December 26, 2018

Clashes Over Referendum, Westminster, and Parking in 2018

MARCHING FOR OUR LIVES: More than 4,000 demonstrators overflowed Hinds Plaza on a Saturday in March, demanding action on gun control legislation and expressing solidarity with the national March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. The Princeton march was initiated by Dziyana Zubialevich, a senior at Princeton High School.  (Photo by Erica M. Cardenas)

By Anne Levin and Donald Gilpin

National politics continued to make its impact felt in Princeton in 2018, but the big stories this year were mostly homegrown.

A school facilities referendum and its tax impact on property owners absorbed the interest of many and threatened to divide the town before it was temporarily resolved in a December 11 vote.

The conflict was equally sharp over Rider University’s proposed sale of Westminister Choir College to a Chinese for-profit company, with ongoing argument and legal action on both sides.

Also causing concerns that may grow in the coming year were the Princeton Theological Seminary’s expansion plans, as the Seminary proposed to redevelop portions of its campus to provide additional housing. 

And as the year ended, new meters and a new parking system made Princeton’s perennial parking challenges the focus of some renewed confusion and controversy.

AGING SCHOOLS: Voters approved a $26.9 million Princeton Public Schools facilities bond referendum on December 11, after two years of planning and much discussion and debate within the schools and the community.  (Photo by Erica M. Cardenas)

School Plans, Resistance, Democracy in Action

Following voters’ December 11 approval of a $26.9 million bond referendum, Princeton Public Schools will be moving forward with construction projects in the new year. They will upgrade safety, security, and HVAC in all six schools; and create four additional classrooms at Princeton High School (PHS) along with a new dining area, increased space for athletics, and an improved counseling area.

Getting to this point was not easy, however, and the two-year process saw an original proposal for $137 million, which included expansion of PHS and construction of a new 5/6 school at Valley Road, gradually brought down to the current figure for “immediate and urgent needs.”

“It’s going to be a hotly-debated item,” said Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert in July, and as the vote was delayed to December, the controversy went on throughout the year in a manifestation of both democracy in action and a significant division in the Princeton community.

In the winter and spring, the news focused on education consultants and elaborate architectural plans for “transformation” and “new learning paradigms,” but when cost projections and estimated property tax impacts appeared in late March, resistance in the community began to grow.

The Board of Education (BOE) hoped to mitigate opposition by proposing a two-part question, offering a scaled-back $82.5M option, but the dissenting voices persevered as the PPS continued to communicate needs to combat overcrowding and bring their aging schools up to 21st-century standards.

Lempert emphasized the conflicting concerns. “I applaud the school district,” she said. “They’ve been out there in the community holding forums. The most important thing about this is that it’s going to be a community vote. There are challenging issues here. To not invest comes with a cost, too. It’s an important process. I’m glad there’s a high level of community involvement.”

“No matter how valuable, moral, and just the referendum proposal might be, it’s a gut-wrenching decision on the part of lower- and moderate-income people,” Leighton Newlin said at an August 11 forum on the referendum.

Petitions appeared and accumulated
numerous signatures on both sides of the argument, and finally, in early October, the BOE decided on the $26.9 million compromise proposal that was put on the ballot and approved two months later.

Board President Patrick Sullivan expressed hopes that the new plan would help to calm the conflict, meet the schools’ most urgent needs, and give PPS and the community time to work towards a consensus. “Many people feel the previous proposals have been too much for one bite,” he acknowledged.

Reflecting perhaps the clash of opinions that developed in the referendum discussion, the hotly-contested School Board election in November saw all five candidates for three spots finishing within four percentage points, with two new candidates, Brian McDonald and Daniel Dart, receiving the most votes and incumbent Betsy Baglio finishing third to hold onto her post.

With the PPS population still growing and the prospects of another referendum on the horizon, the debates are sure to continue in 2019.

