While students were away over winter break, two momentous, long-awaited events ushered in a new age in both the town’s government history and in its relations with the University. The previously separate Borough and Township merged into a single municipality, and the local planning board approved the construction of the University’s long-awaited Arts and Transit Neighborhood.
As of Jan. 1, the town of Princeton, which previously consisted of two legally separate municipalities, officially became one town.
Consolidation has been a long battle for the former Borough and Township. The road to approval took six decades, as it was put to the vote — and rejected — in 1953, 1979 and 1996.
In November 2011, for the first time, a majority of voters in both the Borough and Township voted in favor of consolidation after the study results from the Consolidation Study Commission that recommended consolidation as feasible for Princeton. The vote marked progress in budget trimming for both Princeton and the greater state of New Jersey, which is looking for efficiencies the state’s 566 municipalities’ government expenses.
The tensions that arose as the Transition Task Force worked to compile recommendations for the newly consolidated government centered mainly on perceived cultural differences between the Borough and the Township, such as frequency of trash and leaf collection and policy regarding the fee for dog licenses. However, at the consolidation celebration party on Jan. 1, there was nothing but excitement as new mayor Liz Lempert gave her speech, to which the audience responded with a standing ovation.
Lempert sees this upcoming year as an “exciting opportunity for the town” and invites town residents, including University students, to voice their feedback, worries and concerns. Lempert hopes that students will be interested in learning more about what’s going on with consolidation.
“It is an opportunity for self-reflection and making conscious choices,” Lempert said. “Certainly when it comes to our ordinances — we have to look at the code books side by side and determine whether we are going to adopt the Borough ordinance, the Township ordinance or whether we are going to keep them separate. That housecleaning process will be a really great opportunity for the town.”
Two weeks before consolidation, on Dec. 18, a six-year struggle between town and gown ended when the Regional Planning Board approved the construction of the University’s Arts and Transit Neighborhood. Despite the 9-1 vote in favor, the meeting highlighted ongoing tensions between the University and the town over the relocation of the Dinky Station.
The project began as a vision of University President Shirley Tilghman and became a reality when Peter B. Lewis ’55 granted the University $101 million for the center in 2006. Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the Arts and Transit Neighborhood will remodel about 21 acres of the southwest portion of campus near Forbes College.
As a part of the new Lewis Center for the Arts, the project will add performance spaces and studios. In addition, the plan will move the Dinky Station 460 feet southward, relocate the Wawa and include a restaurant and cafe. The transformation represents the University’s effort to revive the creative and performing arts while also providing a more appealing “gateway to Princeton,” as it was described during the meeting.
However, the plan drew strong criticism from the town, prompting multiple revisions. The December vote of the Regional Planning Board was the final step of the approval process and came at a critical time. If the plan had not been not approved, the University would have been required to resubmit the application under the new government in 2013.
The meeting lasted four-and-a-half hours, as 19 members of the community shared their views. Many local residents argued that even the revised plan did not resolve safety and traffic issues. Much of the controversy centered on the movement of the Dinky Station further from Nassau Street and down a slope.
Others expressed support for the project, saying that it will help the local economy and encourage the arts.
Construction is expected to begin February 2013 with the completion of the neighborhood by 2017.