody has told us that, as far as we know, FERC has never issued an EA (environmental assessment) that has a finding of significant impact. So this is just par for the course. They’ve never seen a pipeline they didn’t like.”

The public has 30 days to comment on FERC’s assessment. “We feel we have very strong ground,” Ms. Blumenthal said. Williams/Transco is expecting FERC to approve the project this fall. Construction could begin in April of 2015.

Commenting on the FERC opinion in a press release, the company said, “Williams understands the concerns expressed with regard to the safe installation of the Transco pipeline and minimizing environmental impacts during construction. We believe the FERC’s Environmental Assessment confirms our commitment to construction and operating this pipeline project in a safe, environmentally sensitive manner so that we can deliver much-needed additional natural gas supply to this region.”

 

The Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society, known for short as the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS), has received a grant of $47,100 from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program (ABPP) for an archeological study on 29 acres of land at the site of the Battle of Princeton.

The battle was fought on January 3, 1777, after General Washington and his Continental Army had defeated the Hessians at Trenton. General Hugh Mercer, for whom Mercer County is named, lost his life there after being bayonetted.

According to the grant announcement, the PBS project would include an application to expand the boundaries of the American Revolution-Stonybrook Settlement Historic District.

As described on the municipal website, this historic district was settled circa 1686 to 1777. Placed on the National Register in 1966, it contains the site of the Battle of Princeton and includes Battlefield Park and the Stony Brook bridge on Route 206, both of which are National Historic Landmarks. In 1989 the district was enlarged to encompass the area of Stony Brook settlement established by the first Quakers in the community.

“The focus of the grant will be the D’Ambrisi property, which the State of New Jersey is in the process of acquiring with assistance from the Municipality of Princeton, Mercer County, and Princeton Open Space,” observed PBS First Vice President Kip Cherry in a press release supplementing the ABPP announcement.

“The D’Ambrisi property is important, not as the site of heavy fighting, but rather as a prominent ridge containing troops just before the battle began and as an area of retreat when most avenues of retreat were blocked, and, most importantly, as the likely burial site, possibly in a mass grave, for 36 British and American soldiers killed during the battle. The area is marked by the colonnade sitting at the top of this ridge and by a medallion placed behind the colonnade,” said Ms. Cherry.

The above-mentioned colonnade was once part of the portico to Mercer Manor, which stood on land owned by the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). After the home was demolished in 1957, the IAS preserved the columns, originally designed for a Philadelphia residence by Thomas U. Walter, architect of the dome of the U.S. Capitol building. As is recorded on a plaque at the site, the columns were donated by the IAS to the State of New Jersey. They serve as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the battle on both sides.

As Ms. Cherry pointed out in a telephone interview yesterday, the ground was frozen and General Washington was in a hurry to get his soldiers out of the area in order to evade the British General Cornwallis before he fast-marched his army back to Princeton. “The timing and the fact that the ground had frozen overnight, made burying the dead difficult,” said Ms. Cherry, adding that the extent of the burial ground is unknown.

Asked whether there were any plans to dig up the mass grave thought to be close by the colonnade, Ms. Cherry said that whether there was a mass grave or not had yet to be determined. “We are hoping that archaeological evidence will give us clues so that we can better interpret what happened in both the early stages and the late stages of the battle, and where the mass grave might be.” She mentioned the importance of using ground penetrating radar in acquiring such information.

According to Ms. Cherry, the D’Ambrisi property will be annexed to Princeton Battlefield State Park. She stated that the Princeton Battlefield Society sees this effort as an ideal method for acquiring Battlefield property that had a major role in the Battle of Princeton. “The key is to have a willing seller who understands that by putting this land into the public domain to be interpreted as a part of the Battle, they are creating a permanent legacy.”

Model Survey

The scope of the proposed PBS study is being described by Mr. Hurwitz as a “model for any archaeological survey.” As such, it is being compared by the PBS to the archaeological survey currently being conducted by the Institute for Advanced Study, which plans to build faculty housing on its property close by the Princeton Battlefield State Park.

The IAS has been required by the Princeton Planning Board to conduct the survey and hopes to do so before a public hearing of its housing plan by the Board on September 18.

The site on which the IAS plans to build is known as Maxwell Field and is described by the PBS as the site of General Washington’s winning counterattack at the Battle of Princeton.

“Unlike Maxwell Field, where the winning counterattack occurred, this property [D’Ambrisi property] has never been explored for artifacts,” commented PBS President Jerry Hurwitz. “Therefore the work will begin with historical research, followed by ground penetrating radar (GPR) to determine whether there are any anomalies or indications of artifacts. The property will then be plowed and cross-plowed followed by a full regimen of metal detection.”

Referring to the Institute for Advanced Study’s current archeological survey, Mr. Hurwitz commented that “the plowing and cross plowing is always a necessary first step before metal detection and thus far we have not seen any sign of plowing and cross plowing by the Institute for Advanced Study on Maxwell Field.”

“This is one of a number of concerns we have regarding an archaeological survey of Maxwell Field by the Institute,” he said.

In addition, Mr. Hurwitz pointed out that the ABPP grant for the D’Ambrisi property calls for Geographic Information Systems-based mapping (GIS) and Key Terrain Observation and Fields of Fire, Cover and Concealment, Obstacles, Avenues of Approach (KOCOA) analysis similar to what was done for the site of the counterattack on Maxwell Field under a previous ABPP Grant to the Battlefield Society.

This analysis resulted in a 2010 report by John Milner Associates, titled Battle of Princeton Mapping Project: Report of Military Terrain Analysis and Battle Narrative, often referred to as the “Milner Study.”

Findings of the Milner Study are commented upon on the IAS website (www.ias.edu/about/faculty-housing/perservation-historical-context).

 

A week after its soft launch at Community Night Out, a new program aimed at streamlining how the municipality deals with non-emergency issues is catching on slowly but steadily with local residents. Access Princeton is a one-stop clearing house for dealing with everything from barking dogs to blocked storm drains. It can be accessed online or via a phone call.

In creating the program, the town has partnered with the application SeeClickFix, which serves numerous communities including Newark, Hamilton, Absecon, and Margate. Princeton residents can call 924-4141 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on business days to report a problem. The email address is onecall@princetonnj.gov. Alternately, residents can visit www.seeclickfix.com. A mobile app is being developed.

“So far, we’re doing okay,” said Christina Rothman-Iliff, who is directing the program. Ms. Rothman-Iliff was the dispatcher for the former Princeton Borough police department before consolidation. She is operating, along with customer service coordinator Debra Rogers, out of the old police dispatch office in Monument Hall, formerly Borough Hall.

“We’ve gotten some calls. Some people are using the web widgets to report problems through SeeClickFix, and we’re hoping for more,” Ms. Rothman-Iliff continued. “This will streamline things with one number to call. Specifically with consolidation, people have been confused about what number to use.”

Access Princeton is designed to make it easier for residents to determine which government agency can help them with a problem. “This has advantages for both residents and the staff,” said Mayor Liz Lempert. “It will simplify residents’ ability to get in touch with the municipality. The idea is just to make it simple. You don’t need to know what department to contact. You just report your concern or question, and either they’ll put you through or handle the complaint directly.”

Kathy Monzo, the town’s assistant administrator and director of finance and among those being considered to take over Administrator Robert Bruschi’s job when he retires next month, came up with the idea for the program. “It’s a way to deliver better services but also to improve accountability on the back end,” Ms. Lempert said. “One of the great things is that it makes it not only simpler for the residents, but also easier for the administration to track the volume of complaints that are being handled, how quickly turnaround is, and what outstanding issues there still are. Hopefully, when you have a list of all the potholes that need to be filled in a centralized place, it will increase efficiency as well.”

One advantage of the site is that it allows residents to check the progress of a complaint. Ms. Lempert said that in the first four days, 24 issues were reported by residents, and 21 of those issues were resolved.

Access Princeton will be officially launched in mid-September. “We’re using this time until then to work out any kinks,” Ms. Rothman-Iliff said.

 

August 6, 2014

Princeton Council could well become the first municipality in Mercer County to ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” as it is commonly known.

The controversial process extracts natural gas by pumping water into underground shale, fracturing the rock and thereby releasing the natural gas. Supporters say it produces cheap, clean gas but critics question the environmental costs and potential dangers from the use of a high-pressure blend of water, sand, and other chemicals that may include carcinogens and radioactive substances.

To date, Middlesex is the only county in the state to ban “fracking.” The technique has not yet been practiced in New Jersey and has been controversial in neighboring Pennsylvania. Last month, the New Jersey Assembly voted in favor of a bill seeking to make it illegal here. The bill has yet to be signed by Governor Chris Christie, who has on two occasions vetoed legislation that would ban the practice.

Meeting in public session last week, members of Princeton council voted 5-1 to introduce an ordinance that would ban the gas-extraction technique in Princeton. A public hearing and vote on the ordinance are scheduled to take place September 22.

Councilman Patrick Simon voted against the ordinance on the grounds that it was unnecessary since Princeton already has a ban on manufacturing and drilling for oil and gas. But other members of Council felt a resolution specifically opposing “fracking” would strengthen the existing ban.

“A U.S. Geological Survey has shown that there is potentially some gas underneath Princeton,” said Mayor Liz Lempert. “This ordinance is recommended by the Princeton Environmental Commission as a way to get out ahead of this potential threat.”

The Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC), is a group of volunteer residents offering advice on environmental issues and actions that may affect the town’s natural resources and inhabitants.

A June 2012 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) identified about 1.6 trillion cubic feet of gas in the South Newark basin, which extends under much of Mercer County and through parts of Pennsylvania. According to the survey, the South Newark basin is the third-largest of five regions along the East Coast for untapped natural gas.

With respect to the natural gas beneath Princeton, Councilwoman Jennie Crumiller who serves as liaison to the PEC, said that it was conceivable that someone would want to use fracking to get to it. Even though there are no gas companies currently seeking permission to use the technique here, it was possible that without such an ordinance in place, companies could possibly obtain a variance to do so. “Fracking is wreaking havoc across the country and contaminating the groundwater; if you care about the planet you want to stop it,” said Ms. Crumiller.

Council President Bernie Miller raised the question of whether the town could take legal action if neighboring towns allowed companies to drill horizontally underneath Princeton. Municipal attorney Trishka Cecil said that research on the issue would be needed.

Recent Research

According to an August 1 press release from Princeton University, the biological impact of “fracking” is still largely unknown. “Eight conservation biologists from various organizations and institutions, including Princeton University, found that shale-gas extraction in the United States has vastly outpaced scientists’ understanding of the industry’s environmental impact,” states the release. “With shale-gas production projected to surge during the next 30 years, determining and minimizing the industry’s effects on nature and wildlife must become a top priority for scientists, industry, and policymakers.”

The press release cites a report co-authored by Morgan Tingley, a postdoctoral research associate in the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy in Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The report states that there are significant “knowledge gaps” about fracking, stemming from a lack of accessible and reliable information on spills, wastewater disposal, and the composition of fracturing fluids. It claims that only five (Pennsylvania, Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Texas) of 24 states with active shale-gas reservoirs maintain public records of spills and accidents.

“We can’t let shale development outpace our understanding of its environmental impacts,” said Mr. Tingley. “The past has taught us that environmental impacts of large-scale development and resource extraction, whether coal plants, large dams, or biofuel monocultures, are more than the sum of their parts.”

Princeton Council hopes to lead the way with this ordinance ban, which will be the subject of a public hearing on Monday, September 22.

 

In spite of media reports that the lawsuit brought by seven current and former members of Princeton Police Department against former Police Chief David J. Dudeck, the Princeton Police Department, and the town of Princeton had been “thrown out” by a state judge, Matthew A. Peluso, attorney for the officers, said Monday the case would be going forward.

“Contrary to what has been reported, the case has not been ‘thrown out’ and as a matter of law it will proceed,” said Mr. Peluso Monday. “To say that it has been dismissed is erroneous.”

Describing “conflicting orders” handed down by the judge, Mr. Peluso said that these would have to be addressed but that they in no way meant that the case had been dismissed. “Conflicting orders which contradict one another are unusual and we will have to file a motion to address these,” he said.

Asked about the nature of the contradiction, Mr. Peluso declined to comment on the substance of the matter. “I’m not going to get into that, it’s complicated,” he said.

The suit filed in Mercer County Superior Court last year on August 28 by officers Sharon Papp, Steven Riccitello, Daniel Chitren, Carol Raymond, Christopher P. Donnelly, Michael Bender, and Christopher M. Quaste, alleges that the officers, all of whom were members of the former Borough police department before consolidation, were “discriminated against and harassed” based upon “their gender, sexual orientation, and disability.”

The lawsuit alleges that from 2008 until he went on a leave of absence last spring, Mr. Dudeck engaged in a continuing pattern of discrimination, and created a hostile work environment. It cites some 40 incidents in which Mr. Dudeck allegedly used crude sexual language, made crude gestures, or asked the officers about their sex lives or sexuality.

The suit also alleges that the Princeton Police Department and the Town of Princeton “aided and abetted” Mr. Dudeck’s discriminatory conduct by negligently hiring him as Police Chief despite knowing of his behavior and by failing to discipline him.

Mr. Dudeck joined the Princeton Borough Police Department in 1983. In 2009, when Borough Chief Anthony Federico died suddenly, Mr. Dudeck succeeded him. He was appointed as chief of the Police Department for the consolidated Princeton on January 1, 2013 and officially retired from his post on Sept. 1, of that same year, a month earlier than expected.

Captain Nick Sutter led the new department until being officially promoted to Chief earlier this year.

The officers have asked for a jury trial and are suing for compensatory damages for emotional stress, pain and suffering, lost promotion, employment, wages and benefits, as well as attorney’s fees and punitive damages.

The municipality has sought to have the lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that the plaintiffs failed to respond to “discovery.”

But according to Mr. Peluso, the lawsuit might be heard as early as this month or perhaps in September.

 

Citizens opposed to the move of Princeton’s Dinky train station as part of Princeton University’s Arts & Transit project were dealt two blows last week.

On July 24, a petition proposed by the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers challenging NJ Transit’s jurisdiction over the Dinky line and its surrounding buildings was denied by the Surface Transportation Board. One week later, a New Jersey judge ruled against efforts by Princeton residents Anne and Walter Neumann and Marco Gottardis to overturn the zoning that permits the project.

Responding to the first action, the organization Save the Dinky vowed it will continue to fight to preserve the Dinky rail link. Save the Dinky president Anita Garoniak was quoted in a press release saying the organization was disappointed, but would continue its other litigation to preserve the Princeton branch. No decision has been made on an appeal.

The eight-page ruling by the Surface Transportation Board was in response to a June 2013 petition by the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers and the National Association of Railroad Passengers, plus Princeton resident Chris Hedges. The two agencies and Mr. Hedges said changes to the line should be under the Board’s jurisdiction, according to the legal definition of its responsibilities, rather than NJ Transit. They wanted the federal Board to say that the rail line between Princeton and Princeton Junction needed its approval before moving the track. But the Board determined otherwise.

The University is in the process of moving the Dinky train station 460 feet south of its longtime location opposite McCarter Theatre to a new building that is under construction. In its ruling, the federal agency called the move “a minor change in the location of a commuter rail station platform, an action that would appear to have no national rail transportation significance or impact on interstate commerce.”

Jack May, spokesman for the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers, said last week that the decision is disappointing and an appeal is under consideration.

“We’re very concerned that the ruling appears to state that any local rail service in any place in the United States has no federal jurisdiction,” he said, “not only for the Princeton branch but for other rail commuter services. We’re also concerned that according to numbers we’ve received from NJ Transit, ridership on the Princeton branch is down by 11 percent. That is just the opposite of the other lines, where ridership is up. We strongly believe this is because of the decapitation of the station and its movement further down the line from Nassau Street and center of the town.”

In the other lawsuit, the plaintiffs sought to overturn the zoning for the Arts & Transit neighborhood, saying it violated a municipal land use law. Mercer County Superior Court Judge Douglas Hurd rejected the claims, saying the ordinances in question, which were adopted by the former Borough and Township, were in line with the law.

“Overall, the evidence shows that the ordinances are consistent with the master plan, advance the purposes of zoning, and that both governing bodies comply with all procedural requirements of the MLUL [Municipal Land Use Law],” Mr. Hurd said in his decision, which was released Friday. The court also rejected the argument that the ordinances constituted spot zoning and that the Memorandum of Understanding adopted between the University and the municipalities constituted improper contract zoning.

Jonathan Epstein, the attorney representing the University, called the judge’s decision “the most important victory out of the several cases that we’ve won against the objectors trying to stop the Arts & Transit project. It upholds the zoning that allows the project to proceed. And this was a product of a multi-year, complex process involving both municipalities before consolidation.”

Mr. Epstein continued, “The fact that the judge upheld those ordinances means that there is no basis to challenge the underlying zoning, which has been one of the primary avenues of attack. Each one of the plaintiff’s arguments was rejected in detail. In my opinion, there would be no merit to any appeal of the decision.”

According to attorney for the plaintiffs Bruce Afran, however, an appeal is being considered “because the evidence shows, very clearly in our view, that Council sold the arts zoning for a payment of almost $1 million under the Memorandum of Understanding. We showed in evidence at trial that the then Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi and Roger Martindell, the most senior member of Council, both said that the Borough wouldn’t get the money unless ordinances were passed. We think this is absolute evidence that Council understood they would not receive payment unless the ordinances were passed. Council cannot pass zoning ordinances in return for money, a practice that is barred under New Jersey law,” he said.

 

July 30, 2014

A packed agenda of controversial issues drew a large crowd to Princeton Council’s meeting on Monday night. Many showed up to comment on four topics explored in work sessions: The town’s response to the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) on proposed third-round regulations, efforts to harmonize parking ordinances of the former Borough and Township, limits on the hours of retail business operations, and efforts to harmonize the town’s leaf and brush pickup schedule for 2015.

Late into the meeting, Council voted to introduce two ordinances. One would ban fracking in the municipality. A public hearing on the measure is set for September 22. The other  ordinance, which will have a public hearing on August 25, addresses compensation and salaries of town employees not represented by labor unions, giving them a 1.6 percent raise for 2014 retroactive to January 1.

But first, the governing body took a few minutes to honor the Princeton Police Department for its recent Accreditation Award. Harry DelGado, Accreditation Program Manager for the New Jersey State Chiefs of Police Association, presented the award to Chief Nick Sutter. At a press conference earlier in the day, Mayor Liz Lempert called the accreditation “a huge accomplishment for the department, reinforcing the fact that they’re running the most professional police organization possible.”

