Vote on Zoning for University’s Arts Project Set for Tonight

The governing body of Princeton Township will decide tonight whether to grant Princeton University the zoning changes needed to move forward with the school’s  arts and transit neighborhood plan.

The township committee is scheduled to vote on an ordinance that would change the zoning to allow for the project after a public hearing on the issue at 7:00 tonight at town hall.

Last Thursday, the Princeton Regional Planning Board voted 7-2 to refer the zoning ordinance back to the governing bodies. Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman and Mayor-Elect Yina Moore cast the two votes against referring the zoning ordinances back to the governing bodies.

Some officials wanted more information on the impact the university’s development plans would have on area traffic. The planning board hired its own traffic consultant to look at the issue, but some board members were not satisfied with the review because the consultant did not collect his own data and instead reviewed the university’s traffic study.

Traffic consultants said that the intersection of Alexander Street and University Place would see an increase in traffic of about 1 percent during peak hours, but that the traffic would decrease at the intersection of Alexander and Faculty roads because a second access road to a large parking garage known as Garage 7 would divert some traffic from Faculty Road.

The consultants said if the university builds offices and other buildings under the existing zoning, much more traffic would be generated than if the zoning is changed to accommodate the arts project.

Planning Board member Barbara Trelstad expressed disappointment with the board’s traffic review, and said potential impacts of the arts project should not be compared with what could potentially be built in the area now under existing zoning.

“Constant comparisons to the existing zoning give a false sense that the traffic is going to be reduced,” she said. “Yes, if the university is going to build office buildings. But we are in the process of changing the zoning and using that comparison confuses the issue.”

“I don’t think it is enough to say that there would be less traffic with the arts plan than build out under the existing zoning,” Board Member Marvin Reed said.  “The question is, is it less than there is now? It is not enough to conclude it is better than build out. We need to dig deeper than that  and we need to make it clear to the governing bodies in our report, or a separate resolution, that no one should assume this planning board is ready to approve site plans for the arts and transit zone, especially that second concert hall in phase two of the plan that brings more traffic and could disrupt the commuter parking lot.”

Another issue is how traffic will be affected by the DOT’s plan to eliminate the left turn jughandles on Route 1 at Harrison Street and Washington Road. Traffic consultants said according to DOT data, up to an estimated 200 cars per hour during peak hours could be diverted on to Alexander Road. Some residents and officials who have observed traffic at Harrison Street and Washington Road question those figures and say they think the number is higher.

“I’m a  little concerned that we are relying on DOT figures,” Trelstad said. “Many of my colleagues would disagree with those figures. When were they taken and how fresh are they?”

Planning Board Member Peter Madison said if the DOT’s plan moves forward, a right turn lane should be created on Alexander at the intersection of Faculty Road to accommodate all the cars coming in to Princeton that would want to turn on to Faculty Road.

Some board members said the planning board needs to conduct detailed traffic studies of its own to determinate the potential impacts of the university’s art’s project, other university projects, and various other developments in town like the redevelopment of the hospital site.

On Dec. 6, the borough council is scheduled to consider the zoning ordinance for the portion of the university’s arts project in the borough, Trotman said.

No public comment on the proposed zoning changes was allowed during the planning board meeting, an issue that frustrated some residents in the audience.