Letters to the Editor: Will Consolidation Hurt the Character of Downtown Princeton?

Reasons Borough Residents Should Worry About Consolidation

To the Editor:

There are two points that I have not seen raised in the consolidation debate: Princeton’s history of treating minorities shabbily, and our habit of preaching sustainability without defining what it means for our community.

Borough residents have reason to fear an arrangement that leaves them with only one third of the votes.  The Spring Street garage complex (known in its inchoate form as the “downtown development project”) is a recent example of our government’s demonstrated tendency to ignore minority viewpoints.  One thousand residents signed a petition asking for the project to be made the subject of a public referendum.  Mayor Reed ignored their petition and the Council he led provoked a lawsuit by approving the project.

Those of us who oppose further high density development fear that our voices will be similarly ignored when voters are asked to choose between ratable driven tax relief (a fantasy, in my view) and preserving single family downtown neighborhoods.  Recent Borough governments have admittedly been less than steadfast when confronted with requests for large scale development.  Nevertheless, our Borough zoning powers offer a meaningful second line of defense — one that will be lost if we consolidate.

Sustainable communities, I suggest, entail both stability and open space.  By stability I mean the ability to flourish without new taxes, new grants, continuous population growth, and ever-increasing density.  By open space, I mean the leafy yards which surround most of our homes, clean our air, and make our community so inviting.

I suspect that the driving force behind consolidation is the dream of creating a model city. That dream necessarily entails rapid population growth, the elimination of green space, and much higher density land use – all of which are antithetical to my concept of a sustainable community.

The dream of an urban utopia is likely the reason we are subjected to earnest proposals to provide expensive public transit loops within our municipal limits.  It is likely why Springdale golf course has been zoned for ten story buildings.  And it is likely why the hospital site was rezoned to accommodate 280 apartment units – when we might better have restored the pre-existing single family grid.

Princeton is big enough.  I preferred it as it was – when I could ride my bicycle to school, with my French Horn strapped to the basket, through downtown streets and neighborhoods, without alarming or endangering anyone.

Many consolidation proponents share my concerns.  It is not clear, however, that our viewpoint will represent a majority in a consolidated Princeton.  Given the tendency of municipal officials to wield power peremptorily, it seems reckless to abandon our Borough majority and dismantle our Borough zoning protections.

Peter Marks, Republican Candidate for Borough Council

Our Borough Protects the Character of Our Downtown

Dear Editor:

Princeton – and I include both the Borough and the Township in that word – is a very special town, particularly in the United States. It has a vibrant downtown, whereas most town centers have declined in favor of the surrounding suburbs and malls. I wonder if one of the reasons is our unique political structure where the dense town center and the thriving suburb each has its own government. I wonder if one of the reasons that Princeton has a thriving walkable center and access to long-distance public transportation is the fact that the town center has its own municipal government and controls its own political destiny.

A good example of a town where the downtown does not have a separate government is Princeton Junction, which for decades had been the population center of West Windsor Township, now one of the wealthiest municipalities in New Jersey. In the past, Princeton Junction was a downtown with a real sense of place. How could West Windsor Township have allowed Princeton Junction, with its advantages of proximity to the
Northeast Corridor and Route 1, to become a run-down pastiche of semi-occupiedstrip malls? Probably because most residents of West Windsor live miles awayand only drive through Princeton Junction or catch the train there. The current redevelopment plan for Princeton Junction took many years to approve because most residents of West Windsor saw the costs but didn’t see any benefit for them because they live far away from the downtown. Would Princeton Junction have been neglected if it had been the center of a smaller municipality, like Princeton Borough? I doubt it.

Look at successful downtowns in the immediate area – Pennington, Hopewell, Rocky Hill, Hightstown, and Allentown – all are boroughs much smaller than Princeton. Not very long ago, these towns were essentially similar to other communities in the region that are part of larger municipalities—Princeton Junction, Mercerville, Yardville, and Hamilton Square. Over the years, the boroughs have retained their character while the other communities have lost most of what made them identifiable.

Alexi Assmus, Preserve Our historic Borough

Moore Has Track Record of Advocacy for the Borough

Dear Planet Princeton:

As someone who has lived in the Borough for over 25 years, I have a deep affection for Princeton as a walkable community with small-town neighborhoods and many historical resources. For this reason, I am writing to state my enthusiastic support for Yina Moore for Mayor. Her work on behalf of the downtown, including the development of Hinds Plaza, and her work on the Planning Board make it clear that she will be a forceful advocate for the Borough. Those of us who are concerned about the fate of the Dinky are particularly thankful for her efforts to preserve the Dinky as a walkable transit link to the Junction. Those who want a Borough Mayor who will follow policies that value its historic character should vote for Ms. Moore on November 8th.

Anita Garoniak, Borough Resident and Founder of Save the Dinky