Mr. DelGado said the process is rigorous, with fewer than 130 departments across New Jersey being accredited. “For two departments to merge into one [following consolidation] and achieve accreditation in a year is simply remarkable,” he said before presenting the award to Mr. Sutter, who stood with Lieutenants Chris Morgan and Sharon Papp and Sergeant Steve Riccitello.

“I am very proud of our entire department as each and every member was involved in this process in some way,” said Mr. Sutter, who was named chief earlier this year after former chief David Dudeck stepped down following accusations by police personnel of harassment and making inappropriate sexual remarks.

COAH Regulations

The new regulations proposed by COAH and presented to Council last month by the town’s COAH adviser Shirley Bishop, would lower Princeton’s set aside for affordable units from 20 percent to 10 percent and give the town “zero obligation” to build more affordable units, among other changes. These do not sit well with members of the governing body or many area residents. The Council has until Friday,
August 1, to send its comments back to COAH.

Several members of the public encouraged Council to oppose the proposals. Marietta Taylor of the organization Not In Our Town suggested the governing body insist that two lots on Franklin Avenue, adjacent to the former Princeton Hospital, be set aside for affordable housing. Resident Kip Cherry urged Council to fight to retain the 20 percent set-aside. “People are squeezed in Princeton,” she said. “We constantly are losing people who can’t afford to be here anymore.”

Overnight Parking

Princeton’s Land Use Engineer Jack West opened the discussion on overnight parking by saying he originally thought it would be easy to harmonize the ordinances that existed in the former Borough and Township. “It isn’t,” he said, eliciting some laughter. Parking is restrictive in the former Borough, but not in the former Township. Mr. West asked Council to advise him on whether to pursue a hybrid situation, where in high-density areas overnight parking could possibly be allowed with restrictions.

Steve Weiss of Madison Street said his property is one of at least seven others on his street with “impossible parking situations.” Some residents of Maple Street said Princeton University employees often take up all of the parking spots, making it difficult for residents, some of whom pay for parking permits. Maple Street resident Alexi Assmus suggested the town have different parking regulations for different neighborhoods.

Limiting Business Hours

The question of whether to introduce an ordinance imposing limits on hours of retail business operations near residential zones drew the most comments, many of which came from business owners opposed to such a measure. The Ivy Inn and Hoagie Haven stay open the latest, until about 2 a.m., which was the time being discussed as a possible mandated closing. Some who live near those establishments spoke in favor of a restrictive measure, citing loud noise and sometimes unruly behavior late at night.

That neighborhood is also where a 7-11 store is planning to locate, in the former West Coast Video property at 259 Nassau Street. The store would be open 24 hours, which worries some of the area’s residents. But Robert Bratman, who owns the long-empty property and is anxious to move the 7-11 in, said he thinks being open 24 hours will actually make the neighborhood safer. Lighting and surveillance cameras would be installed, “so instead of creating crime, it would reduce crime, if there is crime,” he said.

John Marshall, president of the Princeton Merchants Association, argued that imposing restrictions in designated business zones would harm the community. “The ordinance is overly restrictive,” he said. “It discriminates against small businesses and adversely affects downtown businesses.” Restauranteur Jack Morrison called the idea of restricting hours “economically dangerous.” Barry Sussman of The Peacock Inn said he sometimes has customers on late flights checking in as late as 2 a.m. “Restricting really hurts,” he said.

Area resident Andrea Stein spoke in favor of the proposed measure. “People do tend to dally around their cars, slam their doors, and that kind of thing. As much as I support the businesses in town, we deserve to have some sort of a break from commerce.” Councilwoman Heather Howard said, “Common sense codification of existing policies is the way to go,” while Councilman Patrick Simon suggested, “Maybe we should just beef up our noise ordinance. I’m still weighing the options of this overall.” The topic will be revisited at the next Council meeting August 25.

Leaf and Branch Collection

Robert Hough, the town’s Director of Infrastructure and Operations, presented to Council the proposed leaf, branch and log collection schedule for 2015. After discussion and comments from the public, the governing body decided to send it back to Public Works Committee for further consideration.

 

When Princeton Council approved a resolution July 14 in support of tough, new anti-corruption laws transforming how elections in this country are financed and how lobbyists influence the political process, the municipality became the first in the nation to sanction the pending legislation.

The move is intended not only in regard to national politics, but on a local level as well. “Princeton hereby includes in its legislative agenda support for efforts to pass its own anti-corruption legislation, and respectfully urges the 12th Congressional district representatives and the 16th district New Jersey state legislature to support and introduce anti-corruption legislation to the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and state legislature addressing the issues herein described,” the resolution reads.

This is encouraging news to local residents David Goodman, Susan Colby, and Debra Lambo, who have been working toward the enactment of The American Anti-Corruption Act. “This resolution places Princeton in the vanguard of a movement,” said Mr. Goodman, a retired fundraiser who is a team leader for the New Jersey District 12 Committee of Represent.Us. “The national group is seeking similar resolutions from towns and municipalities across the country. It’s a grass roots effort to impress upon legislators and Congress the need for fundamental reforms to the effects of big money on government, so they can begin to be reined in.”

Statistics on the subject “are terrifying,” Mr. Goodman said. “Politicians spend 70 percent of their time fundraising. In most cases, they are decent, hardworking people who want to do the right thing. But it’s become a necessity, if you want to get re-elected. You have to raise a lot of money. This has been distorted in a major way in terms of legislation and public policy.”

According to information in the resolution, nearly $6 billion was spent in the 2012 elections, the vast majority of which came from special interest donors. “Politicans are dependent on a tiny percentage of the population to fundraise their campaigns while ordinary voters have less and less influence,” it reads.

Mayor Liz Lempert said last week, “Princeton was the first municipality in the country to pass a resolution in support of the anti-corruption legislation because we have an active group of residents that brought the issue to our attention. The legislation is essential to fair elections and honest, representative government.”

Getting Council to consider the resolution wasn’t difficult. “We didn’t feel we were working uphill,” said Mr. Goodman. “We felt some sympathy with our interests. But it would be arrogant to say it was a slam-dunk.”

He views the passage as a kind of clarion call. “It’s to say to people, let’s overcome the cynicism and sense of despair, that it is hopeless,” Mr. Goodman said. “Of course, there are problems to be overcome. But this is a way, on a very local level, for people to say, ‘We want to stand up and be counted and make a difference, and move in a different direction.’”

On October 30, Mr. Goodman and colleagues will hold a two-hour session at Princeton Public Library educating people about anti-corruption law efforts. The documentary film Priceless will be screened, followed by a forum to which many politicians are being invited including Bonnie Watson Coleman and Alieta Eck, who are running for Congressman Rush Holt’s seat. “We’ll ask them each to make a short statement on their views of campaign financing. It’s a voter education forum, taking place right before the elections. Audience members can ask questions. It should be a lively event.”

 

Since consolidation of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, members of Princeton Council have been working to consolidate the ordinances of both.

The painstaking task is yielding sets of new standards and regulations. One such example was approved  by Mayor Lempert and members of Council when they voted to repeal two old ordinances and replace them with a new ordinance that “establishes the duties and responsibilities” of the Princeton Shade Tree Commission and “sets forth the standards and regulations affecting trees and shrubs on public and private property and requires persons engaging in tree pruning, removal, and/or repairer for hire to register with the municipality.”

The former Township and Borough had different requirements for homeowners wishing to remove trees. The new ordinance brings such differences in the tree removal permitting processes into line.

“The Township process was geared toward avoiding clear-cutting and protecting trees near the right-of-way and the  Borough’s was geared toward protecting larger trees,” explained Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller Monday. “The Borough required that property owners notify their contiguous neighbors when they are planning to remove a tree, and the Township did not. The Shade Tree Commission struggled with how to reconcile the differences and worked with our arborist, Greg O’Neill, to come up with a simplified requirement where any tree larger than 8 inches in diameter requires a permit, and residents are required to notify their neighbors by supplying them with a copy of their tree-removal application; they do not have to supply certified mail receipts or signatures but they must sign a form attesting to their delivery.”

Council’s unanimous vote followed a thorough review by the Princeton Shade Tree Commission and a public hearing on the matter. Members of Council found little that was controversial in their deliberation of the subject, except for the question of whether tree experts who register with the municipality should be required to show proof of insurance.

Registration of tree experts was required by the former Township but not by the former Princeton Borough. The new ordinance maintains the requirement for tree experts to register.

Local tree expert Bob Wells attended the pubic meeting and urged Council to also require proof of liability and workers compensation insurance. According to Ms. Crumiller, the Council struggled with the question before deciding that such proof of insurance would not be required. “But,” said Ms. Crumiller by email Monday, “we may include a question about it on our registration form, and we added a provision that the registration forms will be made public and posted on our website.”

The new ordinance defines Princeton’s stewardship of trees and shrubs that are “a natural resource that provide aesthetic, economic, ecological, environmental and health benefits” to the town.

Municipal trees not only beautify, they provide shade and shelter from the weather, and “stabilize soil, reduce stormwater runoff and sedimentation, increase groundwater recharge, and reduce the potential for flooding and for water and wind erosion.”

The Commission’s job, among other duties, is to preserve the maximum number of trees and shrubs; safeguard specimen and significant trees; and replace removed or destroyed trees.