BOG TURTLE BILL: From left, Riverside fifth grader Vita Moss-Wang, John Witherspoon sixth grader Avi Weiss, State Senator Kip Bateman, and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker prepare to testify in support of making the endangered bog turtle New Jersey’s official state reptile. (Photo courtesy of

Political Action in Princeton

For the second year in a row, the headlines were full of news of political activity in Princeton — in response to gun violence and tragic shootings in Parkland, Fla., and in Pittsburgh, Pa.; in support of immigrants,
particularly the “DREAMers” in danger of losing residency status; in opposition to threats of nuclear weapons clashes; and in solidarity with a Princeton University graduate student who has been imprisoned in Iran for more than two years.

In the aftermath of a February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., a crowd of about 4,000 overflowed Hinds Plaza on Saturday March 24, with Witherspoon and Hullfish streets closed to traffic, to join Princeton’s March for Our Lives rally in support of a national march in Washington, D.C., demanding that lawmakers take action against gun violence. 

In her follow-up Facebook post, student organizer Dziyana Zubialevich reflected on the success of the demonstration and the momentum for change. “Now it’s time to turn the march into something actionable,” she stated, urging her supporters to contact their legislators.

The following Monday the New Jersey Assembly voted to pass six different gun safety laws, and by the end of the year N.J. had passed more new gun safety laws (seven) than any other state in the country.

The setting was more intimate, less political, and more somber, on October 28 as more than 700 filled the Nassau Presbyterian Church sanctuary to pray, sing, and mourn the victims of a shooting that had taken place the day before at Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh. 

“The service reflected the desire of our community to be together, to be in solidarity with Jews across the world, to be mourning together the death of 11 Jews in Pittsburgh,” said the Rev. Dave Davis, senior pastor of Nassau Presbyterian and one of the organizers of the interfaith vigil, along with Rabbi Adam Feldman and the Princeton Clergy Association.

In other local responses to national and international events, Princeton persevered in promoting its status as a welcoming community, as Congress and the federal government continued debates over immigration, and the status of undocumented immigrants remained in limbo.

In January Princeton University President Christopher Eisgruber and
Microsoft President Brad Smith followed up on their legal challenge to the termination of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as a violation of the U.S. Constitution and federal laws. They sent letters to top leaders and other members of Congress, urging them to provide long-term protection, including a path to citizenship, for DREAMers.

The Latin American Legal and Defense Education Fund (LALDEF), installed in its new headquarters in Trenton, continued to expand in size and services in defending the civil rights of Latinos and facilitating access to health care and education throughout Mercer County.

In the forefront of political activity in Princeton, the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) and its executive director, the Rev. Bob Moore, were constantly in the news. From spearheading gun-control initiatives with its Ceasefire NJ Project to advocating for abolition of nuclear weapons and urging “diplomacy not war” in negotiations with North Korea and Iran; to its leadership in promoting conferences, multifaith services, candlelight vigils, and the March for Our Lives, the CFPA is experiencing perhaps the busiest period in its more than 35-year history.

HOME FOR GOOD: Cutting the ribbon when Good Grief first moved into its home on Mapleton Lane in September 2015 were, from left: Plainsboro Deputy Mayor Neil J. Lewis; Plainsboro Mayor Peter Cantu; program participants Emma and Erin Legacki, and Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert. A major donation by the family of Margaret Anne Wilby on April 25, 2018, a decade after her death, made the house a permanent home for the organization that helps children deal with loss.

Council Election

After 15 years and seven years of serving, respectively, on the former Princeton Borough Council and the consolidated Princeton Council, Lance Liverman and Heather Howard decided to step down at the end of this year. Elected to take their places were fellow Democrats Dwaine Williamson and Eve Niedergang, who will be sworn in at the annual reorganization meeting January 3.

Williamson and Niedergang beat Adam Bierman, Michelle Pirone Lambros, Surinder Sharma, and lone Republican candidate Lisa Wu. Two Democrats who initially filed to run — Alvin McGowen and Myrtha Jasmin — dropped out of the race before the vote.

Just this week, longtime Council member and current Council president Jenny Crumiller announced that she will not be running again when her term expires at the end of 2019.

