June 7, 2023

Master Plan Survey Makes Public Input a Continuing Priority

By Anne Levin

With the latest version of the Princeton’s Master Plan Community Visioning Survey having gone live at the end of last month, municipal staff and local officials are hoping for a healthy response from residents, who are invited to express their opinions on priorities for different kinds of development and community needs.

Public input is key to the master plan development process, which has been underway for more than a year and will go to the Planning Board for adoption after comments from residents are considered in at least two meetings in the winter.

“I think because our existing master plan is based in 1996, with adoptions along the way, people might not be aware of how important the public input is, and how ultimately it does get used,” said Justin Lesko, the town’s planning director. “I shouldn’t be sitting behind a desk imposing these regulations. That’s why we’ve structured the process this way — to have more hands-on activities like the open house, and now, more intentional questions.”

Lesko said staff members have been sending emails to community groups and putting up signs about the survey at bus stops and other locations around town. Following the survey, municipal staff and a steering committee including 13 local residents plan to host listening sessions over the summer to solicit feedback from residents and community groups. A second open house is targeted for September.

Two previous surveys elicited nearly 5,000 responses from the public, and more than 300 people attended an open house session last November at Princeton Public Library. In the newest, five-minute survey, residents are asked some specific questions about questions that were raised in the first survey and first open house.

One question addresses four parcels that are either large, under-utilized, or undeveloped: Westminster Choir College of Rider University, Valley Road School, the Butler Tract, and the Jasna Polana Golf Course. Participants are asked if they would be best used for municipal facilities, housing, open space, residential buildings, retail, or other uses  — depending on the location.

“As the current master plan has been in effect for almost 30 years, and master plans generally can be expected to be in force for at least 10 years, the survey is an attempt to explore the public’s thoughts on those parcels in case there are future changes in operation or use,” reads a release on the survey from the municipality. “If changes are proposed for these sites, the municipality would be better guided by the thoughtful input it hopes to receive through the survey results.”

The survey asks whether Princeton should build a new municipal indoor recreation facility, and which services would be most important — worker training, homeless assessment services, day care, youth after-school programs, a community kitchen and food pantry, an emergency shelter, or an auditorium — if the town were to develop a community center. Another question addresses how Princeton should make it easier for middle-income households to live in town. Use of the Princeton Muni Bus, which was relaunched in 2021, is an additional focus.

The master plan is a document “which sets forth the policies for land use as envisioned by the municipality,” reads the release. “This includes the character and location of new development and redevelopment, as well as circulation (vehicles, pedestrians, and bikes), hazard mitigation and climate adaptation, conservation, preservation, utilities, public facilities, and other elements of the built and natural environment. Through its various ‘elements,’ which are distinct and yet interrelated, the master plan articulates a vision for the community, informed by the community.”

Lesko said the municipality wants to steer as many people as possible toward the survey. “If someone who might not have ever interacted with municipal government sees our sign at a bus stop, click that QR code. We want their input.”

To access the survey, which is active at least through mid-June, visit engage.princetonmasterplan.org.