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Letters: Supporters of Princeton Council Slate Distort the Facts

Analyze the Facts for Yourself

Dear Editor:

Why do those who oppose Jo Butler’s re-election to the Princeton Council feel it necessary to distort the facts? If you look at the true, undistorted facts you will be compelled to vote for Jo.

A recent letter to the Editor from two long time Princeton residents and political insiders concluding that there is “overwhelming” support for Jo’s opponents contains several inaccuracies that need to be corrected. All three candidates for Council have the exact same status as a result of the endorsement meeting of the Princeton Community Democratic Organization. All received the 40 % of the votes necessary to be “Recommended.” Not one received the 60% necessary to be “Endorsed.” Plain and simple there is no “overwhelming” result that can be ascribed to either the vote of the Municipal Committee (where the margin of victory was three votes) or the PCDO.

Furthermore, the PCDO is a political club whose members must pay dues to vote. While its goals may be lofty, one should not place undue stock in an organization that represents fewer than 5 percent of the registered Democratic voters and an even smaller percentage of all eligible voters in the Democratic Primary. (Unaffiliated voters can declare party affiliation at the polls on June 3rd and vote for Jo in the Democratic primary)

Other letters to the Editor from Princeton’s old time establishment contain factually misleading endorsements and meaningless bromides. For example they repeat hearsay, from one of Jo’s rivals that meetings are interminable because of Jo. Meetings may take a little longer than Jo’s opponents might like because she resists their attempts to push through items without debate on a consent agenda, because she argued long and hard for a conflict of interest policy, because she wouldn’t vote to overpay the town attorney. She had the audacity to ask to see the attorney’s contract before voting on it.

Apparently some supporters of Jo’s rivals would prefer that in the interests of collegiality she give her unthinking proxy to her colleagues. We pay the salaries of six council members; we are entitled to six independent votes. Each council member should have the strength and courage to run, be elected, and vote independently. Each voter should cast an independent thinking vote.

Those who know the facts and are capable of analyzing those facts for themselves are voting to re-elect the one truly independent Democratic candidate for Princeton Council, Jo Butler. Why do those who oppose Jo Butler’s incisive questioning of often hurried undeveloped proposals want to silence her? Vote like the independent thinking voter that you know you are. Read and head the letters of Peter Marks and Alain Kornhauser, independents who urge you to vote for Jo. They cite the undistorted facts supporting her re-election. Please join us and the other independents and independent Democrats who will vote to re-elect Councilwoman Jo Butler in the Democratic primary on Tuesday June 3rd.

Alice K. and Joseph C. Small

Butler an Advocate for Smart Development

To the Editor:

In their March 30 debate, the three Democratic candidates for Princeton Council were asked to name the most important issue facing Princeton. Incumbent Jo Butler named affordability. Indeed, she is the only candidate who has voted to lower property taxes.

Bernie Miller, running with Sue Nemeth as a slate, wanted a thriving downtown. But our downtown is thriving, as everyone knows who has actually tried to park there—especially on weekends.

Nemeth, finally, named zoning as Princeton’s most important issue. What did she mean? On walkableprinceton.com, each candidate answered other questions, including: “With 21,000 people driving into town to work, what should Princeton do to reduce vehicle-miles-traveled?”

Yes, 21,000! Butler stressed mass transit as well as convenient walkways. Nemeth and Miller both said that zoning should “encourage modest increases in housing density in downtown re-development projects” so more people can live near work (Nemeth).

Butler replied that development means asking “whether our infrastructure will support the density,” considering “the impact on surrounding neighborhoods,” and predicting the burden on “our already congested streets.”

Many people believe that development brings higher tax revenues. But development also requires more infrastructure, parking, and police. New housing, in particular, may bring more schoolchildren, who eventually need more teachers, classrooms, even schools.

Meanwhile, Sue Nemeth claims that Jo Butler has targeted our school budget. Nonsense. First, Council doesn’t oversee the school budget directly. Second, by scrutinizing new development, Butler will help safeguard our school budget indirectly.

