Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 41
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
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Consolidation? More University Involvement? Princeton Future Gathering Runs the Gamut

Matthew Hersh

There were so many Princeton-area stakeholders at the Princeton Public Library Saturday morning, that, for just a few hours, it looked like all the major town players had put their differences aside to come together to address the pressing issues facing the community.

While it’s true that the goal of another forum assembled by the community group Princeton Future was to address topical developmental issues, the differences were on full display, and the results? Well, the results are still coming in.

Princeton Future, for the past seven years, has successfully organized a host of meetings on particular developmental issues facing Princeton. The Borough’s downtown development project played a big role in the Princeton Future repertory, as did the ongoing planning for the future of the sites currently occupied by the University Medical Center at Princeton on Witherspoon Street and the Merwick Care Center on Bayard Lane.

But back in June, Princeton Future changed gears, promoting a more all-encompassing dialogue in line with the group’s aim of examining Princeton in a holistic fashion, rather than piecemeal.

“We wanted to frame a large view of what’s going on and find out which options are still on the table,” said Kevin Wilkes, a Borough resident and a member of the Princeton Future council, told Town Topics in an interview in June.

That statement preceded a June meeting at the Library, drawing private residents, elected officials, and appointees to discuss the issues of the day in Princeton, including transportation and development, as well as social issues related to working, living, and commerce.

But the spectre of municipal consolidation, a perceived lack of housing affordability, and the role that Princeton University plays in town dominated much of the four-hour discussion Saturday.

“People in Princeton face the double-whammy of two municipalities,” said Sandra Persichetti, executive director of Princeton Community Housing, the non-profit firm that manages and develops low- and moderate-income housing in Princeton Borough and Township. “This will come up again and again. The people who are interested in living and working here constantly face that issue, and it’s very difficult to find a middle way when the two governing bodies, in my opinion, have not found a middle way.”

Ms. Persichetti acknowledged Princeton’s economic and racial diversity, though warning of the Princetons becoming a “golden ghetto.” She addressed the affordability issue in the general context of municipal consolidation:

“I would hope that with more conversation, and less adversity, we could accomplish that goal of working together as a singular voice in terms of where we want to go.”

Appearing on a panel of private real estate developers and property owners in the downtown, Ms. Persichetti called Princeton Community Housing the “poster child” for municipal consolidation, saying that a streamlined approval and zoning process would benefit prospective developers, as well as housing affordability.

Princeton-area architect J. Robert Hillier, also a panelist, agreed. “I think it’s interesting that we have two municipalities and that they struggle with each other, and yet, whenever there is the notion to combine the two, the forces come out to prevent it,” he said, backing Ms. Persichetti’s “golden ghetto” prognosis and calling for increased work with the Planning Board on incorporating affordable housing into market rate residential development.

Mr. Hillier, a shareholder of Town Topics, Inc., called Princeton the “best little city in the world,” saying that it had all of the makings of a city, but on a smaller scale. He viewed Princeton University as being an important part of that mix.

Robert Durkee, vice president and secretary of the University, cited the school’s 80 percent housing rate of graduate students and the consequent removal of a potential burden on Princeton’s affordable housing stock. He also pointed to housing for faculty and staff for middle-income families.

Princeton University was the target of some general concerns. David Goldfarb, a Borough Councilman who sat on Princeton Future’s second panel composed of elected and appointed public officials, worried that the University’s financial and developmental roles in Princeton have expanded, and warned against potentially adverse effects.

“In my lifetime, the University has changed the way this community looks,” he said, pointing specifically to Alexander Street. “There used to be a lumber yard, a hotel, and other businesses and houses. The University has acquired almost all of it, and it’s changed the character there,” he said.

Mr. Goldfarb, a resident of Charlton Street, which directly abuts the University’s Engineering Quadrangle, said he has felt the impact of the school’s presence there as well.

Mr. Durkee lauded the University’s role in working with community, however, citing a continued conversation with residents of the Murray Place neighborhood, which falls on the eastern stretch of the E-Quad. “It’s been a real success story, and it’s changed the way we think about our properties in town and has led to a much clearer articulation of how far the University goes.”

Shirley Satterfield, a Borough resident and historian, emphasized the importance of historical perspective amid continued in-town development. “We need to respect the history of the town and the people, and we all need to work together and respect each other’s communities.”

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