April 8, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 2, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voices of Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 18, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tax Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 11, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do Teachers Matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is a Bait Station?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 25, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission (DRCC) has effectively reversed the decision it made last month on the Institute for Advanced Study’s plan for faculty housing. The Commission approved the plan Wednesday, February 18, by a vote of 5 to 2.

This vote stands in contrast with that taken by the DRCC last month when only six members voted 3-2 with one abstention. Since four votes are needed for the Commission’s approval, the Institute’s plan was rejected. One commissioner was absent. Commissioner Ed Trzaska explained that as there are seven members of the DRCC, four yes votes are required for a plan to be approved.

After January’s vote, Mr. Afran spoke of “a major victory for the protection of the Princeton battlefield.” He said: “The issue has now been decided.”

But the Institute had said that it would “continue to discuss the project with the Canal Commission.” IAS spokesperson Christine Ferrara pointed out that although the DRCC had not approved the housing project, there were in fact “more votes for it than against it.”

The Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society (PBS), which has long opposed the housing project on several grounds, is expected to challenge the DRCC ruling.

PBS had been delighted by the DRCC’s January ruling against the Institute’s proposal to build seven single-family homes and two four-unit townhouses. The DRCC, which oversees and manages the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park and protects the streams that feed into the canal, had heard arguments from PBS that construction would negatively impact wetlands at the site. They had not expected the issue to be revisited by the Commission.

An email from Town Topics asking DRCC Executive Director Marlen Dooley: “What prompted the Commission to revisit the issue after its 3-2 vote against the IAS plans last month? Did it have anything to do with the fact that only six of the seven commissioners were in attendance at that January meeting?” elicited this email response: “There was a Motion for Reconsideration. The Commission voted on the motion and the motion was approved …. The Commission believes it has the authority to hear motions for reconsideration.”

According to PBS attorney Bruce Afran, PBS organizers heard about the motion for reconsideration just two days before last week’s meeting.

The motion was put forward by commissioner Mark Texel, who had abstained when the Commission voted on the Institute’s plans in January.

After Mr. Texel’s motion for reconsideration was approved, the Commission revisited the IAS plans and took another vote. This time, the plans were approved by a vote of 5 to 2.

In response to the DRCC’s vote last week, the Institute provided the following statement: “We are very pleased that the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission decided to reconsider its vote last month and today voted 5-2 in favor of the Institute’s fully compliant Faculty Housing plans. With the DRCC’s approval, we may now move to complete the other procedural steps necessary to officially begin the project.”

February 18, 2015

William Hurd Scheide, the Princeton philanthropist, bibliophile, and musicologist who died at age 100 last November, has left his collection of some 2,500 rare books and manuscripts to his alma mater, Princeton University. The bequest, announced Monday and valued at nearly $300 million, represents the largest donation in the University’s history.

“Through Bill Scheide’s generosity, one of the greatest collections of rare books and manuscripts in the world today will have a permanent home here,” said University President Christopher L. Eisgruber in a statement on the University’s website. “It will stand as a defining collection for Firestone Library and Princeton University. I cannot imagine a more marvelous collection to serve as the heart of our library. We are grateful for Bill Scheide’s everlasting dedication to Princeton and his commitment to sharing his breathtaking collection with scholars and students for generations to come.”

The Scheide Library has been housed in the University’s Firestone Library since 1959, when Mr. Scheide moved his collection from his family home in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Among its treasures are the first six printed editions of the Bible, starting with the 1455 Gutenberg Bible, the earliest substantial European printed book; the original printing of the Declaration of Independence; Beethoven’s music sketchbook for 1815-16, the only outside Europe; Shakespeare’s first, second, third and fourth folios; significant autograph music manuscripts of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner; a lengthy autographed speech by Abraham Lincoln from 1856 on the problems of slavery; and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s original letter and telegram copy books from the last weeks of the Civil War.