LEAVING THE CLOUDS BEHIND: A cold, blustery day didn’t deter the thousands of visitors who came to downtown Princeton on Sunday, April 29, from enjoying the Arts Council of Princeton’s 48th annual Communiversity ArtsFest. The festival featured more than 200 booths and a wide variety of art, food, and live entertainment. (Photo by Erica M. Cardenas)

Westminster Choir College

Rider University is still trying to sell Westminster Choir College, with which it merged 26 years ago. While a buyer — Beijing Kaiwen Educational Technology — was named this year, and University administrators say the sale is on track, those who are opposed to it remain committed to pursuing legal action that would prevent the transaction from going through.

Two lawsuits were filed against Rider this year. Alumni, faculty, and members of Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) have been steadfast in their determination to keep the sale from happening. The AAUP members say Beijing Kaiwen, which runs two K-12 schools in China, lacks the experience needed to run a top-tier performing arts college. Concerns have also been expressed about the state of the Chinese company’s finances and its relation to the Chinese government.

Those who have spoken in favor of the sale say it is a positive option and that the school’s programs, location, and legacy would remain intact. “Despite unfounded allegations to the contrary, the school’s endowment fund will continue to be used solely to support the vision of sustaining and growing Westminster Choir College’s reputation as a world-class music school and maintaining it as an artistically preeminent, academically rigorous, and fiscally sound institution,” wrote Larry Livingston, interim president of Kaiwen’s Westminster Choir College Acquisition Corporation, in November.

The legal action is pending and the future of the school remains uncertain.

KEEPING THE NEIGHBORS IN MIND: Princeton Theological Seminary’s plan to redevelop portions of its Princeton campus is being explored in a series of neighborhood meetings, two of which were held December 8 and 10. The school wants to add more housing to its Tennent campus. Additional meetings are being scheduled.

Princeton Theological Seminary

The  second oldest seminary in the United States wants to upgrade and consolidate its campus that lies between Stockton and Mercer Street, both of which are considered gateways into Princeton. Neighbors who live on Hibben Road, Edgehill Street, Stockton Street, Mercer Street, and Library Place, have been attending public meetings on the proposal overseen by a subcommittee of Princeton’s Planning Board.

The Seminary wants to move students now living across from Princeton MarketFair in West Windsor onto the Princeton campus, and build new housing and parking facilities to accommodate them. To facilitate the project, the town could reclassify the areas as redevelopment zones.

Residents of the leafy neighborhood have voiced concerns about the scale and scope of the project, the number of cars that would be on campus and in the area, and traffic on their streets. Additional meetings will be scheduled in 2019 before the proposal goes to Princeton Council for a vote and plans take shape.

DELAYED RECOGNITION: James Collins “Jimmy” Johnson was a fugitive slave from Maryland who worked on the Princeton campus for more than 60 years, first as a janitor and then as a vendor of fruits, candles, and other snacks that he sold from a wheelbarrow. He died in 1902. Princeton University trustees announced in April that an arch in East Pyne Hall would be named in his honor.  (Photo courtesy of University Archives, Princeton University Library)

Princeton University News

By the end of 2020, Princeton University Art Museum will be closing — probably for three years — to make way for a new museum with more space for exhibitions and teaching. The architect is David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates, designer of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Adjaye was a visiting professor at the University from 2008 to 2010.

Expect a change in the building’s footprint, though the museum’s structure will retain its “Venetian Gothic Revival portion” and Marquand Library, according to museum director James Steward. Final design plans have yet to be revealed. Steward said he hopes the museum will maintain a presence on campus during the construction, in various spaces including Bainbridge House on Nassau Street.

Members of the public who have been using the pool, squash courts, and other facilities at the University’s Dillon Gymnasium and Stephens Fitness Center, some for decades, were not happy to learn that they would no longer be welcome. A letter sent out in June announced the decision to make the facilities available only to members of the University community as of the end of this year. Despite appeals from the public, the University has stuck to its plans.

The University announced last week that Google is opening an artificial intelligence lab at 1 Palmer Square, directly across Nassau Street from the campus, as part of a collaboration led by two computer science professors. The initiative will start with a small number of faculty, graduate and undergraduate student researchers, recent graduates, and software engineers.