If you know anywhere near downtown where you’d like another Avalon Bay, vote for Nemeth and Miller in the June 3 Democratic Primary. I support Jo Butler.

Anne Waldron Neumann

 

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Anne Waldron Neumann

    As for SFB’s chart, “No Expensive Housing Market Builds Much Housing,” which came first: the chicken, or the egg? Notice that the cities with high-cost housing are judged agreeable places to live by many people: for example, they offer access to outdoor activities (Honolulu), beautiful surroundings (San Francisco), and a wealth of cultural resources (New York, Boston, and San Francisco again). They are therefore all, as I understand it, relatively built out. And, because of demand independent of housing availability, new housing would naturally tend to be expensive.

  • Sorry, that means 1,600 people per square mile.

  • Alexi Assmus

    What do you mean byvPrinceton has1600 sq miles?

  • Alexi, Princeton has been developed mostly at very low density. We only have 1,600/sq mi whereas Las Vegas is 4,298/sq mi, Phoenix is 2,797/sq mi, Atlanta is 3,188/sq mi, and Raleigh is 2,963/sq mi. You can see that we have plenty of space, even compared to sprawling cities in the sun belt, but our zoning doesn’t allow for more housing.

  • I agree Alexi that we need to allow more residential retail in the more suburban neighborhoods. It’s also true that many people who live in walking distance instead drive even if only to go a few blocks away. However, if you look at the American Community Survey from the Census Bureau you’ll see that more residents of the former borough walk to work than drive, so walking is the dominant means of transport.

  • Sure thing Alexis. If you look at the wikipedia articles for Princeton Borough and Princeton Township you’ll see historical population records. In 1950 the borough had a population of 12,230 and in 2010 it has 12,307. That number is that much more surprising given that the former borough has several thousand more students living in it today, indicating that the non-student population of the borough has declined by that amount.

    The population of the township was 13,651 in 1970 but did see an increase in the ’90s to just over 16,000. That’s the only population increase since 1970, and that took place on the fringe of the township outside the walkable core.

    The housing that has been added in the core of town has barely made up for declining average household size. Even as the number of jobs in the former borough has multiplied to over 23,000 the number of non-student residents has actually declined. This is why the cost of housing, as well as the number of cars driving into town, has spiked over those years.

  • SFB

    The reason why we don’t have more housing units built and lower housing prices has got nothing to do with lack of space, and everything to do with politics. There are lots of people who just do not want to see more housing built in Princeton. Until we face up to reality on the need for new housing, more and more people are going to be priced out of Princeton, and displacement will continue.

  • Alexi Assmus

    The small-lot neighborhoods in the center of Princeton are already walkable. Why don’t people walk? I am one of the very few people who walks or bikes to Council Meetings. Why don’t others?

    The central small-lot neighborhoods are already at smart growth densities. We need to think about what sort of development would make the more suburban neighborhoods more walkable. Small neighborhood centers with a cafe, small grocery store,, ATM and mail facility?

  • Alexi Assmus

    David would you post your source for the statistic that there has been no increase in population in Princeton over the past 50 years? There has been new housing built in Princeton in the past 50 years. The public middle and high school are at capacity or overcrowded, as is the case with the high school.

  • Alexi Assmus

    The cities on your chart with greater number of housing units built and lower housing prices — Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Raleigh—are outside the heavily populated Northeast. They are lower cost regions of the country and they have more open are for development.

  • SFB

    This chart shows that- as in Princeton- high housing costs are a typical feature of places that don’t build much housing. Real places- not theoretical.

  • Sandra J. Bierman

    Once again, I applaud the letters from Mr and Mrs Small and from Mrs. Neumann. To vote for the slate that get things “done” behind closed doors and that doesn’t want bothersome interference, is ludicrous. The fact that the mayor endorsed the slate is disgusting. The fact that they want the “yes” vote without reading the contracts is unbelievable. The fact that Sue distorts th truth is dangerous (school issues). The fact that Sue didn’t think she could run on her own record and experience is sad. The fact that if she wins, she will vote according to what Mr Miller and Mrs Lempert want is tragic. I will vote for Jo. Mrs Nemeth could revise her idea of going to Delaware and win over there (that was her plan after losing to Marie Corfield which shows that she wants to win, no matter where). People should think carefully about voting for the slate, there is no need to do it. And remember, if you are independent, you could also vote in this Primary Election. Listen to the independent voters who have written letters to support Jo, listen to the Republicans who support Jo.