“I haven’t heard from any residents who object to the restrictions on cutting down trees – in fact I’ve heard the opposite,” reported Ms. Crumiller, who serves as the liaison between the Commission and the Council.  “ I think people appreciate that we’re a ‘tree city’ and that Princeton would not be Princeton without its substantial tree canopy, which besides adding great beauty, provides cooling shade, wildlife habitat and cleans the air.”

 

July 23, 2014

AvalonBay’s attempt to have a Mercer County Superior Court judge order the town of Princeton to sign off on a demolition plan and issue building permits for its planned 280-unit rental complex was denied Tuesday. Judge Mary Jacobson, who has presided at other lawsuits involving the project planned for the old Princeton Hospital site, issued the judgment at a hearing in Trenton. She ordered lawyers for the developer and the municipality to attend at least one mediation session to see if issues can be ironed out.

“This is an important project for Princeton,” Judge Jacobson said at the conclusion of her remarks, adding that she hopes there can be “some compromises.”

AvalonBay brought the case against Princeton Council, Mayor Liz Lempert, and members of the municipal staff in May after Council mandated that the developer perform extra environmental testing at the site before demolition can begin. Preliminary preparations for the razing of the old hospital building have been underway for the past few months, including removal of asbestos and all interior furnishings. Underground storage tanks have also been taken out.

Though the Planning Board had approved the proposed project, Council voted to require additional testing once it was found С after the Planning Board’s decision С that a medical waste incinerator had once operated at the hospital. The governing body hired an independent consultant, Ira Whitman, who recommended more soil testing and sampling of concrete the company plans to crush and re-use at the site. Council included his recommendations as conditions in their approval of the plan.

During his argument in favor of a preliminary injunction, AvalonBay attorney Robert Kasuba said that the added testing is not required by the State Department of Environmental Protection, and no ordinance exists for this type of situation. He referred to the Council’s actions as “ad hoc decision making,” adding, “This is not the law in the State of New Jersey. If we open the door, that’s a real problem for the development industry in the state.”

Mr. Kasuba said that delaying the project would negatively affect those who might move into the 56 affordable housing units that are part of the complex, and Judge Jacobson cited that among her concerns. Despite the ruling in favor of the municipality, she made it clear that she found a lot of AvalonBay’s arguments persuasive. More than once, she cited the fact that there is no precedent for Council’s action.

In addition to attending mediation, the lawyers representing AvalonBay and the town of Princeton will exchange discovery. Should the judge ultimately rule against the municipality, she would allow the housing project to go forward without further environmental testing as ordered by Council. But the conditions laid out in the Planning Board’s approval would stand.

“We’re obviously pleased that Judge Jacobson denied AvalonBay’s request for a preliminary injunction,” said Princeton municipal attorney Trishka W. Cecil following the hearing. “We’re mindful of the concerns she expressed about how we went about this. But she did appear to understand the quandary the Council is in, and the health and safety concerns that have been raised.”

 

Princeton resident and Princeton University Professor John Mulvey, 67, was arrested last week at Princeton Police Department headquarters after an investigation by Detective Sergeant Christopher Quaste and Detective Adam Basatemur into the theft of business signs belonging to Princeton Computer Tutor and Repairs.

Mr. Mulvey has hired a lawyer to fight the charges in New Jersey Superior Court. So far, no court date for the case has been set.

The thefts had occurred at various times since June of last year in the area of Rosedale Road near Elm Road.

Mr. Mulvey was arrested after business owner, Ted Horodynsky, had put up a camera in an attempt to discover the culprit upon noticing that his 2-by-2-foot signs, worth more than $20 each, had been disappearing from private property locations. After filing several police  reports, Mr. Horodynsky shared his surveillance video with the Princeton Police Department.

According to Mr. Horodynsky, the video shows the business signs being removed on five separate occasions with Mr. Mulvey allegedly stealing them and taking them away in his vehicle, whose license plate was recorded on camera.

According to police, 21 signs were found to be in Mr. Mulvey’s possession. Detectives recovered the signs (undamaged) in Mr. Mulvey’s garage and returned them to Mr. Horodynsky.

Mr. Mulvey was processed at police headquarters and released with a summons charging him with the theft of 21 business lawn signs, valued at a total of some $470.

The incident made Channel 7 News on July 17 with Mr. Horodynsky, shown walking along Nassau Street with a news reporter, expressing his hope that Mr. Mulvey gets help and doesn’t lose his job at Princeton University.

Mr Horodynsky subsequently captured the broadcast on video and posted it to YouTube (www.youtube.com/channel/UCohwqy8Zh6UBv85ert7onEw) where it has received 71 views so far.

Mr. Mulvey, who lives on Puritan Court, has been teaching at Princeton University since 1978 and is a professor of operations research and financial engineering and a founding member of the Bendheim Center for Finance. The Center, which conducts research into links between financial economics and fields, such as engineering, operations research, mathematics, computer science, psychology, and public policy, is described on the Princeton University website as “comprised by a group of distinguished leaders in the financial industry.”

According to the University website, Mr. Mulvey is “a leading expert in large-scale optimization models and algorithms, especially financial applications” who has “implemented integrated risk management for many large financial companies, including American Express, Towers Perrin Tillinghast, Pacific Mutual, and St. Paul Insurance.” He “has built significant planning systems for government agencies, including the Office of Tax Analysis for the Treasury Department, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Defense Department,” and “edited five books and published over 140 scholarly papers.”

Mr. Mulvey told the press last week he had no intention of stealing the signs and was only cleaning up what he thought was trash.

The placement of business lawn signs is governed by local ordinance and they are not allowed in the public right of way, except with the approval of the zoning officer.

 

Four state lawmakers have written to a federal agency requesting increased attention to safety issues regarding the Williams Transco company’s plan for a pipeline on the Princeton Ridge.

Congressmen Rush Holt and Frank Pallone, and Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez signed a letter Tuesday to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requesting that the agency “thoroughly review safety risks associated with this project” before a final Environmental Assessment is issued. While the lawmakers would have preferred that FERC require an Environmental Impact Statement, which is more extensive than an Environmental Assessment, the agency has determined that an Environmental Assessment is adequate for the project.

The letter, which is part of the public comment process, comes a week after Princeton Council passed a resolution asking FERC to reject Transco’s plan for the project, citing environmental and safety concerns brought to the forefront by the citizen action group Princeton Ridge Coalition.

Last month, Mr. Holt cited the Princeton Ridge expansion proposal in an address to the House of Representatives on the need to increase funding for the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. “I have heard from my constituents about their safety concerns with this project which will require excavation and construction work along an existing, more than 50-year-old pipeline, which runs past homes and schools,” he remarked during a hearing for the amendment, which was adopted.

The letter signed by Mr. Holt, Mr. Pallone, Mr. Booker, and Mr. Menendez calls the Princeton Ridge “an unusual environment of boulders, shallow bedrock, and wetlands,” and cites submissions by pipeline safety expert Richard Kuprewicz of Accufacts, Inc. about safety concerns. “Failing to account for all credible safety risks would needlessly imperil not only local communities, but also the men and women working to construct and install this pipeline,” the letter reads.

Since the Williams Transco company announced its plans for the project, which would add a new gas pipeline to one that was installed in 1958, the Princeton Ridge Coalition has been investigating and airing concerns about environmental and safety conditions. The company has met with the citizens’ group and the municipality on several occasions and has made several changes to their plans to accommodate the concerns. But some issues remain.

In the letter to FERC, the lawmakers reference a recent finding that FERC had violated the National Environmental Protection Act in segmenting a project’s environmental review process involving the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company’s Northeast Upgrade Project. That project and the one involving the Princeton Ridge, which is part of the Leidy Southeast Expansion Project, “are notable and may be of relevance in the preparation of a final environmental review document,” they said.

“If FERC is committed to proceeding with the EA (Environmental Assessment) rather than a full Environmental Impact Statement, the outstanding issues related to safety during construction should be addressed,” the letter reads. “The principal safety risks involve potential damage to the half-century old existing pipeline because of remaining rocks and anticipated use of heavy construction equipment. In consideration of remaining safety concerns and the unique Princeton Ridge environment, we encourage you to answer all community concerns regarding project construction and environmental impacts.”

 

July 16, 2014

In response to the recent announcement by the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) that it will conduct an archeological survey of the site where it plans to build single family dwellings and townhouses for members of its faculty, the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS) issued a press release Monday, July 14, challenging the survey, the Institute’s integrity, and questioning the qualifications of the firm hired by the IAS to conduct the work.

According to the PBS release, “Having the Institute for Advanced Study perform an archeological investigation on property they want to develop is like having the tobacco industry study the health effects of smoking on lung cancer.”

Institute spokesperson Christine Ferrara said that the Institute had agreed to conduct the archeological survey of the project area prior to construction at the request of the Princeton Planning Board, which made it a condition of its approval of the IAS faculty housing plans in 2012.

The survey got under way Monday, July 14, and will continue over the summer. The Princeton Planning Board is due to review the Institute’s amended housing plan on September 18.

The Ottery Group (www.otterygroup.com) has been hired to undertake the necessary field work of collecting data and any artifacts from the site. It plans to conduct a comprehensive survey of the seven-acre site by means of magnetometry, more than 300 shovel test pits, and metal detection.