Collecting rare books was a family tradition for Mr. Scheide, whose father and grandfather were both passionate bibliophiles. His grandfather, William Taylor Scheide, began collecting at the age of 18, in 1865. Mr. Scheide’s father continued the collection and built a library at the Titusville home where the younger Mr. Scheide grew up.

Mr. Scheide’s father and grandfather were both oil company executives. His father was an 1896 graduate of Princeton, and Mr. Scheide was a member of the class of 1936. He began his own collection in 1954, by which time he was living in Princeton. The library from Titusville was moved to the University after Mr. Scheide’s mother died. A space was created at Firestone Library for the collection including furniture, statues, rugs, and leaded-glass windowpanes from the room in Titusville.

According to the University website, the Scheide Library will remain intact, and no book or document will be removed from it. The collection is gradually being digitized and made accessible through the website. As part of a major renovation currently underway at the library, the collection will be relocated. “Before his death, Bill reviewed the plans for the new space, which is once again intended to resemble his father’s library,” said Karin Trainer, Princeton University’s Librarian. “In designing the new space, the renovation architects relied on a vintage photograph they found of the Titusville library.”

At Mr. Scheide’s memorial service at Nassau Presbyterian Church last November, his daughter Louise Marshall recalled that there were books in every room of the family’s house on Library Place. Her father was generous in sharing his collection with others, Ms. Marshall said, a statement echoed by others familiar with his enthusiasm for books and manuscripts.

“He was a great collector,” said Ms. Trainer, just after Mr. Scheide’s death. “But what set him apart was that he was a great sharer. He collected with a scholarly passion, but he really wanted other people to be as enthusiastic as he was and understand why they were important. And that’s not true of all collectors.”

While the Scheide library was privately owned, it has always been accessible to patrons of Firestone through its Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. Mr. Scheide continued to build the collection until shortly before his death.

“This collection is the fulfillment of the dreams of three generations of Scheide book men,” said Mr. Scheide’s widow, Judith McCartin Scheide. “Having it reside permanently at Princeton is a testament to the joy Bill took in sharing the books, papers, manuscripts, letters, music, and posters with others — those were some of his happiest times. He loved showing people — especially young people who had never seen anything like this before — the collection, letting them touch the books and experience what he called ‘the wow factor.’”

The proposed PennEast pipeline that will cross the Sourlands region into Mercer County will have lasting economic impact during and after its construction, according to a study released last week.

The study was commissioned by the PennEast Pipeline Company, a consortium of major East Coast natural gas providers (AGL Resources; NJR Pipeline Company; PSEG Power LLC; South Jersey Industries; Spectra Energy Partners; and UGI Energy Services); and carried out by Drexel University’s business school and Econsult Solutions, Inc.

At a media conference hosted by the company on Monday, February 9, it was suggested that the interstate pipeline would create 2,500 temporary construction jobs. Local labor will be used whenever possible and the study estimates “a total economic impact in both states from design and construction to be $1.62 billion, supporting over 12,160 jobs with $740 million in wages.”

The approximately 110-mile-long natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania to New Jersey would originate in northeastern Pennsylvania. The underground line would run through Hunterdon and into Mercer County. According to the study, it would deliver approximately 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day to markets in eastern Pennsylvania, southeastern Pennsylvania, and New Jersey with natural gas produced from Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania.

“The long-term benefits from being near Marcellus Shale are significant, lower prices and consequent savings for all involved, and a ‘ripple’ effect on the economy,” said the study’s author Vibhas Madan, a professor of economics at Drexel. While Mr. Madan said it was beyond the scope of the present study to quantify that “ripple” effect, he said that there was a possibility of 90 full-time permanent jobs being created. “For each $10 million in increased disposable income, a total of $13.5 million in economic impact could be generated, supporting 90 jobs,” said the report.

“During the construction phase some $17 million would be generated in state personal income taxes,” said Stephen P. Mullen, president and principal of Econsult Solutions.

PennEast Pipeline Company representative Peter Terranova spoke of “long-term benefits to the region in lower energy costs, clean burning gas, supported by main energy providers in the region.” He described a “compelling” need for the PennEast Project that would result in lower energy costs to consumers by accessing gas available 100 miles away rather than 1,000 miles away. A second study showing benefits to the consumer would be forthcoming, he said. Results of that study should be released in a few weeks.