  • krystalknapp

    I will dig up the examples. They were interesting because instead of being theoretical, they were actual case studies of towns. Will post when I find it. I am not taking a position, just suggesting things are more complex than some of the solutions being put forth.

  • Here’s a paper from Glaeser on “The Impact of Zoning on Housing Affordability:”

    http://www.nber.org/papers/w8835.pdf?new_window=1

    “Measures of zoning strictness are highly correlated with high prices. While all of our evidence is suggestive, not definitive, it
    seems to suggest that this form of government regulation is responsible for high housing costs where they exist.”

    This post is also helpful with a graph showing how Austin, TX and Raleigh, NC have low housing costs because of massive increase in supply in comparison to Silicon Valley, DC, and other metro areas:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jed-kolko/5-truths-about-housing-co_b_4741129.html

  • Ed Glaeser, a economics professor at Harvard, has done great work on this issue, as has Ryan Avent. I’ll disagree, Krystal, and argue that economists from Paul Krugman to Ed Glaeser agree that the abrupt rise in housing costs in some parts of the United States and much of Europe is entirely a result of restrictions on supply. Many places have added density without lowering prices, but that is merely a reflection that supply is being outstripped by demand.

    Krugman wrote a famous article predicting the housing bubble which referred to the “zoned zone” where supply has been restricted by regulation. Do we really think that if developers could add as much housing in the region as would deliver a profit that they wouldn’t do so? Princeton used to be much cheaper, as did New York and San Francisco and London and Paris even when the populations of those cities were rising at great speed. There’s a simple solution: allow housing to be built without years of litigation.

  • krystalknapp

    Ralph Widner gave an interesting talk about a year ago at Princeton Future that looks at the dynamics of affordability in desirable cities and towns. I will try to locate the presentation. He showed that this issue is actually very complex and there is no simple solution. All sorts of dynamics come into play. He cited examples from the U.S. and Europe where density was added and it did not lead to affordability. I will look for it.

  • It’s true that at the meager rate at which we add housing we’re not even keeping up with the rise in demand. The cost of housing however is simply a matter of supply and demand. In a free market the cost of housing would equal the cost of construction plus profit.

    My parents home in Indianapolis, a nice new three bedroom, is worth $150,000 which reflects the cost of land and construction in that part of the country. I was just talking to a new arrival in town who was shocked to be paying $1400 a month for a studio on Nassau Street whereas in Madison, WI, another college town, he paid only $600. The only reason Princeton is so expensive are the restrictions on housing. If we had the density of Houston we would double our housing stock. That would go a long way to reducing the cost of living. Not that I expect that to happen but the only obstacle is political will.

    As to added density taxing our infrastructure and creating congestion, I believe the opposite is true. Is the former borough more congested than West Windsor despite being six times the density? If you look at NJDOT numbers, or just experience traffic on a daily basis you’ll see that the former borough has less congestion. That is precisely because more people walk than drive in the core of Princeton as shown by the census while in West Windsor essentially no one walks anywhere.

    It is low density construction that taxes infrastructure through requiring large amounts of roadway, sewers, and electrical wires for a small number of people. Again, if low density was the answer then Princeton have no problems since its far and away less dense than almost any comparable town around the country. I think we would all benefit from allowing more development in Princeton instead of forcing it to other areas. My home town, State College, PA, is much, much denser than Princeton, has excellent schools, low crime, less traffic, and a great library and with much lower taxes than Princeton. Why can’t we do the same?

  • Calpurnia

    It’s possible that adding density will make the town more walkable. There is some logic in that, even if it will also worsen traffic congestion and tax the town’s infrastructure. But there is zero evidence supporting the idea that adding density will bring housing prices down. The demand for walkable housing is on the rise and will only increase if the town becomes more convenient for non-car owners. Not that we don’t want to do that, but that will increase property values, not decrease them.