“The Ottery Group will record and process the resulting data and any artifacts recovered, after which the archeological data will be made public,” said Ms. Ferrara.

The IAS has agreed that all artifacts and findings will be permanently transferred to the New Jersey State Museum.

The Battlefield Society is challenging the Institute to complete its archaeology survey under the watchful eye of an independent body of experienced battlefield archaeologists. “We are responding particularly to repeated statements by the IAS that they don’t expect any military artifacts to be found,” said Society president Jerry Hurwitz. “To the contrary, we definitely expect many additional artifacts to be found.”

Describing any product of the IAS sponsored survey as “tainted and suspect, given their conduct on prior cultural resource studies and their continual denial that the battle was fought on that field,” the PBS questions “the integrity that will be brought to another archaeological survey after their attempt to silence those that conducted the original study, and their hire of a firm not connected with the original study to write conclusions in a way so as to minimize the importance of the artifacts and to suggest that there is nothing more to be found,” said Mr. Hurwitz.

Citing a study of the rate of artifact discovery at Monmouth Battlefield, Mr. Hurwitz said that “artifacts are continually being found for the first time, pushed toward the surface over time or metal detected at new angles, and found for the first time. It may take many years to recover artifacts that have been in the ground for almost 250 years.”

The Battlefield Society is questioning not only the scope of the Institute survey but the credentials of the Ottery Group. “We would like the IAS to make the credentials of the firm they chose available to demonstrate the firm’s experience and the experience of the individual team members with military conflict sites, particularly American Revolution battlefield sites,” said PBS attorney Bruce Afran.

“This site is not just important because of the artifacts that lie within it,” said PBS Vice President Kip Cherry. “It is a critical historic resource of national importance that should be experienced and interpreted.”

Ms. Cherry also questions the need for the Institute to build on this particular site. As an alternative, she suggests, the IAS could construct elsewhere on its campus or “create a mortgage subsidy program similar to that of Princeton University’s that would allow IAS faculty to locate wherever they want within an easy commute, while meeting their lifestyle goals and gaining equity toward their retirement.” Ms. Cherry points out that the faculty members of other institutions such as Princeton University, Rider/Westminster, and Seminary faculty find suitable housing in Princeton.

Meanwhile litigation intended to overturn the Planning Board’s original approval of the Institute’s building plans is pending in the Appellate Court of New Jersey.

The Institute’s long-standing plans for faculty housing are described on its website (www.ias.edu). For more on the Princeton Battlefield Sociey, visit: theprincetonbattlefieldsociety.com.

 

The consolidation of Princeton Borough and Township last year left some fearing that individual neighborhoods would lose a voice when decisions about zoning and other key issues are on the table. In response, the town created a special task force, which recommended to Princeton Council Monday night that it adopt a Neighborhood Planning Program to allow different districts to have their say.

Council member Jenny Crumiller gave a status report on the work done over the past year and a half by the Advisory Planning District Task Force, on which she serves along with Councilman Patrick Simon, Planning Board chair Wanda Gunning, and residents Ryan Lilienthal, Valerie Haines, and Bill Harla. The matter is tentatively scheduled to be further explored at Council’s September 17 meeting.

Also at the meeting, Council voted to approve an ordinance introduced last month concerning landscaping registration and workers’ compensation. The governing body also voted for a resolution requesting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) require further environmental and safety assessments from the Transco Leidy pipeline expansion project, which is proposed for a section of the Princeton Ridge.

At the time of consolidation in January, 2013, the issue of advisory planning districts was recommended but not confirmed. The task force has been working to develop a plan since then. “We support this. We want to involve residents early in the development process,” Ms. Crumiller said. “We struggled with things like boundaries, representation, and who would make decisions. The main stumbling block was, if there wasn’t a consensus, who would make a decision?”

Members of the public voiced their support for such a measure, praising the Witherspoon/Jackson Neighborhood Association as a model for other parts of town. Council President Bernie Miller pointed out that other neighborhood groups in Princeton have existed over the years. One formed around the issue of development near Smoyer Park, and another in the Riverside area was focused on the TRI Princeton development site.

Alexi Assmus, who lives on Maple Street, said she has done some informal research on the way neighborhoods are represented in Charlottesville, Virginia, a university town with a slightly larger population than Princeton. “When developers come to town, they recommend these neighborhood associations as players in the projects,” she said. “One can see from the Charlottesville municipal website what an important role these associations play.”

The issue of whether members of neighborhood groups should pay a fee was raised. “My concern is the little guy,” said Councilman Lance Liverman. “They might not be able to pay a fee. There should be transparency, and no favoritism. We have to be very careful about this.”

Harris Road resident Paul Driscoll suggested that members of the Planning Board attend meetings of neighborhood groups. “Sometimes it appears that developers are being rubber-stamped,” he said, referring to developers’ attorneys at public meetings “to intimidate the Planning Board into getting what they want.”

 

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision last week quashing an attempt to keep NJ Transit from transferring the Dinky train easement to Princeton University has not deterred members of Save the Dinky, Inc. from continuing its litigation and advocacy.

Preserving the Dinky rail link to Princeton Junction is the goal of the citizens’ group, which asked the Supreme Court to determine whether the transfer should have been subject to a federal review. The court decided to not review the case, affirming a ruling last March by the appellate court that no federal review was needed.

Attorney Virginia Kerr, who filed the petition with Morristown lawyer Phil Rosenbach, said the case was a long shot, but worth pursuing.

“It really was disappointing that the Supreme Court didn’t take this, because they’ve never taken a case under the Register of Historic Places Act, which was placed in 1970,” she said. “Our case is unprecedented, because the agency [NJ Transit] is doing this to accommodate Princeton University, which is private. It sets a dangerous kind of precedence. For people who care about preservation law, it’s troublesome. The Register of Historic Places Act is supposed to impose some constraints. This one is quite over the line.”

Ever since the University announced its plans for the $330 million project, Save the Dinky has been opposed to the move and transformation of the Dinky depot, from which trains run to and from Princeton Junction station on the Northeast Corridor line. The former station buildings, which are 460 feet north of the station under construction, are to be turned into a restaurant and cafe.

The group has two other pending state court cases related to the issue. One is an appeal from the ruling that the 1984 contract with NJ Transit permitted a second move of the train station. The other challenges a decision made last month by NJ Transit’s Board of Directors authorizing its staff to transfer the easement covering the Dinky property to the University in exchange for an easement of lesser value. The group argues that state law required NJ Transit to hold a public hearing on the environmental, transportation, and financial aspects of the station move before turning it over to a private owner.

Save the Dinky also contends that Governor Chris Christie, who has veto power over all NJ Transit board decisions, should have recused himself because he is a Princeton University trustee and an advocate of its Arts & Transit project. In addition, there is a petition filed last year before the Surface Transportation Board by the National Association of Railroad Passengers and the New Jersey Association of Railroad Passengers. The petition seeks a ruling that the shortening of the Dinky line requires federal review and approval.

Anita Garoniak, president of Save the Dinky, said in a press release that “it is sad that in this time when we are dealing with the effects of climate change a major university is persisting in a plan that will degrade pedestrian access to mass transit.”

 

July 9, 2014

Princeton HealthCare System will pay $1.35 million to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought four years ago by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding employee leave policy. The company, which operates University Medical Center at Princeton, will also undertake measures to correct their policy, which the EEOC says violated the federal Americans With Disabilities Act.

The EEOC announced the settlement on June 30. The suit alleged that Princeton HealthCare System’s fixed leave policy failed to consider leave as a reasonable accommodation. The company’s leave policy merely tracked the requirements of the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which meant employee leaves were limited to a maximum of 12 weeks. So employees who were not eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act were fired after being absent for a short time, and more were fired once they were absent more than 12 weeks. Twenty-three employees were “negatively impacted,” according to the EEOC.

In a statement responding to the news of the settlement, Princeton HealthCare System said, “The case involved a human resource policy that was in place a number of years ago and was changed in 2010. As part of this settlement, the EEOC has reviewed the Hospital’s current policies and our ongoing program for training employees and supervisors, and has stated that it has no objection to the Hospital’s current policies and training program.

“Although the Hospital disagrees that the prior policy violated the ADA and challenged the claims, the Hospital has agreed to resolve those matters in order to avoid the very high cost and disruption of operations caused by the ongoing litigation. The Hospital has always been and remains fully committed to a workplace free of any discrimination.”

The suit was brought against the Princeton HealthCare System in August, 2010 in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey after the EEOC first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement. As part of the settlement reached last month, the EEOC will monitor the company’s compliance with the decision over the next four years. The $1.35 million will be distributed among the employees who were terminated under the former policy.

The Princeton HealthCare System case is one of several the EEOC recently resolved involving leave and attendance policies. Others include Sears, Verizon, Supervalu, and Interstate Distributor, according to the release.

“This case should send a clear message that a leave of absence is a reasonable accommodation under the law,” said Robert D. Rose, Regional Attorney of EEOC’s New York District Office, in the EEOC’s release. “Policies that limit the amount of leave, even if they comply with other laws, violate the ADA when they call for the automatic firing of employees with a disability after they reach a rigid, inflexible leave limit.”

 

Princeton’s school teachers are working under an expired contract since no agreement has as yet been reached on a new one for the next three years. Talks took place between the Board of Education (BOE) and the Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) June 30, as members of the teachers’ union marched in front of the district offices on Valley Road. Teachers carried hand-lettered placards expressing their case for increased pay and health benefits.

