Op-Ed: Boundary Lines Argument Doesn’t Hold in Consolidation Debate

By Peter Marks

The elimination of irrational boundary lines is one of the more plausible arguments being advanced in support of the proposed consolidation of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township.

Proponents remind us that some Princetonians currently find themselves in the ludicrous position of owning lots that straddle the Borough/Township line.  Others inhabit streets that run, for no apparent reason, from Borough to Township and back to Borough.  Still others inhabit neighborhoods that would represent meaningful voting blocks in a small municipality were they not bisected by apparently arbitrary boundary lines.

Were we to rank boundaries by nuisance factor, however, surely one of the most problematic would be the boundary between West Windsor and the Township.  The stretch of Washington Road between Route 1 and Carnegie Lake, with its double row of stately elms, is the road I have always considered to symbolize Princeton.  The open fields on either side are owned by Princeton University, whose broad reach encompasses most of the land between Carnegie Lake and Route 1.  Those trees and fields help to define Princeton.  They frame all three of our southern access roads.  But they lie almost exclusively within West Windsor.

Boundaries are a fact of life, creating both inefficiencies and enhanced freedoms.  Those who prefer strong centralized governments usually prefer fewer boundaries.  Those who prefer weak central governments generally prefer more boundaries.  I fall into the second group – mostly because I prefer greater freedom to manage my own affairs.

Whatever one’s preference, it must be admitted that voting to dismantle an entire municipality because some boundary lines are awkward is like using a bazooka to kill a mosquito.  Supreme Court jurists famously prefer to decide issues on the narrowest possible grounds.  We in Princeton might be wise to take a similar approach, correcting obvious problems without recklessly – and needlessly — exposing ourselves to the irreversible collateral damage of accelerated downtown development.

Peter Marks is a Republican candidate for Borough Council.

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