Letters: Princeton’s Planning Process Flawed

An Open Letter to Mayor and Council

Dear Mayor Lempert and Members of Princeton Council:

I am forwarding the letter dated July 1, 2016 that Bob Powell sent to the Princeton Planning Board which he also sent to various Vandeventer and neighbors.

There is an overarching problem with Princeton’s planning processes and procedures including applicant requested changes to properties located in residential zones.

In 2007, the owners of 19 Vandeventer filed an application with the Shade Tree Commission requesting that a large swath of trees and shrubs be removed. (~ 20’x40′) The application was signed off on and approved by Princeton municipal officials regardless of a list of defects in the application and the legal requirements for stormwater management and neighbor notifications being entirely absent and neglected.

As it turned out due to the homeowner and Princeton Borough municipal staff not conducting proper research;

the trees and shrubs were removed, the area re-graded with heavy equipment and gravel put in place for new parking spaces – exactly where an old detention basin with an underground culvert drainage system was located. The culvert system was crushed, unbeknownst to the homeowners or municipal staff, and the unfortunate relentless flooding into the neighboring proper ensued. (For many months until several sinkholes in the new driveway occurred which finally led to the discovery of the crushed drainage culvert.)

Are we looking a similar yet different situation regarding the Princeton Planning Board’s decision to approve of Christian Union’s application? Has sufficient and essential information and non-hearsay testimony been researched, requested, obtained, submitted, reviewed and discussed? No.

I suggest that you view the Planning Board Meeting – June 16, 2016 video in its entirety. https://www.princetonnj.gov/PB/video/2016/PB-061616.html


“The applicant also seeks approval of a Conditional Use pursuant to former Princeton Borough’s Land Development Ordinance 17A-255(b)4 as a building for the exclusive use of an educational institution or for the exclusive us of a nonprofit organization serving the interests of such educational institution, and 17A-208.”

Where is the written documented proof that Christian Union serves or will be serving the interests of Princeton University? There was no testimony from any Princeton University administrators. There were no affidavits presented from any Princeton University administrators.

There was verbal testimony regarding the maximum allowable number of person in the house at anyone time. However it was difficult to understand who presented this testimony because the camera system was not functioning properly. Was the Princeton Fire Official, Robert Gregory consulted or other authoritative municipal staff and did they provide written testimony regarding; the maximum allowed number of persons, a sprinkler systems, hardwired monitored smoke detectors, emergency exit signs and back up emergency lighting would or would not be required?

The testimony regarding parking was disingenuous and incorrect.

Is it truly in the best interests of the immediate neighborhood, the Princeton community at large and truly fair for those Planning Board members who needed the time to take into consideration and deliberate on newly acquired information which is imparted verbally by an applicant as well as the testimony from the “Three Minuteers” to have severely limited discussion and then hold an immediate vote? No.

I truly hope that Bob Powell’s most articulate letter is persuasive enough to solicit a “do over”.

In all walks of American life rushed decisions void of verified facts often leads to “unintended consequences” and/or the adjudication of contentious issues.

I suggest that you take the time to review the video archive of the Planning Board meeting in its entirely.

“When will we ever learn?”

Submitted with my appreciation for you time and consideration-

Jan Weinberg
Park Place

[pdf-embedder url=”https://planetprinceton.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Christian-Union-Letter-to-Pl-Bd-Robt-Powell-7.1.16.pdf”]


  1. It was a rush job, as have been many other acceptances of variances around the inner part of town in the past year. The zoning board has been a great disappointment to me–constant rebuilding of small homes as huge McMansions, removal of old growth trees, loss of permeable yard surface to parking lots, and worst of all, changing of noise ordinances from 7 pm quiet times to 11 pm quiet (and even later for “snow blowers” of all things). These are decisions by people who clearly to not live in the center of town (former borough) and do not care about quality of residential life in center of town. I am incensed at this point.