According to PREA negotiator John Baxter, Tuesday’s four-and-a-half-hour talk resulted in “very little significant progress and no progress whatsoever on the main topics of health care and salary.”

Expressing disappointment that “the Board was unprepared to make a new proposal on either health care or salary” in spite of the fact that his team had expressed willingness to consider any cost savings proposals and again suggested that the Board not disregard the possible merits of the State Employees Health Benefits Plan, Mr. Baxter said that the Board “agreed to have some new proposals or concepts to present at the next meeting.”

One stumbling block to progress, according to Mr. Baxter is that “the Board continues to maintain that the amount of teachers’ contributions to health care premiums for the years 2015-16 and 2016-17 are non-negotiable.”

“We again expressed our disagreement, and pointed out that the Board’s position restricts the options of both sides for proposals and counter proposals, perhaps making it more difficult to reach a fair contract. We requested that the Board provide us with a copy of the legal opinion upon which they are basing their refusal to bargain contributions,” said Mr. Baxter.

“The Board agreed that the administrators’ contributions for these same two years will be a negotiable topic when the Board bargains with the union for the administrators in roughly six months,” said Mr. Baxter, adding that as of July 1, this year PREA members have given up two health care plans, saving the district over $300,000.

District negotiator Patrick Sullivan, however, begs to differ on this claim. “Not exactly,” he said. “The terms of PREA’s expired contract (collectively bargained and ratified by them two years ago) provided that the two most expensive health plans would sunset at the end of the contract. All employees on those sunsetting plans were to move to another plan that is already on offer. The sunsetting of those plans was an agreed upon term of the last contract negotiation, and is not related to any issues in the current negotiation. So this is not a matter of PREA being accommodating in any way, nor is it actually a ‘saving.’ These terms were fully negotiated in the prior contract and were anticipated by both sides.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Sullivan described the recent talks as resulting in “significant progress agreeing on work-related issues in the new contract. We still remain apart on issues related to salary and benefits; however we are optimistic that with continued discussions we can reach a contract.”

In this respect, Mr. Baxter expressed guarded agreement: “We were able to come to agreement on contract language for the pro-rated number of sick and personal days for new hires who begin employment after the start of the school year and for the use of accumulated unused personal days. This was a simple matter of clarifying and formalizing in the contract the practices currently utilized by central administration.”

Negotiations between teachers and the school district reached an impasse June 10 over health benefit contributions, among other issues, but as yet negotiations are to continue without mediation. The two sides will talk further during the third week of July.

 

The Princeton Police Department has arrested a Trenton woman for several thefts that occurred in the Princeton homes where she was employed as a cleaner.

The accused, Irma Natareno, 57, lives in Trenton and was employed to clean the homes of two separate Princeton families living on the Great Road and on the Princeton Kingston Road.

The thefts are believed to have occurred between June 2011 and April 2014.

Subsequent to an investigation by Princeton’s Detective Bureau, Ms. Natereno was arrested on July 3. She has been charged with the theft of jewelry, coins, cameras, and other items totaling $90,490.

The arrest highlights the degree to which the police department relies on the public to come forward with information that helps solve crimes. “In this case, the perpetrator was identified as a possible culprit by the victims,” said Police Chief Nick Sutter.

“We have experienced a rash of burglaries in recent months,” said Mr. Sutter. “We rely a great deal on information from the public and our detectives collaborate regularly with other area departments experiencing crimes that may be committed by the same culprits,” said Mr. Sutter. It is usual for the police in West Windsor, South Brunswick, Lawrence, Montgomery and Hopewell to pool their resources.

Mr. Sutter commended Detective Annette Henderson, who worked on the case leading to the arrest of Ms. Natereno, for doing a “very good job.”

“Princeton detectives are now finding links between incidents, and this is one example of good detective work that has cleared up multiple thefts,” Mr. Sutter added.

In April, Town Topics reported that the Princeton Police Department was working with other area police departments with respect to a “rash” of daytime residential burglaries that had occurred in Princeton homes unoccupied at the time of the break-ins. After the arrest of two Ewing men by West Windsor Police on March 25, Princeton Police looked for a connection to burglaries in Princeton but found none. A suspect arrested in South Brunswick was also found to be unrelated to incidents in Princeton.

But in May, Princeton Police arrested a 19-year-old suspect after a call from a neighbor. The suspect was attempting to break in to a residence on Randall Road. “This arrest was made because a resident called us,” said Detective Sergeant Christopher Quaste at the time. “Residents are our eyes and ears and we are always grateful when we get a call like this, which resulted in an arrest.”

Princeton residents are reminded to call the police department at (609) 921-2100 immediately to report any suspicious vehicle(s) and/or person(s) in their neighborhood. If it is possible to do so, they should get a description of any suspicious person or vehicle (including a license plate) and the direction of travel. For an incident in progress, they should call 9-1-1.

The police should also be notified immediately of any unknown person knocking on front doors. Potential burglars may knock on a front door to determine whether or not a house is occupied. They might say that they are looking for someone or for a particular street, even for a lost pet. They might pretend to be a door-to-door salesman. If there is no answer, they may walk to the back of the property and use unlocked doors/windows to gain entry. If none are found, windows and doors have been forced open. Jewelry and silver are generally targeted.

The Princeton Police Department also suggests that residents have digital photographs of their valuables as a way of helping the police in their attempts to recover stolen property. Practices that often prevent homes being targeted at least during daytime are always turning on any alarm systems, and presenting signs of occupation such as a car parked in the driveway, or a radio or TV left on inside the home.

The Princeton Police Department is requesting anyone with additional information to contact Det. Annette Henderson at (609) 921-2100 ext. 1818 or at ahenderson@princetonnj.gov.

 

July 2, 2014

At a “Meet the Mayors” discussion held by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce last week, Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert brought up the topic of tour buses that hog parking spaces on Nassau Street while their passengers make a quick stop involving little or no patronage of local shops, cafes, and restaurants. It was the same issue she broached a few weeks earlier at a press conference held by the Chamber to announce growing tourism numbers in town.

The tour bus issue has become a hot topic among local officials and business owners. Princeton’s popularity as a tourist destination is clearly on the rise, according to figures supplied by the Chamber. And the town encourages tourism. But the buses that bring tourists for short stopovers on the way from New York to Philadelphia are perceived by many as a problem.

Last weekend, local police began an effort to enforce laws about idling and encouraged bus drivers to move their vehicles away from the central business district while passengers were snapping photos of Nassau Hall and stopping at Starbucks to use the facilities and possibly purchase a drink. According to Princeton Police spokesman Steven Riccitello, the four bus drivers spoken to were cooperative. “They were parked, and they weren’t idling,” he said. “Patrol officers told them they couldn’t stay in these spots on Nassau near Witherspoon, and sent them along. There was no problem.”

Local officials, the Chamber, and the Princeton Merchants Association have been exploring the idea of how to encourage longer visits and discourage the parking on Nassau Street. “This has really come to our attention with a bang in the last few months,” said Princeton Council President Bernie Miller. “From our own observations, and from observations made by the University, it’s a problem. Tourism is great for the town, and we welcome tourists. But we’d really welcome them to stay for a half day or a day or two. We really don’t feel that those who come and stay for an hour or two are benefitting the town. And they don’t learn much about the community while they’re here, which is a shame.”

Chamber president and CEO Peter Crowley said one idea is to provide tourists with information about Princeton, encouraging them to spend more time in the town instead of treating it as a quick photo opportunity. “We’re very fortunate that we have a walking downtown,” he said. “But I think people who come in don’t always know what to do. We want them to spend some real time here. So the CVB (Princeton Convention and Visitors Bureau) and the Chamber are going to work hard to figure out a solution.”

Mayor Lempert said last week that Princeton’s ordinances on idling and parking are being looked at as part of an effort to solve a problem that “has gotten out of hand.” She has formed an economic development group to help find a solution.

“Princeton is conveniently located halfway between New York and Philadelphia, and it’s an attractive place to stop midway, snap pictures of Nassau Hall, and use the bathroom at Starbucks,” she said. “But it seems like they’re coming to use the facilities but not to buy. This is not an activity helping out the town. And if the buses are idling, it is unpleasant for patrons of the restaurants with outdoor seating. The flip side is that we have a beautiful, historic town and we want people to come and enjoy it.”

Not all of the merchants in town are bothered by the quick-trip tourism. Some have actually benefitted from their visits. “We used to open at 11:30 a.m. on Sundays, and now it’s 9:30,” said Henry Landau of the Landau woolens shop at 102 Nassau Street. “I would come in to do my books and there were people around, so we decided to open earlier. That first hour is one of our best hours.”

Mr. Landau suggested that a sign be put up showing bus drivers where to drop people off, and then park at such locations as Prospect Avenue or Princeton Shopping Center. Jim Sykes, president of the Princeton University Store at 114-116 Nassau Street, has also found patrons willing to spend money among the short-term tourists. “For us, it’s positive, because so much of our business is tourist and visitor driven,” he said. “It would be good for the community, though, if we could figure out a way to have a set location for buses. It can definitely be done a lot better.”