The primary beneficiary, said Mr. Terranova, would be gas-fired power generation which would then benefit electricity users in Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey by “displacing coal and reducing the cost of fuel to generating plants.”

“Even if residents do not use natural gas directly, the project is expected to lower gas prices and in turn lower the cost of electricity produced by plants that use gas as fuel,” the report states.

The PennEast pipeline proposal should not be confused with the existing interstate Transcontinental pipeline. “The two are not directly related,” explained Williams Company spokesperson Chris Stockton by phone Monday. “While Transco is an existing pipeline supplying half of the gas used in New Jersey, the PennEast pipeline is new; it would move gas from the shale developments in Pennsylvania into New Jersey where it would interconnect with Transco’s existing line.”

Across New Jersey, the study suggests a total potential estimated annual economic impact of $2.1 million, supporting 10 jobs and $800,000 in wages.

The study took 6 to 8 weeks to complete using 2013 figures from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. How much Drexel was paid for the analysis was not disclosed.

Findings Questioned

In response, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network issued a press release questioning the study’s findings: “Penn
East is attempting to defend and advance the economics of their pipeline project in a vacuum, simply talking about the economic costs, jobs, and values of PennEast without consideration of the potentially superior economic benefits and values of other clean energy strategies and without considering the economic costs the project will cause to communities,” said the release. “Even assuming their figures are true and accurate, they are talking about creating a very limited number of jobs for every $1 million invested.”

DRN suggests that money would be better spent on “clean energy strategies.”

Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum criticized the study’s failure to consider the “adverse impacts to recreation and ecotourism, the economic damage to agricultural crop production, harms to other businesses, the impact on market values and marketability of properties through which the project will cut, the costs to the community to respond to emergencies, to the increased storm-water runoff, pollution inputs, and other adverse impacts that could result from this project and be foisted upon the shoulders of local towns and residents, and they do not consider the health impacts to the residents who will find themselves living next to a compressor station emitting dangerous pollution impacting the health of local residents, family, and kids.”

According to Ms. van Rossum, the Drexel study “presents an incredibly skewed vision of the PennEast pipeline as one that brings with it positive economic benefits. It completely overlooks the considerable economic downsides and vastly exaggerates any alleged upsides.”

She also questions the value to regional consumers of the gas being conveyed. “Given that the PennEast pipeline connects into a system that would allow them to directly take their gas to the recently approved Cove Point export facility raises very serious questions about their heavy reliance on reduced energy costs for Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents — a benefit they characterize as among the most significant claimed economic benefits of the project,” said Ms. van Rossum.

The proposed pipeline has raised opposition from Princeton area residents and environmental groups such as The Sourlands Conservancy, which is strongly opposed to the new pipeline.

Fracking

The method by which the gas is harvested is highly controversial. Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), involves injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas. Opponents have described its environmental consequences as including contamination of ground water, depletion of fresh water, degradation of air quality, even the potential to trigger earthquakes.

State Senator Shirley Turner, (D-Mercer, Hunterdon) recently introduced a resolution against the pipeline’s construction and U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Colman (D-Mercer) has also expressed opposition.

The PennEast proposal is being reviewed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will hold a public meeting on the Penn
East pipeline draft environmental impact statement at the West Trenton Ballroom, 40 West Upper Ferry Road in Ewing, Wednesday, February 25, at 6 p.m.

“We are still waiting for approval from state governments but if approved, the project should get underway in the spring/summer of 2017 and be operational in November of that year,” said PennEast spokesperson Patricia Kornick.

A copy of the full study can be viewed on the PennEast website http://penneastpipeline.com/economic-impact-analysis.

To share their concerns about the structure and format of the new state-mandated PARCC tests Princeton Public Schools students will take next month, members of the teachers’s union, Princeton Regional Education Association (PREA) and the parent group Save Our Schools NJ (SOSNJ) will hold a “Take the PARCC” event on Monday, February 23, at 7 p.m. in the Princeton High School Performing Arts Center.