  • Thank you for your response Ms. Neumann. I certainly appreciated you speaking in favor of micro-apartments at the recent affordable housing forum. The crisis of affordable housing in Princeton cannot be solved only by adding more units that are under income restrictions. Indeed, the only way to add significant numbers of those units is through large market rate developments with inclusionary zoning such as AvalonBay. Most residents, including most of our poorest neighbors, are dependent on market rate housing. The 41 people who were displaced from just six apartments by the house of cupcakes fire were paying market rents. A new colleague of mine was shocked to find that market rate apartments in downtown Princeton were more expensive than his previous home of Boston.

    Princeton needs more housing in the downtown. Zoning laws that keep housing at such astronomical costs are unjust, period. For fifty years Princeton has prevented any increase in population, for over sixty years in the former borough. In that time our traffic has increased ninefold, from 20,000 cars trips a day to 180,000. Our low density development is the cause of our traffic not the solution.

    Princeton is half the population density of Houston, Texas and yet we hear the claim that we’re “built-out.” While I agree that the former township also could use more density I think it will be most beneficial in the downtown. The former borough has over 23,000 jobs in it, 80% of all the jobs in Princeton and more than all of West Windsor. Apartments like those on Spring Street where your only option for a car is to rent access to the garage where your vehicle will be parked very inconveniently are least likely to impact our town negatively.

    The former borough actually had far more taxable property per student than the township precisely because it has so many renters in smaller apartments. Other college towns from Ithaca to Berkeley have much greater density close in and are far better off for it. I believe the evidence shows that the fears of downtown development are unfounded. In any case, maintaining the status quo merely forces our poorest residents to live seven to a small apartment, and our middle class to drive in to Princeton through heavy traffic. Either we accommodate new residents through sprawl and congestion or we make space in town. Either we turn Princeton into a glorified country club or we add housing so that we can return to the days when everyone who worked here could afford to live here.

  • Anne Waldron Neumann

    I hope David Keddie understands how difficult it is, in a brief letter, to say everything that could be said. As a chaplain at the University, he must surely favor affordable housing in Princeton. But, as former Chair of the Borough’s Affordable Housing Commission, so do I. And so does Jo Butler. At the candidates’ March 30 debate, where she mentioned “affordability” as the main issue facing Princeton, she was also the only candidate to mention legally-defined affordable housing. Miller and Nemeth mentioned only “housing that is affordable.”

    What I hope my letter conveyed was that Butler will scrutinize development more carefully than either member of the slate, not that she will necessarily vote against it. For example, why do Miller and Nemeth envision increased development only “in downtown re-development projects”? What about the impact on established close-in neighborhoods? What about adding some density to the former Township? And how much density will solve the problem of our 21,000 commuters? Surely Butler’s emphasis on mass transit is the smarter solution there.

    Mr Keddie goes on to cite the relatively few new apartments on Spring Street and by the Library. He might have added Paul Robeson Place and Avalon Bay as other examples of in-town redevelopment. But he is wrong that these residences were “built without access to parking” and will therefore “attract households without children and without cars.” Avalon Bay and Paul Robeson Place have their own parking garages. And Spring Street and the Library apartments share the Library parking garage.

  • Ms. Neumann argues that Princeton can’t support more walkable housing in town. What is her answer to the extreme cost of Princeton housing and the harm that does to all but the wealthiest in our community? Either we add housing or we say Princeton is only open to the wealthy. She argues more housing will increase traffic. Did the new apartments on Spring Street and by the Library overwhelm our infrastructure and add kids to the schools? Quite the opposite. Apartments in the core of town built without access to parking attract households without children and without cars. It’s easier to drive down Nassau Street at rush hour than the main roads in West Windsor, Plainsboro, and Montgomery precisely because more people in the core of Princeton walk than drive. We just need to look to other college towns to see that increased density of housing can be a solution to our affordability crisis, our tax base, and the loss of open space and car dependency that comes from sprawl.

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