Some have suggested that the town form a special commission on tourism to help with the problem. Mr. Miller said that enforcement of the parking and idling ordinances will be continued. “If it turns out that there is repeating, we will start ticketing,” he said. “We’ll take a look at the ordinances and make sure they’re tight.” Other towns larger than Princeton have licensed tour operators, and Princeton could do the same if necessary.

“We may have to get to that point,” Mr. Miller said. “If they’re licensed, they’ll understand the rules and regulations. And if they’re not, they’ll get cited.”

Coming up with a solution is a delicate dance for those involved, who want to promote tourism rather than scare busloads of tourists away. “We should encourage tourism, but the kind that benefits both the tourists and the community. We want people to stay awhile and visit points of interest in the town and on the campus,” Mr. Miller said. “The tour companies should not use Princeton as a rest stop much the same as they do on the New Jersey Turnpike.”

 

Last week, the attorney for AvalonBay Communities issued a statement calling Princeton’s hiring of environmental lawyer Neil Yoskin a conflict of interest. Mr. Yoskin, who chairs the environmental practice group of the firm Sokol, Behot, & Fiorenzo, was retained as co-counsel in the recent litigation filed by the developer against the town.

But as of early this week, AvalonBay, which opposes Princeton’s requirement of additional environmental testing at the former Princeton Hospital site, had yet to file a motion. “We’re still evaluating our options,” attorney Robert A. Kasuba wrote in an email on Monday afternoon.

AvalonBay is contracted to build a 280-unit rental housing complex on Witherspoon Street, where the old hospital building still stands. The developer filed a suit objecting to the extra soil testing that the town has made a condition of a developer’s agreement. While preparations for demolition have been underway on the interior of the building, AvalonBay cannot knock it down and start construction until the agreement is accepted.

Mr. Kasuba asserted in his statement that it was “truly perplexing” that Mr. Yoskin was hired only four days before opposition papers were due. “The late retention of Mr. Yoskin is an obvious attempt to delay the litigation, and we expect that the Court will see through this ploy,” he said.

He added, “Of real concern is Mr. Yoskin’s apparent conflict of interest in representing Princeton adverse to AvalonBay. Mr. Yoskin has made a career of representing developers on environmental matters. We are curious to learn of the number of instances where he advised developers to test for environmental contamination where there was no DEP regulation requiring a developer to do so and no evidence of a discharge as AvalonBay is being requested to do in this matter.”

Mr. Kasuba also said Mr. Yoskin has periodically discussed environmental matters with AvalonBay senior vice president Ron Ladell, most recently at a builders convention last March.

“If Ron Ladell said we had a meeting, I don’t doubt that. But I don’t recall it,” Mr. Yoskin said Tuesday. “But at most it would have been a casual conversation.”

AvalonBay is suing the town, Princeton Council, Mayor Liz Lempert, and two municipal staff members over the additional testing, which is more than what is required by the State of New Jersey. Concerns following the discovery of a medical waste incinerator once in operation on the site led consultant Ira Whitman to recommend the extra sampling.

Princeton’s municipal attorney Trishka W. Cecil said Mr. Yoskin was hired because the heart of the case deals not only with land use issues, with which she is familiar, but also with various environmental regulations. “Council felt and I agree that we needed someone with expertise in this area,” she said. “It was also important to make sure that we’ve done everything we possibly can to win this case. It’s very important that the Court agree with us that this testing is necessary. Neil has a deep familiarity with the rules and regulations that apply here, and when you’re asking a judge to rule on something, you want to give her all the help she needs. Neil was the guy to do that.”

As to the conflict of interest claim, Ms. Cecil said, “We don’t feel Neil has any kind of disqualifying interest so we’re proceeding with him. Unless they make a motion and the Court rules on it, he’s fine to participate and represent the town.”

 

This year’s Independence Day holiday begins early in Princeton with the traditional Spirit of Princeton fireworks display taking place tonight, Wednesday, July 2, on the fields next to the Princeton University Stadium, along Western Way.

This year marks the 15th Annual Independence Day Fireworks, which will begin at 9 p.m., rain or shine, thanks to the Princeton-based non-profit organization that brings the community together with this event as well as the Memorial Day Parade, Flag Day celebration, and Veteran’s Day ceremony. Only lightning will put a damper on the show.

All are welcome to the free display, for which the fields will be open at 7 p.m. for picnicking. Visitors should note that no alcohol is allowed and, since there is artificial turf on the field, smoking is not permitted. Parking, however is available in University Lot 21 off Faculty Road, as well as in the University parking garage on Prospect Street.

For more information, visit: www.spiritofprinceton.org.

Morven’s July Fourth Jubilee

On the day itself, a number of history-inspired events around town are guaranteed to keep family, visitors, and history buffs entertained and informed, not to mention well-fed and having fun.

Morven Museum & Garden will host its annual July 4 Jubilee from noon to 3 p.m. This free family-oriented event has grown since it began in 2008. This year, in honor of New Jersey’s 350th birthday, the historic residence that was home to Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, will offer visitors a chance to “sign” their own name to the historic document, albeit in facsimile form.

Along with bread and ice cream made as in colonial times, there will be period demonstrations of spinning, guns, leaf printing, and music making. Stacy Flora Roth will channel the character of Molly Pitcher and celebrate the role that women played during the American Revolution. Bill Agress will do justice to George Washington as he shares the general’s personal correspondence.

Guests are invited to bring blankets or chairs and relax on the front lawn of this National Historic Landmark that once served as the official New Jersey Governor’s Mansion. The Riverside Bluegrass Band will entertain and Oink & Moo BBQ will be on hand with refreshments.

Morven Museum & Garden is located at 55 Stockton Street. For more information, call (609) 924-8144, or visit: www.morven.org.

Battlefield State Park

Also on Friday, Independence Day will be celebrated from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the site of one of the most crucial battles of the Revolutionary War. Visitors to the July 4 celebration in Princeton Battlefield State Park, will discover a wealth of free activities evocative of colonial times, as well as an informative talk on the 1777 Battle of Princeton at noon and a public reading of the Declaration of Independence at 1 p.m.

Re-enactors forming Mott’s 6th Company, 2nd Continental Artillery will demonstrate drill, artillery, and flintlock muskets and costumed volunteers will showcase domestic skills and games of the era. The Thomas Clarke House will be open and there will be an exhibit of “Arms of the Revolution.” Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy hiking on the trails of the adjacent Institute Woods. For more information, call (609) 921-0074.

Other Festivities

Ewing Township will host its own “Happy Birthday America” parade on Parkside Avenue from 10 a.m. on Friday, July 4 with music by the Odessa Klezmer Band. For more information, call (609) 883-2900; or visit: ewingnj.org.

At Grounds for Sculpture, 126 Sculptor’s Way, Hamilton, there will be a Fourth of July BBQ, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with made-to-order cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and veggie burgers. For more information and costs of admission, call (609) 584-7800, or visit: www.ratsrestaurant.org.

Re-enactors will present a window into the past through military exercises, musket firings, and three readings of the Declaration of Independence from the steps of McKonkey’s Ferry Inn when Friends of Washington Crossing State Park celebrate from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the park on Route 32, Washington Crossing, Pa. The $8 admission includes entry to Bowman’s Hill Tower, the Thompson Neely House, and the Lower Park. For more information, call (215) 493-4076, or visit: www.ushistory.org/washingtoncrossing.

Celebrations on Saturday, July 5, include a 6 p.m. concert by the Mercer County Symphonic Band followed by fireworks at 9 p.m. on the Main Street in Cranbury. For more information, call (609) 395-0900.

 

June 25, 2014

New regulations proposed by the state Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) dictating that Princeton has “zero obligation” to build more affordable units have caused concern that developers will be able to challenge the town’s current municipal ordinance requiring them to set aside a portion of affordable units in housing projects.

Princeton Council was given a presentation on the proposed rules at its meeting Monday night. In another matter, the governing body heard from neighbors and the owners of a rental home at 59 Meadowbrook Drive known as the “flood house” before voting 5-1 for an ordinance to demolish the flood-prone property and create a small pocket park on the site.

COAH’s proposed, third-round rules were published on June 2. In her presentation to Council, Princeton’s COAH adviser Shirley Bishop stressed repeatedly that the regulations are not set in stone. The non-profit Fair Share Housing Center has filed a lawsuit with the New Jersey Supreme Court, questioning the methods that were used to arrive at the figures in the proposed rules. The New Jersey Builders Association may also file a suit soon, Ms. Bishop said.

Princeton’s zero building obligation is based not on need, but on the fact that the town does not have much space to build more units. The municipality has until August 1 to register its own comments, and Ms. Bishop recommended that the town file an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request to determine how the data was compiled. The state will adopt the regulations on November 17 unless ruled not to do so by the state Supreme Court.

Princeton’s ordinance currently requires developers to set aside 20 percent of the units in large, multi-family developments as affordable. “One of my main concerns about this is that we do have a strong commitment here that is above and beyond the state requirement,” Mayor Liz Lempert said at a press conference earlier in the day. “I don’t want [new rules] to stand in our way.” At the meeting, Ms. Lempert said, “I want to make sure that if the state comes back and says we don’t have any obligation, that it is not going to impede our ability to keep that law on the books.”

Councilwoman Jo Butler called the zero obligation figure “really shocking,” and suggested Council form a subcommittee to help compile a response. Councilman Patrick Simon commented, “The rules appear to be to protect developers even more aggressively than they already did.” Ms. Lempert suggested asking the town’s affordable housing board for help. “We want to make sure we can continue to do what we feel we need to do for our town,” she said.