Participants should bring along their own wi-fi enabled laptops and tablets in order to check out the tests. The idea is to take a practice test and then ask questions and/or share concerns about it.

Third to 11th grade students will take the computerized assessments that have been developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College in Careers (PARCC) for states that have joined the Common Core curriculum. Common Core seeks to standardize student learning across the nation and the new tests will replace the former NJASK and HSPA standardized tests.

Parents in Princeton and in municipalities across the state have criticized the tests. Many want to know whether their children can “opt out.” To inform them, the district has formulated a “test refusal policy” and has developed a PARCC FAQ sheet, which can be viewed on the Princeton Public Schools page of the municipal website: www.princetonk12.org/Newsroom2/PARCC.

“Princeton parents vary in their level of concern. Some are very knowledgeable about the PARCC tests while others are just starting to learn about them,” said Princeton parent Julia Sass Rubin of SOSNJ. “Probably the greatest concern we hear from parents is the impact that high-stakes standardized testing is having on the classroom, by replacing valuable teaching time with test preparation and by narrowing the curriculum to the tested subjects.”

An associate professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Policy at Rutgers University, Ms. Rubin is a founding member of Save Our Schools NJ, along with Mayor Liz Lampert and the district’s Board of Education President Andrea Spalla. She has a seventh grader at John Witherspoon Middle School.

“We formed Save Our Schools NJ because we saw that public schools were under attack and wanted to inform and organize parents across New Jersey to stand up for our children and our public schools,” she said.

Since it was formed four and a half years ago, SOSNJ has grown to almost 25,000 members; it reaches out to between 30,000 to 150,000 people on Facebook and Twitter each week.

“My main concern with PARCC and other high-stakes standardized tests is the very destructive impact they have on public education, particularly in low-income communities, where the tests are used to forcibly close public schools and to fire teachers,” said Ms. Rubin. “We are very fortunate to have an extraordinary public school system in Princeton that we can’t take for granted. That excellence is a reflection of our administration, the quality of our teachers and the engagement of our families. It takes sustained effort and attention to maintain and defend, and that is something all of us must do.”

While SOSNJ recognizes that assessing a student’s skills and knowledge level is part of a high quality education, it opposes “the reliance on test scores to make critical educational decisions such as closing schools, firing or rewarding teachers, withholding a high-school diploma, or keeping a child from advancing to the next grade,” said Ms. Rubin (see Mailbox). It wants a reduction in the number of standardized tests children must take as well as elimination of the punitive stakes associated with those tests.

According to PREA President Joanne Ryan, teachers also have concerns, specifically: the impact the results of the tests will have on students, teachers, and districts; the number of hours spent preparing and practicing for the tests, taking away from classroom instruction; and the amount of money districts have spent, and are spending, to prepare for the PARCC testing.

“In mid-January PREA began working with Save Our Schools NJ as a community service to provide information to parents and community members,” said Ms. Ryan.

FAQs

According to the FAQ sheet, the district has been preparing students to take the computerized tests by exposing them to the online environment and sample tests prior to the test date and purchasing additional devices such as Chromebooks.

The FAQ sheet compares the PARCC assessment with other PPS ongoing formative assessments necessary to guide teachers and parents about students’ progress. It explains that the results of the tests will be used to identify students who need additional support such as intervention through the Accelerated Intervention Services (AIS) program, accommodations for Special Education and ESL students, and extended time for students with IEPs and 504s.

This first year, however, the assessment results are not expected to be received in time to be used in this way.

The information sheet states that schools are held accountable through the federal No Child Left Behind law to maintain at least 95 percent participation in state-mandated tests and that test results will impact School Performance Report and Progress Targets. Teachers are held accountable through the TEACHNJ law that connects teacher evaluation to student growth, as measured in part by the state assessment data.

It is thought that the PARCC testing may become a graduation requirement for high school in future years.

