At its Feb. 28 meeting, the Princeton Town Council approved an ordinance creating a Special Improvement District (SID), meant to help revitalize businesses in town. The Council also gave construction updates and reviewed the budget for the upcoming year.
After three hours of debate and public comments, the Council unanimously voted for the creation of a SID in Princeton. A SID is a self-governed and managed nonprofit organization that constitutes a coalition of businesses and property owners in town, with the purpose of helping those businesses.
According to the ordinance, the SID “would promote economic development and growth, foster and encourage business vitality, improve the business climate and otherwise be in the best interest of the property owners in the SID and in the municipality.”
Proponents of the SID argue that it will help businesses with marketing and act as a liaison to the municipal government. Plans include creating a vacancy database, hiring a marketing firm, and scheduling annual events to promote businesses.
“We don't want to restore Princeton to what it was before the pandemic. We want to make it better than ever,” said Aubrey Haines, a member of the task force in charge of proposing the SID.
A letter supporting the creation of a SID in Princeton was signed by over 50 businesses in the town, including Labyrinth Books, Sakrid Coffee, and Jammin’ Crêpes.
Still, the ordinance faced pushback from some critics. Multiple towns across New Jersey have SIDs, which can be town-wide or apply to a specific zone within a given town. Princeton’s SID will be town-wide and affect all businesses, a decision that multiple public commenters responded to during the town council meeting.
“I think this is a great idea for the downtown area, including typical retail spaces [that] can use the benefits of this to attract new business and retain current patrons. So they're getting what they're paying for,” said Barry Perlman, a member of the public. “Including businesses such as physicians’ offices is just really casting a wider net, and we can collect more fees for it.”
“I don't think that they will, or frankly, should make it more likely for a person to become a new patient for a dermatologist, internist, or cardiologist on Bunn Drive,” Perlman said.
Councilmember Mia Sacks, however, disagreed.
“If you're recruiting doctors to work in your practice, it might be a draw for doctors to work in a community that has a more vibrant downtown,” she said. “As a corollary, also, if patients are thinking about whether they want to go to medical practice in Monroe, or Princeton, they might rather come to their doctor in a place where they could also have lunch and shop and make a day of it.”
Another point of contention was the assessment that each property will have to pay in addition to the property tax already being paid. Multiple dissenters referred to the assessment as “taxation without representation.” Proponents, however, saw the assessment as “an investment for our future.”
Others disagreed with the very reason for the SID. That camp included John Bleimaier, a commercial property owner in town.
“The Special Improvement District will increase local traffic, exacerbate parking problems, and increase air and noise pollution in the town,” Bleimaier wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian.
Despite the lively debate by the public, both in favor and against the creation of a SID, the Council was unanimous in its support.
“Businesses cannot survive purely on the business that Princeton residents deliver. In order for them to survive, they need to bring in people who don't live in town,” Councilmember Eve Niedergang said.
Councilmember Leighton Newlin expressed a similar sentiment.
“Not only is creating a Special Improvement District the right thing to do,” Newlin said. “It is necessary and will create greater synergy between the organization and the municipality towards Princeton becoming more vibrant, more entertaining, more diverse, and more welcoming for all who come here.”
The Council also provided some construction updates for various projects around town.
According to Jim Purcell, the Assistant Municipal Engineer for the municipality, the Graduate Hotel is now in the demolition phase and the project is on schedule.
Construction on Witherspoon Street is set to finish up night utility work by the end of March before it starts in its first phase. Purcell also mentioned that there is a website with updates to the project where members of the public can sign up to receive emails with further updates.
Finally, the Council reviewed the budget from last year, with a suggested 2–2.5 percent tax increase for the upcoming year to replenish the surplus that was covered last year by the American Rescue Plan. Mayor Mark Freda noted that these small increases were typical and that there would be more discussion of the budget at a future public hearing.
The full meeting can be viewed here. The next Council meeting will be Monday, March 14 at 7 p.m.
Charlie Roth is a Staff News Writer for the ‘Prince,’ focusing on local town coverage. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @imcharlieroth on Twitter or Instagram.