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Neighborhood Group Says Arts Council Can Improve Without Doubling in Size

Matthew Hersh

The Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association is preparing a proposal to the Arts Council of Princeton for a smaller-scaled improvement of the downtown arts center.

The proposal, which was discussed at a meeting held by the community group at the Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, will be put forth to the Arts Council at a later date. Another meeting will be held this Saturday, April 17 at 9:30 a.m. at Witherspoon Presbyterian.

A subcommittee of WJNA organized the meeting along with members of Princeton Future and the Arts Council, according to Jim Floyd Sr., the head of the neighborhood organization. Residents in attendance were asked to respond to a subcommittee questionnaire that dealt with the overview and based upon the input that was received by the Arts Council representatives.

"This was an opportunity for a broader-based group to hear what has taken place," Mr. Floyd said.

Joanna Kendig, an architect who lives in the neighborhood and sits on the subcommittee of the neighborhood group, offered a site-plan proposal for the Arts Council building at the first meeting, Mr. Floyd said. Her plan reduced the overall square-footage from the proposed 19,150 to about 14,000. Mr. Floyd added that the neighborhood association has not yet been in contact with Arts Council principals. Some of the suggestions provided by the neighborhood group were that the height of a new building not exceed the existing structure's three-foot addition; that the proposed 19,150 square-foot structure be reduced by 25 percent; and the creation of a permanent Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood exhibit be included in the facility.

Last month, Anne Reeves, the executive director of the Arts Council, said a permanent exhibit would be assembled to illustrate the history of the neighborhood.

Mr. Floyd stressed the importance of retaining current zoning restrictions for the Arts Council, saying that a change in zoning will have an adverse impact on the entire neighborhood.

The aim of the April 17 meeting is to assess neighborhood concerns regarding the plan that was approved by the Site Plan Review Advisory Board of the Princeton Regional Planning Board (SPRAB) by a vote of 4-1. The lone dissenter in that vote, Ricardo Bruce, is a Witherspoon Street resident. The proposal, which will most likely be subjected to minor changes prior to appearing before the Planning Board in a public hearing on May 20, includes various interior renovations and a 9,250 square-foot addition to the existing building, bringing the total square-footage to19,150 square feet. This new size is down from the 19,700 square-foot plan rejected by the Planning Board in 2000. A second theater was included in those previous plans.

Opponents of the Arts Council's plan have argued that an expanded facility combined with the new library will only exacerbate the "urban intersection" of Paul Robeson "Speedway" and Witherspoon Street. Dissenting residents have also charged that a new facility would have adverse effects on the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, including issues regarding pick-up/drop-off traffic, and the possibility that neighboring Green Street will be used as a service road for deliveries and trash collection.

In a letter to Town Topics on April 7, four residents expressed worry about the impact another large facility would have on an "already threatened neighborhood."

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