For more information on the PARCC, visit: www.parcconline.org and/or www.state.nj.us/education/sca/parcc. For more information on the Save Our Schools NJ position, visit: www.saveourschoolsnj.org/high-stakes-testing/.

Space is limited and registration is required for “Take the PARCC.” Pre-registration is available at: http://bit.ly/1AlbiUz. For more information, email: info@saveourschoolsnj.org, or visit www.saveourschoolsnj.org.

February 11, 2015

Because of icy weather conditions Monday, the meeting of the Mayor and Council that was scheduled that night was postponed until Tuesday night, after Town Topics’ press deadline.

In response to calls by Mayor Lempert and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, among others, for a review of the state’s construction code following last month’s AvalonBay Edgewater fire, Ms. Lempert said Monday that she had been assured by State Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Richard E. Constable that his agency would be undertaking a review of the construction code.

His commitment came at a meeting of mayors in Trenton last week. Ms. Lempert said that Princeton would form a working group to make recommendations to the DCA. It has been suggested that a fully suppressed sprinkler system and masonry firewalls would have improved safety at the Edgewater complex.

The January 22 blaze destroyed a 408-unit rental community. No one was seriously hurt but 1,000 people lost their homes and possessions. It has been widely reported that the lightweight wood construction was up to code.

According to Ms. Lempert, Mr. Constable said that the review would determine “for certain” whether the AvalonBay Edgewater development was up to code. The complex was comprised of two buildings, one burned to the ground while the other was saved by firefighters. Why?

Ms. Lempert has said that she would like the DCA to hold off on approving AvalonBay’s Princeton plans until the review provides some answers. It would also make sense to wait if changes to the construction code are in the works.

“What I’m hoping is that the DCA, when they evaluate AvalonBay’s plans for Princeton, will do that based on new building codes.”

Ms. Lempert expressed her concerns to AvalonBay in a 15-minute phone conversation with John Locale, following through on her intention expressed last week that she was planning to approach the developer to ask for voluntary changes to AvalonBay’s construction plan for 280 apartments on the former site of Princeton Hospital.

Neighborhood Planning Program

In addition to a presentation from Ray Wadsworth on this year’s Spirit of Princeton Events, members of Council were due to hear a report Tuesday night from Jenny Crumiller and Patrick Simon of the Advisory Planning District Task Force.

It was expected that the report would recommend a “Neighborhood Planning Program” to provide neighborhood residents a “voice” in the planning process through improved communications between the municipality, prospective developers, and neighborhood residents and groups. Better communication would see such items as land use applications posted on the municipal website, which could in turn “encourage neighborhood meetings,” said the mayor.

Ms. Lempert described the recommendations as being “as much a service to developers as to neighborhood groups.”

“This has been in the works for a while so its good to see it come to fruition; it will improve the planning process,” said Ms. Lempert.

A review of the municipality’s “Goals and Priorities” was also on the agenda, although since a full contingent of Council members was not expected to be present, it would not be voted on until a subsequent meeting. Town Administrator Marc Dashield said Monday that the three main goals were: financial stability, a safe and inclusive community, and a well-run community. All other priorities fall within these main goals,” said Ms. Lempert.

Expansion of Mary Moss Park

Council was expected to vote on two new ordinances at Tuesday’s meeting. The first was to regulate parking on Cleveland Lane where there is currently conflicting signage. The second was an appropriation of $600,000 from the Princeton Open Space Trust Fund for improvements to Mary Moss Park on John Street. The municipality plans to expand the park through the purchase of a two-family dwelling at 31/33 Lytle Street. The purchase price of the property has not yet been determined as appraisals are underway, said the mayor. A 50 percent matching grant is expected from the Mercer County Open Space Trust Fund.

The plan is to demolish the building and use the land to extend the park, which will also be improved later this year, with the help of funding from Mercer County, that will be used for a “water spray” feature to replace the old wading pool. The renovated park is expected to open in 2016.

