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Town Council hears community thoughts on Master Plans

<h6>Charlie Roth / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Charlie Roth / The Daily Princetonian

On Wednesday, Nov. 30, the Princeton Town Master Plan Steering Committee held a town hall to receive comments on the committee’s ideas and plans for future development in town. The three hour town hall, held in the Princeton Public Library, was an opportunity for community members to comment on the Princeton Master Plan, which will offer a blueprint for growth and development over the next 10 years.

The event followed a Town Council meeting on Monday, Nov. 28 where town council members discussed the master plan and a city ordinance related to sidewalk usage. 

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At the meeting, the council unanimously passed an ordinance prohibiting bicycle riding, roller skating, and skateboarding on certain streets. These areas include Witherspoon Street between Nassau Street and Paul Robeson Place, the north side of Nassau Street between Bayard Lane and Maple Street, and Palmer Square.

“We’re getting a lot of complaints from people about nearly getting run over by people on scooters and electric bikes and sidewalks doing 40 miles an hour and not slowing down,” Mayor Mark Freda told The Daily Princetonian.

Another ordinance will need to pass in order to prohibit the usage of electric scooters.

The update to the Master Plan marks its first major overhaul since 1996, though it has been re-examined three times since then, according to Acting Planning Director Justin Lesko. Freda told the ‘Prince’ that the plan, which is required by law to be updated every ten years, “sets the direction for where we’re going.”

“Much of how you set your zoning and development is really based on the Master Plan,” Freda said. “So getting this right is pretty darn important.”

Councilmember David Cohen noted that the current Master Plan is messy and needs to be redone.

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“It’s grown by accretion over the years, and whenever you do that, things get kludgy,” Cohen told the ‘Prince.’ “It’s much longer than it should be, it’s very hard to read. And we wanted to change the format so that it's much more accessible [with] more illustrations … less narrative and more bullet points.”

At the meeting, the public was presented with poster boards of plans accumulated after multiple public surveys sent to residents in the past few months. The four key issues presented were housing, downtown development, mobility, and open space and recreation.

Lesko also presented in Monday’s town council meeting and said he hopes to have the plan finalized by the summer. 

Many other council members did not agree on whether the timeline is feasible.

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“I think we have to be realistic here,” Councilmember Mia Sacks said during the Monday meeting. “Given the extent to which we prioritize public participation in our processes … that extensive and expensive level of participation also requires staff input, legal input, all sorts of input to be culled through before you reach a final document. June sounds great, but I want to be realistic here.”

Sacks told the ‘Prince’ she expects the process to take “all of 2023.”

She called the Master Plan “an accurate roadmap for us, and once we have it in place we don’t know how long the journey will take; we will at least have an accurate map.”

Cohen told the ‘Prince’ he would also be surprised if the Master Plan is completed by the summer and that he wouldn’t be worried by a longer process.

“I think the more time we spend on it, the better the product is. So my concern is not so much about the end date as the value we get out of the process,” Cohen said.

After the plan is finalized, it could be a while before its recommendations are implemented, since they have to pass through the planning board and the council. Freda hesitantly estimated that it could be implemented “somewhere from summer to fall.”

“It’s hard to judge how many public meetings it’s going to take,” Freda said. “You don’t know which item you’re going to get hung up on. Maybe we’re going to decide nobody should wear blue jackets in town, and that could be three public meetings of five hours each. You just have no idea.”

“At this point, I think we will have to be careful that we don’t feel pressured to rush anything,” he continued. “We need to make sure we allow enough time for robust discussion before we start making decisions.”

However, Lesko told the ‘Prince’ he still thinks it’s possible to complete it by the summer.

“I’m optimistic about it,” Lesko said in an interview. “And I’m not optimistic about many things — I’m a Mets fan. But I still think we’re on schedule.”

Freda is also hoping for more joint planning between the town and University.

“[The University] is more than welcome to say, ‘Hey, by the way, here’s everything we’re thinking of doing for the next 10–20 years, so maybe you, the town, want to be more aware of that and plan together,’” said Freda. 

Kristin Appelget, the University Assistant Vice President of Community and Regional Affairs, acts as a liaison between the University and town, and serves on the Master Plan Steering Committee. She told the ‘Prince’ that her role is especially important as a direct line of communication between the two entities.

“There’s a natural interest and intersection between the town and the University, both in this process and being supportive of the process, and working with [the town] as [the Master Plan] goes to completion,” she said. “​​Our planning helps to inform them as their planning informs us.”

University architect Ronald McCoy told the ‘Prince’ that the Master Plan is “top of mind” with each University project.

“Everything we do is in accordance with the Master Plan,” he said.

Many of the leaders were encouraged by high turnout at the event, hoping that means as much feedback as possible. Susan Blickstein, a consultant on the Master Plan, said some people arrived thirty minutes early.

“This event has exceeded my expectations with the amount of community involvement and the participation is great,” Councilmember Eve Niedergang told the ‘Prince.’ “It’s an opportunity to talk to people about all kinds of things that are of interest to them.”

“We need to make sure we’re doing something that reflects the will of the community and not just the will of the Council,” Cohen told the ‘Prince.’ “This Master Plan process is an opportunity to sort that out and get input from the broad range of the community and find out if we’re doing what most Princetonians want.”

Cohen also said the issue he is most interested in is the diversity of housing, hoping to prevent the middle class from leaving Princeton as homes that are not designated affordable housing get more expensive.

“There’s a tension in Princeton between people who love it the way it is and want to try and keep it the way, and people who see that as a recipe for becoming a golden ghetto,” Cohen said, noting the Master Plan will indicate which of those directions is more popular with the public. 

“Those of us who love Princeton for its people [want] to preserve the character of the community, and I feel the folks on the other side want to preserve the appearance of the community at the expense of the character of the community,” he continued.

“​​I’m pretty convinced that the way I’d like to see the community change is best for the community, and I’m gonna keep pushing for it. And if I get voted out as a result, that’s the way for members of the community to express their will,” he said.

Cohen’s other ideas include consolidating the municipal shuttle with Tiger Transit, increasing affordable housing, and reexamining the master plan every three years.

“My goal is to create a vibrant livable city,” he said.

One community member at the meeting, Andrea Sacchetti, said she suggested that housing plans be handled differently in the future.

“I have been very disappointed about how some of the multi-family housing projects have been approved without sufficient community input,” she told the ‘Prince.’

A second Master Plan town hall is planned before the plan is finalized.

The Nov. 28 meeting can be found here. The next Council meeting will be held on Dec. 12.

Charlie Roth is a staff news writer and assistant data editor for the ‘Prince,’ focusing on local town coverage. Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.

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