WATER, WATER, EVERYWHERE: Children from the Princeton Recreation Department’s summer programs were the first to try out the Mary Moss Playground’s new sprayground at the reopening of the park in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood on August 8. Judging from their screams of joy, they approved. (Photo by Scotia Macrae)


Results of a comprehensive parking study undertaken by the town were put into practice in recent months, to mixed reviews. New meters, higher prices, different zones, a mobile parking app, and the planned dissolution of Smart Cards have not been met with the most positive reception by the public.

Those holding balances on Smart Cards were originally told to use them up in the Spring Street Garage by the end of the year, but after an outcry the date was extended until April 30, 2019. Remaining balances can be transferred to the Park Princeton mobile app.

There have also been complaints about being able to read the instructions on the new meters. In effort to assist drivers, the town has posted extensive information on its website and taken out advertisements. Efforts to simplify the new system continue.

HONORING THE HISTORY: Shirley Satterfield (at the podium), president of the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society, unveiled the first four Heritage Tour Plaques and recognized the Society’s board of trustees (surrounding her) at a reception in March at Studio Hillier on Witherspoon Street. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

Affordable Housing

In March, a Mercer County Superior Court judge ruled that Princeton must build 753 new affordable housing units by 2025. The determination was part of a ruling that towns across New Jersey must meet fair housing needs totaling more than 150,000 units.

The number of required affordable housing units in municipalities statewide has been in dispute, and sometimes in litigation, for nearly two decades. In 2015, authority concerning setting affordable housing requirements for municipalities throughout the state fell on the courts.

This is the third round of affordable housing requirements that have been issued since two court decisions in the 1970s established that municipalities must have an affordable housing aspect to their master plans. Princeton had been arguing that its need should be about 300 units, and joined other Mercer County towns in challenging their legal obligations in court. The town is currently in negotiations with the Fair Share Housing Center on a settlement.

BACK IN THE DAY: The Dinky train stop used to be closer to town, near Blair Arch on the Princeton University campus, as shown in this archival photo from an April program by the Historical Society of Princeton, at Princeton Public Library. Dinky commuters have had to do without the train since October, as NJ Transit installs Positive Train Control elsewhere in the system. (Collection of Historical Society of Princeton)

Travel and Traffic Woes

As if commuting between Princeton Junction and New York’s Penn Station wasn’t stressful enough, NJ Transit announced in September that the Dinky line, which connects Princeton with Princeton Junction, would be out of service for at least three months while Positive Train Control (PTC), a federally mandated safety system, was installed throughout the state (but not in Princeton).

Buses have been replacing the trains since the hiatus began in October. Commuters have not been happy with the situation, as buses having to cross Route 1 during rush hour take longer than the brief train trip. At Princeton Council’s final meeting of the year December 17, Mayor Liz Lempert said she had been told by NJ Transit that while PTC installation was complete, a date had yet to be set for resuming Dinky trips.

An information session was held by the New Jersey Department of Transportation last week on plans to replace the bridge over the D&R Canal on Alexander Road. The project will replace a culvert and the bridge over the Stony Brook, meaning that the road will be closed for approximately eight months between Faculty Road and Canal Pointe Boulevard. The project has no firm date but is likely to begin in the fall.

FROM CREATIVITY TO CHAOS: All was calm at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 16, as viewers strolled through the historic Roebling Wire Works building in Trenton to view some 1,500 works by professional and amateur artists. But gun violence disrupted the popular Art All Night festival seven hours later when one person was killed and 22 were injured in a dispute not related to the festival. (Photo by Erica M. Cardenas)

Incidents of Violence

A four-and-a half-hour standoff at Panera Bread on Nassau Street on March 20 ended when the gunman was fatally shot by two members of the New Jersey State Police Technical Emergency and Mission Specialists (TEAMS) unit. 

Scott L. Mielintz, 56, of Lawrenceville entered the restaurant with a BB pistol that looked like a handgun around 10:30 a.m. and made threats as customers and employees fled. Police then secured the perimeter of the restaurant, and members of the Princeton Police Department, state police, and the FBI were all at the scene attempting to negotiate with Mielintz and persuade him to surrender peacefully. 

An investigation by the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice found that “the undisputed facts indicated the use of force was justified under the law.”