Visit to White House

As a participant in the “My Brothers Keeper Program,” Princeton is to be represented by Ms. Lempert at the White House this Thursday, February 12. “This program provides opportunities for kids to reach their full potential and the municipality is partnering with the school district, local clergy, and local non-profit organizations on this,” said the mayor. Human Services Department Director Elisa Neir will also be going to Washington, D.C.

Transco Public Hearing

The next Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, February 24 instead of Monday, February 23. A Transcontinental Pipeline hearing has been called for the evening of February 23. The public hearing will be held by the Department of the Environment’s Division of Land Use Regulation at 7 p.m. in the Senior Room at the Nassau Inn.

Although the late-January storm that never happened postponed the public hearing on the bike lane ordinance from January 26 to February 18, another sort of storm has been brewing among residents living on a three-block stretch of Hamilton Avenue who feel blindsided by the sudden introduction of an ordinance that would construct bike lanes at the expense of on-street parking.

The lone “no” vote when the ordinance was introduced at the January 12 Council meeting came from Council member Patrick Simon, who lives on a neighboring street. In a telephone interview Tuesday, he said he cast his vote after consulting with 21 Hamilton Avenue residents, 15 of whom were against the plan, four in favor, and two undecided. Since then Mr. Simon has twice spoken with homeowners on Hamilton and with residents on side streets. As he wrote in his January 21 letter to Town Topics, he remains unconvinced of “the merits of the proposed changes,” feeling that the public has not had “adequate input into this ordinance and the larger plans for a bicycling network throughout town.” He also shares the general concern about the difficulties the strict parking regulations would cause for the handicapped and the elderly.

Mr. Simon pointed out that the master plan put into effect in November 2013 contains no reference to the construction of bike lanes and related enforcement of no parking rules on Hamilton. Nor were residents notified of the bike lane issue in a June message announcing a meeting about plans for widening and improving the street. At the meeting, which was lightly attended, residents heard for the first time the full extent of changes being planned. Those who were there were not happy with the plan.

As a resident of the neighborhood, Mr. Simon knows from experience the complexity of the parking issue. “Whenever a big event is held at the Jewish Center on Nassau, there’s an overflow of parked cars and Hamilton is one of the main streets used.” If parking were banned there, the impact on the side streets would be significant.

Asked about how the Council would react to the arguments against the plan at next Wednesday’s neighborhood meeting, he thinks a reversal is unlikely (“You would have to flip three votes”), though he foresees the possibility of a compromise that would delay the vote. “Council has to take notice and recognize what’s been done and what hasn’t,” he said, mentioning the need to consult with the engineering department.

Other Views

Consulted about the issue, Princeton University Professor and Director of the Transportation Program Alain Kornhauser said in an email, “If we somehow wanted to better accommodate the small percentage of trips taken by bicycle, then we need to be looking at much more than the couple of blocks on Hamilton. We also need to better understand how our sidewalks are being used.”

Other residents interviewed Monday included a homeowner who rides a bike to work and downtown but finds the plan “ill-conceived,” having seen relatively little bicycle traffic on Hamilton.

Hornor Lane resident Peter Thompson, who has lived adjacent to Hamilton for 50 years, is also a frequent bicycle rider. Besides being concerned that the surrounding roads (Hornor, Stanley, Harriet, and Leavitt) are going to be relegated to the parking role that will be prohibited on Hamilton and will make the side streets “even less child (and bicycle) friendly,” he is afraid that this seems like a “bike path to nowhere” and thinks “the municipality should be spelling that out clearly now rather than presenting the overall plan in a piecemeal fashion.”

A message from Princeton Joint Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee (PBAC) addressing the fact that the number of cyclists on the streets seems to preclude the need for the bike lane ordinance suggested, “Many people in Princeton are cycling already, but other college towns have higher rates of cycling. Why is this? Research shows that safe street design is the single biggest factor in determining numbers of cyclists. When streets are designed with all users in mind, many more people choose to cycle.”

Patrick Simon ended his January 21 letter in terms that still hold true except for the date: “Please consider attending the February 18 neighborhood meeting to hear about what is being proposed, to share your own concerns, and to listen to the concerns of others within the community regarding this issue.”

