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Borough Council weighs development options for downtown

Members of the Princeton community joined the Borough Council at its meeting Tuesday night to watch the Garden Cinema morph into a shiny, new multiplex.

The digital transformation was part of a presentation titled "Envisioning Downtown Princeton" given by Rutgers University urban planning professor Anton Nelessen.

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The display showed results from a survey conducted in December gauging how residents and business owners have responded to images of visual alterations in downtown Princeton.

While the Council is now discussing the parking crunch expected to result from upcoming building projects, the survey aimed to produce an overall picture of the future of Princeton's business district.

"Nothing is an individual action in the context of a city," Nelessen said. "We take a very holistic approach towards planning."

Borough Mayor Marvin Reed said he also believes Princeton needs to create a master plan for development in the business district.

Four hundred-fifty people took part in Nelessen's survey, which included demographic, policy and marketing questions and asked participants to respond to a series of more than 100 visual images.

Potential changes

The images depicted various buildings, streets and lots in Princeton as they stand now, and with potential changes. After viewing the images, respondents were asked to rate on a scale from -10 to 10 how appropriate the alterations seemed for downtown Princeton.

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Nelessen said the surveys found that landscaping, revamping walkways and improving lighting received high ratings.

The addition of corporate, higher story buildings received lower ratings, however.

Council member William Slover said he felt the survey should have addressed the financial consequences of the changes depicted, but both residents and Council members referred to money matters as secondary to the importance of construction in the downtown area.

"Someone has to have the wherewithal to push a pencil, and I think we will be astounded looking at the bill," an audience member said. "There's a lot of work to do and a lot of money to be spent, but I really believe it's under the wherewithal of this town to make this work."

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Switching gears from the future to the present, Nelessen said in an interview yesterday he believes the character of Princeton will be affected negatively if the Borough fails to take action to resolve the heightening parking problem. "If Princeton doesn't do something about the parking situation," Nelessen said, "it will become more and more expensive to the elite clientele."

"It's like getting into the University," he said. "You've got to be elite, top of the pile and rich. Otherwise, you can come and walk around, but don't stay."

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