October 5, 2022

Revising the Princeton Master Plan Counts on Input from Community

By Anne Levin

New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law requires each municipality to adopt a master plan. Princeton’s is currently being revisited, and those involved in the process are hoping members of the public will continue to weigh in by taking a new Community Visioning Survey, available at engage.princetonmasterplan.org through October 31.

“The Master Plan is a legal document, but it’s so much more than that,” said Justin Lesko, Princeton’s acting planning director/senior planner. “It’s a vision for how the community sees itself and wants to grow. That’s where community outreach really comes in. It shouldn’t be one small group saying ‘This is who we are and who we want to be.’ We’re hoping to get a lot of people to take part by taking the survey.”

An initial survey, Tell Us What You Want, was posted through this past summer and focused on economic development and consumer preferences. “We were delighted that more than 4,000 people took that survey and were also pleased that about three quarters of the responses came from Princeton residents,” said Planning Board Chair Louise Wilson, in a press release. “Its findings will inform a new economic development element of the updated community Master Plan.”

Lesko has been busy talking up the second survey at numerous events around town, most recently Sustainable Princeton’s eCommuter Fest held last week on the grounds of Westminster Choir College.

“Some people are telling me they already took the survey, and I tell them that this is an additional one,” he said. “It’s different. It’s not just economic stuff, it’s about land use, mobility, parks, preservation, and more. Most people have an enthusiastic response and say they’ll take it again.”

The State of New Jersey requires that a master plan be revisited every 10 years. Along with the current Community Visioning Survey, planners are seeking responses to a survey of Princeton University students this fall. An open house is scheduled for November 30 at Princeton Public Library from 4-7 p.m. Another community survey and open house will be held during the winter. A draft plan is listed for winter 2022, with a final plan projected for spring 2023.

“This second survey is quite different and arguably even more important,” said Wilson. “It gets at community values, priorities, and concerns. The findings from this second survey are crucially important as we prepare for upcoming community-wide open houses, formulate overarching master plan goals and principles, and prepare for more detailed decision-making and specific recommendations.”

A diverse group of community stakeholders make up the steering committee, coming from education, business, cultural organizations, and local government. Among them: Kristin Appelget from Princeton University; Cecilia Birge from Princeton High School; Emma Brigaud from Princeton Future; Princeton Mayor Mark Freda and Councilwoman Mia Sacks; historian Shirley Satterfield from the Witherspoon-Jackson Historical and Cultural Society; Nick Di Domizio, LGBTQ liaison to the Civil Rights Commission; LiLLiPiES bakery owner Jennifer Carson; Sam Bunting of Walkable Princeton; Human Services advocate Liliana Morenilla; Princeton Public Schools Board of Education member Brian McDonald; and Sustainable Princeton Executive Director Christine Symington.

“We wanted the steering committee to reflect not only deep knowledge of municipal workings, but also bring to the table voices heard less often, and people who reach networks that often remain untapped,” said Wilson, who lives in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood.

“Truly, we want and need direct involvement from far more than the steering committee,” said Jugtown neighborhood resident Tim Quinn, who is vice chair of the Planning Board and chair of the Master Plan Subcommittee [different from the steering committee], which ultimately will recommend the Master Plan update to the full board. “We are looking to the boards; commissions and committees; the arts community, local organizations, nonprofits and advocates; individuals and families; businesses and the workforce. Progress on any issue in Princeton requires robust civic involvement. We want all voices to be heard.”