T. BURNET FISHER
Arts Council of Princeton
Impartial Professional Planner Needed To Weigh Future Use of Hospital Land
To the Editor:
Princeton must now determine the fate of the two big properties being vacated by the Medical Center. These decisions will have a substantial effect on the quality of living in Princeton for the coming century, and that’s why many people in town are concerned about how this matter is to be handled. I urge the Township Committee and Borough Council to hire a professional planner to consult for the Planning Board, to create an unprejudiced, fair, and enlightened solution to this complicated problem.
When the hospital leaves the Witherspoon campus, will it feel like another massive institution has taken its place, occupying the same large-scale buildings but no longer offering the hospital’s compensating benefit to the public good? Or is there a way that the property can be structured to feel like, and function as, a neighborhood, even if one or more of the existing buildings are re-used?
When the hospital vacates the Merwick campus, will it be supplanted by a private enclave of extremely costly large houses, even though it is right next to the John-Witherspoon neighborhood and just a few steps away from downtown? Or can it be rezoned to create a neighborhood more appropriate to its near-downtown context?
Either one of these neighborhoods certainly might retain an existing building within it housing for the elderly, for example but can each still be structured as a neighborhood? Putting it most simply, could there be individual houses, duplexes, row houses, stores, and even larger buildings, that face onto streets and sit on individually-owned lots? In planning terms, that’s what town is all about.
Presumably, the hospital has asked for a change of zoning, since maintaining the existing H-2 and HMC zoning would leave the Medical Center no choice but to sell its land to a potential future competitor. This situation begs for a finely-tuned compromise, where the financial interests of the hospital must be respected, but balanced against the present and future civic needs of the town that it is leaving.
Since the municipalities intend to formulate new zoning for these parcels, the Planning Board must now take the planning initiative, instead of reacting to proposals from the owner or from developers, no matter how well-intentioned they are. This issue is important enough, and complex enough, to merit the hiring of an impartial professional planner a person with extensive technical knowledge who “puts pencil to paper,” presenting visualizations of well-informed options to the community. This person would assess the desires and objections of the many and various constituencies, including the present owner’s, and balance the need for tax ratables, affordable housing, housing for the elderly, property value stability, etc. in a concentrated, full-time effort to forge a reasonable consensus a facilitator working directly in the interests of the Borough and Township.
Princeton is different from most towns; we need to be bold and imaginative enough to think differently, and fashion a “magnificent compromise” worthy of our lively and varied population.
Large Tax Increases Raise Questions About Township's Financial Oversight
To the Editor:
As I bounce over the side street detours while the pre election paving program is in full swing in the Township, I think about the large tax increases in recent years and wonder exactly what we are getting for all that money.
We have been told that the municipal part of the tax bill, which rose by nine percent this year, will grow 20 percent in 2006 and another 16 percent in 2007. The “catch-up” road repairs are being bonded, so that cannot be the only reason for it.
The monster bill for refurbishing all our schools simultaneously is not part of this because it comes out of the School Board budget. It all comes from the same taxpayers, but the category is different.
The cost of the extravagant new municipal building was bonded a couple of years ago and we have already seen the debt service soar as a result.
Several years ago, when the Township Committee rejected offers from Mercer County to help build a new library and link us into their system, a private group undertook to raise funds to build our own building, and the Township and Borough wrote a blank check to cover any shortfall in their results. Is this judgmental error now coming home to roost? The amount of Township money involved is huge, over $12 million.
The audited financial statements for 2004 are not yet available. In past years they have been published in May or June, but here it is mid-September and nothing has been released to date. The last recorded payment to the Township from the library trustees was during fiscal 2001, and that was only $612,000.
The last time there was a Republican on Township Committee was 1996. It seems to me that it is past time to put another one or two on our governing body and find out what is going on. Gordon Bryant and Tom Pyle both have excellent credentials in finance and should be elected in November.
T. BURNET FISHER
Gas Transmission Pipelines Endanger Proposed Bunn Drive Senior Housing
While I agree with those town officials who have voiced concerns about blasting near the two Transco natural gas transmission pipelines that cross through developer K. Hovnanian’s proposed site for senior housing on Bunn Drive, there is a larger concern Princeton needs to consider the hazard of living next to natural gas transmission pipelines.