    1. When was the noise ordinance changed? Are you saying that i can run my gas-powered leaf blower until 11pm each night?

    2. This wasn’t a rush job at all. There were two hearings, and several months of time involved between them. It had been low-impact commercial space for many, many years, converted to a residence-only house a few years ago. We all knew the couple was getting divorced and the wife wanted to sell, and it was on the market for a year or maybe even more at a very high price for a residence in our area. So this wasn’t a surprise and certainly wasn’t a “rush job.”

    3. Sorry the disregard for your hood is painful… totally understood. Sadly, we probably should prepare ourselves for more disregard from Council. Rather than directly prepare & survey all homeowners, rather than have local discussions over time about neighborhoods, Council hired Urban Planners to advise us on how we should all live here. Council’s decision to let outsiders determine how our town will develop, is driven by those members who came here to advance their own profit & ambitions. Our quality of life a secondary concern or a nuisance blocking their “vision” & timetable. The new consultants will be in total sync with lead Council members who are transplants. The character of every neighborhood here is already so obvious. The history has already been so recorded. We all know the qualities we love here. Regardless, we will now have endure expert justifications as to why we have to lose the peace & the character that is Princeton in exchange for urbanization. They may not call it “urbanization”, but their plan will likely add insult to injury. Experts with very set & even somewhat outdated ideas of urban planning will soon be redesigning us in the name of “progress”. The last thing anyone discusses here is “happiness” . Affordability went out the window some time ago. And, if you land is valued higher than you are sleeping, entertaining, & dreaming in a “tear-down”.

      1. “The decisions to outsource, & to to let outsiders influence how Princeton will develop, is driven by those who moved here to advance their own incomes & ambitions first & foremost.”

        Funny you should say this because lately, as I drive down Alexander Rd, I am struck by how foreign and “un-Princeton-like” it feels. I don’t think it is primarily newcomers and the ambitious who are driving these changes; many still move here seeking the Princeton of old, and the others are mere pawns in a much bigger game. I think that if you look behind the curtain you will find Princeton University, the master puppeteer, deftly working the strings. With an endowment bigger than anyone foresaw when they invented tax-exempt status, PU pursues its ambitious and ever-growing need to expand and perfect it’s vision of itself–whether that be by providing abundant scholarships that allow it to handcraft its classes to include just the “right” mix of students who have just the “right” mix of ideas or by turning Princeton into a “model” intellectual urban center, one that befits an educational institution of its stature. In a sad sort of way, our town is becoming a very sanitized and Disney-like experience, focused on creating a “world-class” small city to enhance the shine on the apple that is our world-class university.

        1. PU can (and will) do what it wants with PU property. So, I find it best to look at the positives… pedestrian & undergrad safety & security are vastly improved along the DINKY/Alexander corridor… Architectural diversity is an exciting, good thing. What really concerns me is the lack of intelligence in recommendations that emerge from town “task force” groups & Boards, that become decisions made by Council. They lack of ample research, in terms of what is best for human, planetary, & financial health. Our town is locked in some ancient crony system that isn’t evolving … a twilight zone. With such a disregard for real world, long term results, new programs & initiatives will fall short. They’ll also cost way more than they should over time. We’ll soon pay for more decisions that won’t preserve, protect, & create quality of life here, because of a small group of ill informed people driving policy.

  2. The planning board approves everything, so why have a planning board. They approve a ton of work and the entire zoning system is flawed.. approving things without any plans that often result in huge financial loss to new home buyers etc. and tons of other issues in the community.

  3. You obviously didn’t attend the meeting and don’t understand the law. The board isn’t making up rules as it goes, it’s reviewing submissions to see if they fit within the zoning rules and listening to neighbors on their opinions and any other information. I wasn’t in favor of this, and attended, but after hearing the role of the board, understanding the zoning rules, and listening to the neighbors, it seemed pretty clear this should be approved. (The main argument of neighbors: We don’t like this. … Which isn’t exactly compelling.)

Comments are closed.