The University can now move forward with its plans to build its long-planned Arts and Transit Neighborhood. On Tuesday evening the Borough Council approved a zoning ordinance granting the University the right to build its $300 million developments, ending a contentious six-year process.
Since 2006 the University has sought the zoning changes it needs to build its proposed Arts and Transit Neighborhood in the Alexander Corridor near Forbes College. Over the past year’s negotiations, members of Borough Council have opposed the zoning change because the University plans to move the Dinky station 460 feet further south.
The Council voted 3-2 to pass the zoning ordinance. In favor of the ordinance were Roger Martindell, Kevin Wilkes ’83 and Barbara Trelstad, all of whom previously expressed opposition to the zoning. Jenny Crumiller and Jo Butler voted against the ordinance.
Martindell, before casting his vote, said that he believed the benefits of the project — of the Arts and Transit Neighborhood itself and the memorandum of understanding agreement made with the University earlier this year — outweighed the inconvenience of moving the station. “When you balance the two [options], it seems to me it makes the most sense to move forward,” Martindell said.
For all three yes-voters, their support represents a sharp departure from the positions they have held for most of this year. The Council has unanimously opposed the ordinance all year and only began warming up to the project this fall when it approved the memorandum of understanding. The memo, which acts as a rider on the ordinance, preserves the public right-of-way of the current Dinky track.
The dissenters remained fixed in their long-held opposition. Crumiller said that passing the ordinance would be “the biggest public policy mistake ever made by the Borough Council.”
Crumiller advocated that the University alter its construction plans to avoid moving the station. “I’m holding out for protecting the Dinky and getting our arts campus, too,” she explained.
University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee ’69 alluded to hostilities in the discussion between the University and the Borough in the past year and asked the Council to vote yes as a way of repairing its relationship with the University.
“I was driving through town this afternoon, and the song that came on the radio was The Beatles’ ‘The Long and Winding Road,’ and I thought it was an appropriate foreshadowing of the review this evening,” Durkee said.
He said he hoped the progress on the Arts and Transit Neighborhood would allow the University and the Borough “to repair all the lines of communication that I think need to be repaired.”
Before the vote, Borough resident Peter Marks urged the Council not to pass the zoning, comparing it to the British policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler during World War II.
“I’ve taken privately to describing Jenny as Winston Crumiller and Jo as Jo Churchill because it seems to me what we’re looking at is a land grab, and this is our Czechoslovakia,” Marks said.
As of now, the University has the right to commence its building plans, but there are a few legal actions still in process that may still be able to halt the project.
At the end of last month, the Council initiated one final attempt to keep the University from moving the station. The Council voted to introduce a new zoning ordinance that would isolate the portion of the area where the track currently lies. The ordinance would zone this area for rail-transit use only, preventing the University from building in the area where the Dinky track currently lies.
The councilmembers’ decision to introduce the transit-only zoning ordinance only a few weeks before the end of the year is in effect merely a demonstration of their intent. The introduction of the ordinance will expire at the end of 2011. A new council session will begin in 2012 with a new set of councilmembers who would have to again vote to introduce the ordinance before they could act on it.
Unrelated to the transit-only zoning ordinance, a group of Borough residents is currently engaged in a lawsuit challenging the University’s right to move the station. If they prevail, the University will be permanently enjoined from moving the station.