The two pipelines that run through the Bunn Drive site were built in 1951 and 1968 and sited in an easement on what was then largely undeveloped land. The Federal Office of Pipeline Safety states on its website: “In many places across America, development is gradually encroaching on formerly rural rights-of-way that contain hazardous liquid and natural gas pipelines …. The proximity of pipelines to people poses significant safety challenges that are of concern to all stakeholders, including the public, state and local officials, developers, planners, public work professionals, and first responders.”
The Princeton Township Committee approved a zoning overlay for this site in 2001, but this was before a number of high-profile accidents involving transmission pipelines focused attention on pipeline safety and the need for land use policy to minimize the risks pipelines pose. Congress responded to these incidents by passing the Pipeline Safety Act of 2002, encouraging state and local governments to reduce the risks associated with encroachment on pipeline rights-of-way. Recommendations for model ordinances and planning guidelines from a Federal Commission are due in the next eight months.
Meanwhile many communities across the country are not waiting for the Federal government and have proceeded, based on abundant evidence, to make regulations for their own protection.
In 1994 in nearby Edison, a rupture in a natural gas transmission pipeline exploded and injured 58 people, destroyed eight buildings, and required the evacuation of 1,500 apartment residents. Afterward, Edison Township adopted ordinances establishing a 75-foot setback from transmission pipelines for most buildings and a 125-foot setback for high-risk buildings.
After a ruptured gasoline transmission pipeline caused the deaths of three boys in 1999 in Bellingham, Wash., the state passed The Washington Pipeline Safety Act of 2000. A state agency produced a model ordinance that includes a minimum 50-foot setback from natural gas transmission pipelines for most buildings and a doubling of the setback for facilities used for public gatherings. Lawrence Township’s Land Use Ordinance states that no building shall be placed within 150 feet of a natural gas pipeline.
With New Orleans fresh in our minds and hearts, how much unnecessary risk are we ready to assume for our neighbors and ourselves? Is this the best site that Princeton can offer its seniors? I hope that the Regional Planning Board of Princeton acts with caution and foresight on Bunn Drive and moves to establish setbacks for all future construction near the pipelines.
Arts Council Thanks Those Involved In Creating Its Neighborhood Quilt
On Sunday, September 11, the Arts Council of Princeton unveiled what will be the centerpiece of its renovated building's permanent exhibit on the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood an original, hand-crafted quilt created through the transfer of over 90 priceless photographs that together illustrate the history of the neighborhood. The celebration was a joyous occasion for longtime neighborhood residents, who discovered images of family members, old friends, and historic sites, then took turns signing the squares of material forming the perimeter of the quilt.
It was a pleasure to watch and listen, both during the quilt making workshops and then at the celebration on Sunday, as the images on the quilt evoked memories and conversations among neighborhood residents about people, places, and events from the past. We were also delighted to welcome several neighborhood residents, including Albert Hines and Alice Satterfield, who were young when many of the photos were taken and who could recall most of the events depicted.
I would like to thank those who made this event possible: local quilter and educator Gail Mitchell, who created and designed both the front of the quilt and the traditional "Log Cabin" pattern on the back; Shirley Satterfield, Minnie Craig, Lois Craig, and Cynthia (Chip) Fisher, the four dedicated neighborhood residents who contributed, solicited, and selected the photographs, chose the quilt materials, determined the order of the images, and encouraged longtime residents to sign the quilt; and board member Janet Stern, who, as the Arts Council's program director, first suggested the idea of a quilt to the neighborhood's residents and oversaw the project. As Ms. Stern said, "The catastrophe that has befallen the residents of the Gulf Coast has impressed on us how fragile communities can be. Celebrating this quilt today is a bittersweet reminder of how important it is to preserve our photos, relics, and heirlooms our history in as many ways as possible."
Following the unveiling at the Arts Council, the quilt will hang through January at the Ellarslie Mansion in Trenton as part of the exhibit Preserving Our Past: An Inspiring Exhibit Honoring Those Who Chronicle Our Heritage. It will then go "on tour" to our neighborhood churches and other local institutions before it takes up its permanent residence in the Arts Council's expanded facility.
Arts Council of Princeton
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