Two Dozen Residents from Witherspoon Neighborhood Join Lawsuit Challenging Princeton University Property Tax Exemptions

Two dozen residents from the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood in downtown Princeton have joined a lawsuit that challenges the property tax exemptions of some buildings at Princeton University.

The addition of the residents from the historic African-American neighborhood brings the total number of residents named in the lawsuit as plaintiffs to 28 people.

Princeton University alumna and former Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore is one of the new plaintiffs. Moore said she decided to join the lawsuit recently when she became aware that every year when a lawsuit is refiled, others can join the lawsuit.

“I was certainly interested in helping,” she said. “Many residents have been frustrated over many years, and the tax situation has really impacted the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, where some of the longest-standing property owners live.”

Moore said the university has expanded its footprint dramatically over her lifetime, and the expansion has had an impact on the town.

“The university has grown its research, commercial, and profit-oriented activities, while becoming much more distant from the town,” she said.

The new plaintiffs live on Birch Avenue, John Street, Quarry, Leigh Avenue, Green Street, and Witherspoon Street.

Four residents, represented by Princeton lawyer Bruce Afran, were the original plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the tax-exempt status of various Princeton University properties. Residents became interested in filing the lawsuit after examining the results of the 2010 Princeton property revaluation.

The residents argue that Princeton University should be paying property taxes on many buildings that are currently tax exempt, because the buildings have commercial functions such as retail food establishments, ticketing operations and numerous other commercial operations. In 2011, for example, Princeton University received $118 million in patent royalties and distributed $30 million from the profits to faculty members. The university also has a licensing agreement with Eli Lilly for the chemotherapy drug Alimta.

Representatives for the university have argued that all the money made by the university is intended to support the school’s educational mission, and thus the school should not pay taxes on the buildings.

Lawyers for the school have tried several times, but failed, to get the lawsuit thrown out. The case could be decided this fall.