December 15, 2021

Council Asks for More Information Before Voting on Special Improvement District

By Anne Levin

Following a report to Princeton Council from the town’s Economic Revitalization Steering Committee Monday evening, recommending formation of a Special Improvement District (SID) in Princeton, the governing body opted to wait for more information before making a decision to create an ordinance.

The 22-member steering committee has been meeting for more than a year with consultant Stuart Koperweis to study how to foster economic revitalization in the town. After considering whether to hire an economic development officer, create a nonprofit Economic Development Corporation (EDC), or a SID, the group concluded that the latter was the best option.

A SID is a defined area in the central business district of a downtown that is authorized by state law and created by a local ordinance to collect a special assessment on the commercial properties and/or businesses in that area. A nonprofit organization, separate from the municipality, collects that assessment, which goes toward improving the economic, physical, and social values of the district.

“It is in the best interest of the municipality and the public to create a Special Improvement District; that the creation of such will promote economic growth and it will implement, foster, and encourage commercial development and business expansion as well as improve the business climate,” reads the steering committee’s report. “Moreover, a SID will otherwise act in the best interest of the property owners in the municipality of Princeton.”

The steering committee includes Kristin Appelget, director of Princeton University’s Office of Community and Regional Affairs; business owners Kathleen Klockenbrink and Jack Morrison; property owners Helena May, Aubrey Haines, and James P. Herring; Palmer Square Management Vice President Lori Rabon; Princeton University Art Museum Director James Steward, and architects Joshua Zinder and J. Robert Hillier (Town Topics shareholder), among others. Councilmember Michelle Pirone Lambros is Council liaison.

As part of the process, the committee issued surveys and held stakeholder meetings September 20 and 29 in Princeton Public Library’s Community Room. “We got input. Over 50 people attended,” said Koperweis. “We were able to refine our work plan into the final report.”

But some members of the public who commented on the presentation said they were not informed about the meetings, and had not heard of the study. Linda Fahmie, who works with the owners of the Residences at Carnevale Plaza on East Nassau Street, said she had spoken with six merchants on the street and none of them knew about the SID or the presentation. She asked that businesses that might not be able to pay fees associated with a SID be taken into consideration. “And don’t rush this process,” she said.

Resident Joe Small questioned how the steering committee was selected, and how the governing board of the SID would be chosen. Councilmember David Cohen suggested there be residents, instead of just business owners, on the SID board.

Speaking in support of the SID were Lambros; Adam Welch, executive director of the Arts Council of Princeton; Jack Morrison, who recently stepped down as head of the Princeton Merchants Association; Jammin’ Crepes owner Kathy Klockenbrink; and property owners Helena May and Aubrey Haines.

A final report will be ready for the Council meeting on Tuesday, December 21. Councilmembers took a consensus saying they like the concept of the SID, but work needs to continue to bring it forward at a future date.