Three months later, in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 17, an exchange of gunfire inside the historic Roebling Wire Works at Trenton’s Art All Night festival injured 22 people. Two suspects, Davonne White and Amir “Mir” Armstrong, both hospitalized, were charged in the incident, and a third man, identified as a shooter, Tahaj Wells, was shot and killed by police. The incident was believed to have been gang-related, and the festival itself was not a target.

THREE ALARMS: Two firefighters sustained minor injuries in the three-alarm blaze at 140 Hodge Road on Monday night, July 16. But damage to the nine-bedroom mansion, which was empty and had been on and off the market for years, was considerable. The house was torn down in the fall. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)


Efforts to assist those displaced by a fire at the Griggs Farm community at the end of 2017 continued throughout the current year. The blaze, which claimed one life and forced 35 residents to find alternative housing, was determined to have been started by burning candles. By the end of March, Princeton Community Housing, which owns the complex, reported that nearly all of the residents had found temporary places to live.

A three-alarm fire on the night of July 16 caused significant damage to a nine-bedroom house on Hodge Road in Princeton’s Western Section. No one was inside the 5,802-square-foot home when the fire was reported at about 11:50 p.m. The home, which had been unoccupied for some time, was demolished soon after. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

BREAKING GROUND: The shovels came out November 30 to officially begin construction of new headquarters for Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad. From left are Brenda Stewart, Martin Chooljian, Edward Matthews, PFARS Chief Frank Setnicky, PFARS President Mark Freda, Mayor Liz Lempert, Barry Rabner, Betty Wold Johnson, and Campaign Chair Martha Sword. (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)

PFARS Breaks Ground

After a decade and a half of planning and fundraising, Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad (PFARS) finally broke ground November 30 for its new headquarters on a site bordered by Valley Road, Witherspoon Street, Route 206, and Cherry Hill Road. The squad outgrew its current headquarters on Harrison Street years ago.

The $12 million facility will be named for the late Helen Chooljian, whose family donated funds in her memory. At the groundbreaking, PFARS officials said 75 percent of the costs had been raised. The new building will have bays for 10 emergency vehicles, training, decontamination, sleeping quarters, and educational needs.

PILLAR OF THE COMMUNITY: James Floyd’s influence on Princeton, especially the Witherspoon-Jackson district, touched many over several decades. Floyd died at the age of 96 on May 14.


Among the prominent area personalities who passed away this year were former mayor Jim Floyd, former New Jersey governor Brendan Byrne, and former Princeton fire chief Ray Wadsworth.

Floyd, who died May 14 at 96, was Princeton’s first African American mayor and a longtime civil servant. A community activist who worked tirelessly to promote civil rights, he was a mentor to many and a familiar figure to anyone involved in local politics. He was instrumental in getting the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood designated a historic district.

Byrne, who was 93, died January 4. A 1949 graduate of Princeton University with close connections to the town, Byrne’s enduring legacy in New Jersey ranged from enacting the state’s first income tax and the legalization of casino gambling to the development of the Meadowlands Sports Complex and preservation of the environmentally-fragile Pine Barrens. Family members and former colleagues recalled him fondly at a memorial held in his honor at the University’s Richardson Auditorium.

In addition to serving as fire chief, Wadsworth was the co-founder of the Spirit of Princeton, responsible for such ceremonies as Flag Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day in town. He died May 31 at the age of 80.

Former Town Topics writer Katharine Bretnall, actress Georgine Hall Stauffer, and 102-year-old LouEtta Carroll Santucci, the New Jersey Bell Telephone employee who reassured countless callers the night of October 30, 1938 when the infamous Mercury Theater broadcast that aliens had landed in Grovers Mill, were among the distinctive personalities who passed on in 2018.

Several former Princeton University professors died this year, including Fred I. Greenstein, Francis C. Oglesby, Wen Fong, Robert George Gilpin Jr., David P. Billington, Andre Maman, and George W. Pitcher.

THE OLD GUARD LEADS THE WAY: Joe Schein, Princeton ’37, leads the Old Guard, classes that graduated 66 years ago or more, at the start of this year’s Princeton University P-rade on June 2. The P-rade is traditionally led by the 25th reunion class, which this year suggested the change and followed right behind.  (Photo by Charles R. Plohn)