Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 29
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
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Township Debates Revaluation, Pool Plans

Ellen Gilbert

A long, contentious Township Committee meeting concluded with promises to continue the discussions about revaluation and plans for a new pool that drew the lion’s share of attention Monday evening.

Mayor Bernie Miller responded with an unequivocal “yes” to Jim Floyd’s request that Township Hall space be made available next Monday evening at 7:30 p.m. so that troublesome questions about perceived inequities in the recent revaluation process can receive further attention.

The second issue, approval of a bond ordinance providing for the installation of a new pool in the Community Park Complex, was tabled for Township Committee’s August 16 meeting.

The number of homeowners speaking at Monday’s meeting seemed to indicate that displeasure with the results of revaluation is spreading beyond the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood. Speaking about a meeting that took place late last week at Mt. Pisgah Church, Birch Street resident Leighton Newlin reported that “Several other individuals/neighborhoods voiced the same concerns that we have about the methodology and transparency in the process.”

At least three or four other neighborhoods were indeed represented at the Monday evening meeting, where speaker after speaker described what they saw as a highly arbitrary process used to determine the value of their respective homes. These revaluation numbers will be significant in determining a property’s taxes.

The intent of the follow-up meeting will be, according to Mr. Newlin, to deal with this “struggle begging for a fair and equitable resolution” by “organizing and naming the group, establishing its goals and objectives, and developing strategies to achieve them.”

“With the addition of other neighborhoods there is now a larger and more diverse base of concern and support,” observed Mr. Newlin. “As homeowners receive their new tax bills our base and the general discontent of many will undoubtedly cause a major uptick throughout the community.”

Mr. Floyd connected the evening’s two main themes when he rose to say that he was “torn.” While he had originally come to the meeting “to bring to everyone’s attention the revaluation dilemma that we face, some citizens may not be here next year because of taxation.” In the face of discussions about the cost of the new pool and possible rise in user fees, he asked the Committee “to be prudent regarding the pool.”

Pool Pros and Cons

While approval of the ordinance authorizing bonds or notes to be issued in the amount of $3,882,650 would not have constituted an endorsement of the current pool design, the number — and intensity of conviction — of people calling for greater transparency in the process of arriving at costs and selecting a design appeared to convince Township Committee members and Recreation Department Director Jack Roberts that Monday evening was not the best time for a vote. It was agreed that Recreation Department representatives and committee members would use the intervening time before the August 16 meeting to work with members of the community who have raised concerns about the design and cost aspects of the proposed pool. (See Walter Frank’s letter in this week’s Mailbox).

Positive voices speaking on behalf of the pool included Recreation Fund head Peter O’Neill, Planning Board member Audrey Chen, and Recreation Department board member Michael Petrone. Mr. O’Neill, a Princeton resident since 1973, noted that members of the newly-created foundation have committed themselves “to raise money to support the Recreation Department’s master plan,” and “specifically, to raise $1 million to support the pool renovation.” Although the foundation’s capital campaign has not yet begun, Mr. O’Neill noted that ten percent of the promised $1 million has already been raised.

In response to residents who claimed that they had been unaware of public meetings at which plans for the new pool complex were discussed during the last two years, Ms. Chen described Mr. Roberts’s accessibility and willingness to listen to varying points of view. “Design by consensus is a difficult thing; it’s impossible to incorporate everyone’s requests,” commented Ms. Chen. “I went to every single one of these public meetings; every single one was announced beforehand in the paper. This has not been a process that has proceeded without public engagement.”

Speakers against new pool plans followed, for the most part, the lead of Ron Berlin, whose letter about keeping the pool “simple” and less costly appeared in last week’s Town Topics.

Mr. Petrone described the design as “extremely understated. You can nitpick at any plan, but at some point you need to move forward,” he added. “You’re never going to get 100 percent consensus.”

In the meantime, Mr. Roberts and his staff were preparing for the following day, when a backhoe would be digging up part of the park-like complex in order to repair a serious break that had occurred on Tuesday.

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