U. defends Arts and Transit Neighborhood
Design and engineering representatives from the University’s development team gave a series of presentations detailing the technical and practical details of the proposal. The hearing will be continued on Nov. 1 at a meeting where opponents of the University’s proposal will present testimony.
The University has had plans for six years to expand the Lewis Center for the Arts by building a $300 million complex of rehearsal and performance spaces on its own land in the Alexander corridor near Forbes College. But the plan has stalled in the past few years due to community opposition to the University’s development plans.
The University’s plan to move the Dinky station 460 feet southward has made the project unpopular with the Borough Council. Both the Borough and the Township governments passed ordinances approving the zoning changes needed for the project at the end of last year. Despite this progress, the University still needs final approval from the Regional Planning Board of Princeton before it can begin building.
Under the proposed construction plans, the currently defunct northern Dinky station building will be converted into a cafe, and the currently in-use southern station building will be converted into a restaurant. A new Dinky station would be constructed 460 feet southward, and the Wawa convenience store would be relocated within the station building. A new parking lot with 207 spaces would be constructed.
Plans for the Arts and Transit Neighborhood were designed by Steven Holl, an internationally renowned architect. Holl, who has worked with the University before, called the Arts and Transit Neighborhood “the most important project he has ever worked on” because of its position as a physical and cultural gateway between the University and the community.
“I think one of the great things about this project is that it’ll really bring greater visibility and accessibility to the arts for the community,” said Holl’s partner, Noah Yaffe, who testified on behalf of Holl’s architectural firm.
Michael Van Valkenburgh, a landscape architect working on the project, testified about the species and placement of trees the University is proposing to plant as part of the development. In total, 450 trees will be planted. Transportation planner George Jacquemart testified the proposed traffic roundabouts would improve traffic flow along Alexander Road.
One of the goals of the project is to create an arts neighborhood around the existing McCarter Theatre for University and community audiences, which would welcome both student and professional performances.
“The Lewis Center is a dream come true, basically, for McCarter and I think for the community at large,” Emily Mann, artistic director and resident playwright of McCarter Theatre, said. “Why would anyone not want it? Except for people who are afraid of change.”
Jenny Crumiller, a planning board member who is also a member of Borough Council, recused herself from sitting on the board. She watched the meeting from the audience.
Crumiller explained that Borough Counsel has advised her to recuse herself because she has in the past expressed vocal opposition to the University's plan to move Dinky station. If she were to vote with the planning board, the board’s decision may be reversed on grounds that it was subject to “pre-judgment,” according to Borough Counsel.
Bruce Afran, the attorney representing the opponents of the plan, argued that Crumiller should not have to recuse herself. He asked that the board advance a motion to vote on whether Crumiller’s recusal was necessary. Allen Porter, attorney for the planning board, refused his request.
Following last year’s zoning approvals by the Borough Council and the Township Committee, the plaintiffs filed lawsuits seeking to invalidate the zoning ordinances on grounds that the University offered the municipal governments monetary payments in exchange for the zoning.
Other plaintiffs of the suit include Township resident Marco Gottardis and Borough residents Walter and Anne Neumann.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jenny Crumiller, a planning board member and member of Borough Council, was a plaintiff in a lawsuit regarding the Dinky. In fact, while Crumiller is a vocal opponent of the University's plan to move the Dinky, she is not a plaintiff in a lawsuit. The 'Prince' regrets the error.