The meeting will take place at 7 p.m., Wednesday, February 18, in the Main Meeting Room at Witherspoon Hall. The Council, Mayor Lempert, and members of the Traffic and Transportation Committee, and the Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Committee will attend. Council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance at its meeting on Tuesday, February 24, at 7 p.m.

The Princeton Public Schools Board of Education (BOE) approved a Spanish/English Dual Language Immersion (DLI) Program last week.

The pilot program will be open only to students entering kindergarten and first grade at Community Park School (CP) this September. Parents will be able to choose whether to have their kindergartners and first-graders learn partly in English and partly in Spanish.

The district is adopting a 50/50 model, in which half of the core instruction will take place in Spanish, and the other half in English.

The pilot program will be offered for a trial period of two years and only at Community Park School. If successful, the pilot may serve as the springboard for expansion of the DLI program model. Evaluation of its success will be based on several factors, including “parent interest, community demand, financial/budgetary considerations, the impact on the school’s unity and culture, impact on students who are not in the program, instructional delivery, staffing capacity, and demographic context of the district.”

CP serves a large number of Latino pupils, drawn from the immigrant community living in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. Students who enter as first graders this fall will continue the program in the second grade in September 2016.

Math and science instruction will be given in Spanish. Social studies, English language arts and the “specials” classes of gym, art, music and library will be in English.

“I am very excited about this innovative, evidence-based initiative at Community Park,” said BOE member Andrea Spalla, who credits Priscilla Russel, the district’s Supervisor for World Languages and English as a Second Language under former Superintendent of Schools Judy Wilson, for first bringing the idea to the Board three years ago.

“It was clear that Priscilla had already been researching and thinking about the DLI concept for a long time; she made a very compelling and well-supported case for her vision,” said Ms. Spalla, adding that Community Park School is an optimal school to pilot the new program: it serves native Spanish-speaking children and families in the neighborhood; it already has several bilingual certified classroom teachers; and it’s already, in many ways, a culturally and demographically “global” school.

Parent survey responses suggested a high level of interest in the program. Several parents urged the board to vote for the pilot at last week’s meeting. “I’ve heard from many more that there is much positive ‘buzz’ about the program among CP parents,” said Ms. Spalla.

CP principal Dineen Gruchacz embraced the chance to introduce bilingual teaching. “She never once hesitated, but immediately saw the promise of a DLI program for her school’s children, and embraced the idea and the work wholeheartedly,” said Ms. Spalla.

The CP principal included several parents and many of her teachers and staff members in the planning process. According to Ms. Spalla, this has been key in establishing the pilot.

“Because this DLI program is a very different instructional delivery model than what our classroom teachers are accustomed to, and because it requires an unusually intensive level of collaboration between the DLI classroom teachers, the teachers’ involvement in the planning process and their firm support for the implementation has been not merely helpful but absolutely essential,” said Ms. Spalla. “The Board is immensely grateful for their work and their courage in taking on this exciting new challenge for our students.

While there are more than 2,000 schools nationwide with dual language programs, only three districts in New Jersey offer such instruction. After the test period, the program will be evaluated to see whether it should be expanded.

According to the district’s website, “Research over the last 30 years shows that dual language instruction can produce important benefits for students, including enhanced cognitive skills, a heightened sense of global citizenship and higher second language proficiency.”

Interested parents of students who will be entering kindergarten at Community Park this fall are being advised to attend one of two information sessions being offered at the school, on Thursday, February 12, at 9 a.m., and Tuesday, February 17, at 6:30 p.m.

A number of information sessions for parents of rising first graders have already been offered over the past months.

A lottery will be held if parent interest at Community Park exceeds classroom capacity.

For more information about the DLI program, visitwww.princetonk12.org/Dual_Immersion.

February 4, 2015

At a press conference held in the parking lot on Franklin Avenue Tuesday, Bergen County Executive James Tedesco and Edgewater Mayor Michael McPartland joined Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, and a number of local residents who turned out to express concern about the safety of the new AvalonBay construction.

