Princeton Master Plan subcommittee chair: Historic Preservation Commission was given opportunities for feedback

To the Editor,
I’ve loved living in Princeton these past 33 years and it’s been an honor to be involved in public life. I’ve served on the Board of Education, Princeton Council and, for the past decade, on the Princeton Planning Board. 

As vice chair of the board and chair of the Master Plan Subcommittee, I’ve been closely involved with the almost two-year process that led up to the first public comment session on Nov. 9. I knew going in that finding community consensus on the comprehensive plan would be a long and challenging process. Chairperson Louise Wilson and I committed to a robust public engagement program, which has been largely successful. By the time the public hearing started, about a quarter of the town participated in one way or another in the process.
I was surprised, then, to hear members of our Historic Preservation Commission testify at the hearing that they were somehow excluded from this process. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve long appreciated the hard work of the commission, a group of skilled and knowledgeable residents who advise the board on development applications and other matters. Like me, members of the commission care deeply about the rich history of our town.

However, as was revealed at the Nov. 9 hearing, a subcommittee of the commission took it upon itself to write its own element to the master plan. When advised that its element would not be accepted, the commission disregarded repeated requests from the Planning Office and our consultant for information and feedback on the taxpayer-funded element within the generous time periods given to them. It’s worth noting that the consultants were working with a subcommittee of the Master Plan Steering Committee that included a member of the commission and a past Princeton Council liaison to the commission.

The element up for consideration by the board on Nov. 30 calls for long-overdue design standards for historic districts and includes a list of suggested districts that have a reasonable chance of achieving official designation. It is a strong organizational element, one that proposes clarifying and streamlining approval processes while strengthening overall historical protections. In short, it is the historic preservation element the town needs. 

We all benefit from the abundance of brainpower in Princeton and we’re fortunate to have people willing to put their passion to use for the greater good. However, knowledge and passion do not give anyone the right to bypass an established process, especially one that will result in a statutory document like the Master Plan. 

The Planning Board will make common sense amendments to the draft master plan, correcting errors that may exist, clarifying language and concepts and prioritizing a small number of additional districts communicated by the commission since the public hearing process began Nov. 9. At least one noted local historian has also provided information that will be helpful in this process. I am confident the board will adopt a master plan that reflects the broader community’s strong preservation values and is consistent with the Municipal Land Use Law.

Tim Quinn
Vice Chair, Princeton Planning Board
Chair, Master Plan Subcommittee