The proposed COAH rules are based on data from the U.S. Census. COAH arrived at the figures by considering the number of persons per room in units built before 1960; plumbing facilities such as lack of a sink, toilet, tub, or shower; and kitchen facilities such as the lack of a sink with piped water, a stove, or refrigerator. A unit has to have at least one of those deficiencies to be considered eligible, and has to be occupied by a low/moderate income household.

Princeton would be obligated to rehabilitate 151 affordable units under the proposed regulations. On-site surveys were not conducted to come up with the figure of 151 deficient units, Ms. Bishop said, encouraging Council to perform an exterior survey if it believes the 151 figure is too high.

There are currently more than 2,000 people on the waiting list for affordable rental housing in Princeton, Ms. Bishop said.

 “Flood House”

The ordinance approved by Council to demolish the house at 59 Meadowbrook Drive was voted on after a public hearing, where there were comments from several neighbors of the property and strong statements from members of Council, particularly Lance Liverman. “This is a dangerous, dangerous property,” Mr. Liverman said. “If we don’t do this now, the grant we’re supposed to be receiving will be thrown away. I just don’t see how this isn’t a win-win situation.”

Under the terms of a grant from the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management (FEMA), the town will use $30,000 of open space trust funds to pay for the demolition and rehabilitation. The purchase price of the property is $625,000, and the balance is to be paid for by FEMA. There were concerns aired about the purchase price, which some believe is too high. The assessed value of the land and the house was $577,300 as of last year.

“I do have some hesitancy,” said Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller. “I would like to discuss this one more time behind closed doors.” But Bob Kiser, the town’s engineer, said that under the FEMA grant, the site must be restored by September 12, which doesn’t allow time for more discussion.

Flooding has been a longstanding problem at the site, Mr. Kiser told Council. The property, in a development built before federal flood maps were implemented, is owned by Moshe and Nira Lavid. Built in 1960, it is next to a tributary that flows into Harry’s Brook and is prone to major flooding and stormwater problems. Neighborhood residents have grown used to seeing occupants’ belongings drying out on the lawn after major storms through the years; hence the name “flood house.”

Residents first asked the former Township Committee for help in 2002. Denied FEMA funding in 2007, the former Township met with former Representative Rush Holt in 2010 and finally succeeded in getting FEMA funds in 2012, Mr. Kiser said.

Several members of the public urged Council to vote for the ordinance to tear down the house. “I’d be glad to pay my share of the $30,000 Princeton has to pay,” said neighbor Jeff Orleans. “The price may be too high altogether, but the price to us in Princeton is an absolute bargain.” Neighbor Matt Wasserman, who chairs the Princeton Environmental Coalition, pointed out that the $30,000 would come out of Green Acres funds, which are meant for open space. “That’s the cheapest you’ll ever spend for open space in this town,” he said.

Local resident Henry Singer said the price is too high and suggested condemning the property. Resident Dale Meade agreed, adding that this is not the only property in Princeton to be plagued by flooding issues. “The beneficiary of this action will be the landlord,” he said. “Let’s assess what the true market value will be.” But municipal attorney Trishka Cecil said the price of pursuing that strategy would be time-consuming and costly, and possibly end up greater than the purchase price.

Property owner Nira Lavid said she and her husband had no idea that the property was so vulnerable to flooding when they purchased it and they experienced no problems for the first seven years. She added that tenants were notified of the situation in their leases and required to have flood insurance.

Councilman Simon was the only member to vote against the ordinance. Mayor Lempert recused herself from the discussion since she lives across the street from the property.

 

 

While focusing on issues in their individual towns, mayors from Mercer County agreed yesterday that helping to solve problems plaguing the city of Trenton is high on their lists of priorities. Leaders of seven municipalities С from Princeton, Hightstown, Pennington, Hopewell Borough, Hopewell Township, East Windsor, and West Windsor С took part in a roundtable discussion Tuesday morning at Mercer County Community College. The program, “Meet the Mayors,” was sponsored by the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“The city of Trenton is critical,” said Pennington Mayor Anthony Persichilli, who grew up in the state capitol. “If there is anything we can do to help, and I’m not talking about money, I think it’s our responsibility.”

Janice Mironov, Mayor of East Windsor, agreed, as did Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert. “It affects all of us, and it’s important that we focus on it as we move forward,” Ms. Mironov said. Ms. Lempert said it is curious that development is encouraged in Princeton, where there is not much available land; rather than in poverty-stricken Trenton, where there is available land and buildings that could be renovated.

The mayors were asked what keeps them up at night. “Trying to get reasonable services for reasonable costs,” responded Steve Kirson, mayor of Hightstown. With 5,500 residents, the town that many pass through on their way to the New Jersey Turnpike is “the smallest big city in the state of New Jersey,” Mr. Kirson said, adding he would like to see more people spend time in the town rather than just driving through. “I’d like to make it a destination community,” he said.

West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh said he is focused on the pieces of property in the township that still need to be developed, including the Princeton Junction train station, where a transit village has been planned for years. Activity on the project is starting, he said.

Among Ms. Lempert’s worries are keeping Princeton’s downtown vibrant and not allowing “Mom and Pop” stores to be overrun by chains. “It’s about how to keep that sense of place, keep the town affordable and keep it diverse,” she said. “Consolidation has helped. We’ve lowered the municipal portion of people’s property taxes. But the question remains, how do we change and stay up to date and innovative without losing the core of what makes us special?”

Asked for a more detailed description of how consolidation has been working, Ms. Lempert called it “a great thing for Princeton.” In addition to lowering taxes, she commented that the municipality works better under one government than it did under two. “We have a smaller police force, but we have more officers on the street. We have a dedicated safe neighborhood unit and a traffic unit,” she said. “It has made a difference in police interactions with the community.”

The fact that Princeton Township and Borough had already been sharing many services and support of the merger by Council members are factors in its success. “I can’t imagine it happening unless you have the support of elected officials,” Ms. Lempert said. “There is a lot of work involved.”

Whether Princeton’s consolidation is serving as a blueprint for other municipalities in the county is another matter. Mr. Kirson said he is skeptical. Ms. Mironov said there would need to be demonstration of significant financial benefit for East Windsor before any kind of consolidation could be seriously considered. “The state needs to provide incentives for this,” she said. In Hopewell Township, “residents are not supportive of the idea at the moment,” said Mayor Vanessa Sandom.

“We’re interested in taking a look [at shared services] on a county-wide basis,” said Mr. Persichilli. “But when you keep costs low and quality high, people are happy and don’t talk about it.” Ms. Mironov added that “more is not always better,” citing the fact that East Windsor pulled out of county-wide recycling when they found a less costly provider on their own.

Asked about parking issues on Nassau Street and how they are affecting businesses, Ms. Lempert said it is a continuing problem, and Princeton Council is working on harmonizing the former Borough and Township ordinances on parking into one. An option being discussed with shop owners is a shuttle service that would ferry employees, and possibly visitors, to a remote parking location.

 

In an email message to Town Topics, IAS spokesperson Christine Ferrara announced that the Institute for Advanced Study is planning an archeological survey at the site where it hopes to build faculty housing.

The announcement came one week after the Princeton Planning Board postponed a public hearing on the Institute’s plans that was to have been held Thursday, June 19.

When Municipal Planning Director Lee O. Solow, who plays a key role in briefing the Board, was unexpectedly absent on medical grounds, the hearing was taken off the agenda.

Ms. Ferrara provided the following statement: “The Institute for Advanced Study’s plans for Faculty housing were unanimously approved by the Princeton Planning Board in March 2012. The Institute agreed to conduct an archeological survey of the project area before construction commenced. The Institute is initiating this work so that the project can proceed once it receives approval on the amended plan, which is currently scheduled to go before the Planning Board on September 18.”

The statement continues: “The Institute has engaged the Ottery Group, a leading cultural resource management and consulting firm, to provide the archeological services. Fieldwork is expected to take place over the summer, after which the data and any artifacts found will be processed and catalogued. Following completion of the archeological work, all artifacts and associated records will be permanently transferred to the New Jersey State Museum, as promised in 2012 by the Institute.”

Meanwhile litigation intended to overturn the Planning Board’s original approval of the Institute’s building plans is pending in the Appellate Court of New Jersey.

After the Planning Board’s 2012 approval of the Institute’s plans to build a group of faculty townhomes and single-family residences on its property adjacent to Princeton Battlefield State Park, the Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society, known for short as The Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS), filed suit to overturn the Board’s ruling. When Judge Mary Jacobson threw out their suit last June, attorney Bruce Afran filed an appeal with the Appellate Court of New Jersey in July on behalf of the Society.

At that time, Battlefield Society President Jerry Hurwitz expressed the hope that a very different decision would be reached by the Appellate Court. “We were unlucky with Judge Jacobson,” he said: “With a different judge it may have gone our way. This time we will be able to critique her opinion and show its weaknesses as well as represent our case all over again.”

Mr. Afran has criticized Ms. Jacobson’s opinions and suggested that she made “some mistakes of law and did not address some important issues” such as the impact the Institute’s plans would have on neighboring sites.

The Institute’s long-standing plans for faculty housing are described on its website (www.ias.edu). For more on the Princeton Battlefield Sociey, visit: theprincetonbattlefieldsociety.com.