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Op-Ed: Board’s Endorsement of P.U. Arts/Transit Zone a Travesty

By Peter Marks

Late on a Thursday evening this month, shortly before midnight, Princeton’s Regional Planning Board capitulated to pressure from the university and approved a resolution endorsing the university’s program for an “arts” complex at the junction of Alexander Road and University Place.  There were only two opposing votes: Yina Moore and Mildred Trotman.

No time was allotted for public comments.  The chair announced towards the end of  the session that the arguments are all well known.  Her not so subtle implication was that those who made time to sit through the July and October hearings have nothing of value to offer.

The hearings have been marked by inconsistencies, inexplicable about-faces, posturing, and displays of simple ignorance.

For me, the highlight of the July session was Marvin Reed’s insistence that the board define the distance from the proposed parking lot to the proposed rail station, followed by his remarkable assertion, delivered almost as an aside, that it makes no difference whether the distance is 100 feet or 1,000 feet.   The board obligingly decided to set 1,000 feet as the standard — thereby ensuring that a large number of current and potential Dinky riders will find it easier simply to drive to the Junction — assuming, that is, that they can get out of Princeton when traffic flows have been choked off on Alexander.  The charitable explanation for this piece of idiocy is that the board fails to understand that proximate parking is a condition precedent to a successful, self-sustaining rail link.

Marvin Reed also provided many of the highlights of planning board’s recent session.  Departing from his customary role as chief nit-picker, he delighted this observer by objecting, sharply, that the board’s traffic consultant had not addressed the reduced traffic flows likely to result from the introduction of a “roundabout” and several new traffic lights on Alexander.  Mr. Reed continued in a similar vein, arguing forcefully and persuasively that the board should not be asked to vote until the issue of increased congestion has been satisfactorily resolved.   Shortly thereafter, in a stunning reversal, he cast one of the eight votes in favor of the zoning change sought by the University.

Mr. Reed also took time to  remind his fellow board members that the university’s president had delivered an empty ultimatum in January.  He stated that he himself had taken seriously the threat to find another location if the town did not capitulate that very evening — and had gone to bed fully expecting that the university would change course the next day.  This observer was starting to cheer.  It seemed clear that the point of the story was that the university had been bluffing in January and that the town should not in the future be taken in by such cheap tactics.  Mr. Reed concluded, however, with yet another non-sequitur, asserting that he favors the zoning change because the university has declared that it will move the station regardless.

Other stupifyingly incongruous or revealing highlights were: (i) Barbara Trelstad’s unsuccessful push for a vote on the desirability and necessity of moving the Dinky station; (ii) the chair’s objection that such a vote might highlight the disagreement between the Board’s Borough and Princeton Township members, thereby undercutting the consolidation argument that we are all just one happy family; (iii) Ms. Trelstad’s statement that a vote denying the desirability and necessity of moving the Dinky station need not be a disqualifier for the proposed zoning change; (iv) the board’s utter disregard of the “circulation” clauses in the Master Plan; and (v) the summary statement’s idiotic assertion that “congestion” is a necessary and sufficient reason for moving the Dinky Station.

The planning board’s inept (servile?) handling of a proposal that will doom the Dinky and ultimately necessitate construction of a major highway to Route 1 suggests that we have no reliable defenses against the City of Princeton envisioned by some “decision makers”.  If residents continue to tolerate such blundering, there can be no hope for the green, leafy, predominately single family neighborhoods that have long defined the Borough of Princeton.  Let’s hope that outrage over the planning board’s travesty will cause Princetonians to wake up and rally to the defense of their town.

Peter Marks is a Republican candidate for borough council.

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