Ms. Lempert and Mr. Hughes called last week for the State Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to review New Jersey’s building code after a fire on January 22 destroyed a rental community owned by AvalonBay, the developer that will build 280 apartments on the former site of Princeton Hospital. The officials from northern New Jersey joined Ms. Lempert and Mr. Hughes in their call for more stringent measures.

The Avalon at Edgewater 408-unit apartment complex was built to code using lightweight, wood construction. While no one was seriously injured, the development burned to the ground in a five-alarm blaze, and displaced some 1,000 people.

Mr. Hughes and Ms. Lempert took slightly different approaches to the issue when interviewed Monday. While Mr. Hughes said he is not calling for new legislation, Ms. Lempert said that she is hoping for a revision of current laws.

“I’ve spent most of my life living in Princeton,” said Mr. Hughes. “What I’m interested in is for the DCA to say that this building is going to be safe. It’s in the best interest of AvalonBay, of Princeton, and the surrounding neighborhood. So I’m not calling for new legislation or a moratorium or anything like that. I just want to know from DCA that it’s safe. If its [construction is] an exact copy of the one in Edgewater, then that’s not the building for Princeton. I just want a clean bill of health. That’s all I want to see.”

Republican Assemblyman Scott Rumana, from Wayne, has said he is working on legislation that will put a moratorium of up to two years on the approval and construction of multi-family housing developments until the state’s building code is revised.

“There are obvious places to look as a first step,” said Ms. Lempert. “One is the sprinkler requirements. Another would be cinderblock dividers within the complex. They’re not required, and that’s the problem. We can only hold a developer to what’s written in the law. One of the more disturbing reports out of Edgewater was that it was supposedly built to code.”

Ms. Lempert said that unlike Mr. Hughes, she is hoping that the legislature is going to take another look at the building code. “There seems to be bipartisan agreement that this is something that needs to happen,” she said. “What I’m hoping is that the DCA, when they evaluate AvalonBay’s plans for Princeton, will do that based on new building codes.”

Ms. Lempert said Monday that she had not heard from AvalonBay, but is planning to approach the company about voluntarily changing the construction plan. “They’ve already submitted their plans to the DCA,” she commented. “Under normal circumstances, DCA would review those plans based on what the law was when they were submitted. Given what’s happened in Edgewater, I think everybody can recognize that it’s not enough.

“I also think it’s in AvalonBay’s interest,” she continued. “If they’re going to try to successfully rent the apartments, they’ll need to be able to assure people that the building was built differently from the one in Edgewater.”

At yesterday’s press conference Ms. Lempert described the Edgewater complex conforming to code as “cold comfort to those who suffered the trauma of losing their homes. Clearly we need to update the codes. This is an important issue not only for Princeton but for the entire state of New Jersey.”

Mr. McPartland spoke of the 250 firefighters from 35 towns, as well as fireboats from New Jersey and New York fire departments drawing water from the Hudson River to put out the blaze. “We’re not here to place blame but we have an obligation to make sure that codes keep up with building trends and materials.”

Mr. Tedesco, a former fireman, agreed: “This isn’t about an individual company, it’s about construction in New Jersey, whether the codes allow for people to live in a safe environment.” He suggested two changes for multi-story residential units that would have made all the difference in Edgewater: requiring a fully suppressed sprinkler system and masonry firewalls. He reported that DCA Commissioner Richard E. Constable had assured him that the codes would be looked at, and in a timely manner.

Questioned as to how long such a review might take, Mr. Tedesco estimated somewhere between 8 and 16 months. Mr. Hughes suggested that if the governor got behind it, the review could be done in a matter of weeks. Mr. Hughes also spoke positively about other AvalonBay buildings in Mercer County, but pointed out that these differed from both the Edqewater and the proposed Princeton developments in being only two-story constructions.

“We can’t change what happened in Edgewater,” added Mr. Tedesco, “but we can prevent other fires like it. Princeton doesn’t have the Hudson River and access to New York and New Jersey fireboats.”