Historic vote to change face of downtown


By: Packet Editorial
   It would be hard to overstate the significance of Tuesday’s vote by the Princeton Borough Council to approve the settlement that paves the way for completion of Palmer Square’s long-delayed Hulfish North project.
   While construction of the new Princeton Public Library and adjacent 500-car parking garage will be finished in the next couple of months — adding a new look to the borough’s central business district — the 97- to 100-townhouse development that will be built atop the unfinished Hulfish Street garage will truly change the face of downtown Princeton. Gone will be the unsightly landscape along busy Paul Robeson Place, a vista of unruly weeds and discolored concrete surrounded by a chain-link fence. In its place will rise luxury townhouses, designed to blend in with the architecture of the area, adding not only a much-needed residential component to the center of town but also an estimated $60 million in tax ratables.
   The settlement calls for Palmer Square to pay for a number of on-site and off-site improvements as well. And it commits Palmer Square to the addition of 10 units, either from its existing apartments or from the new townhouse development, to the borough’s affordable-housing inventory.
   Still, as Borough Councilman Roger Martindell (and, to a lesser extent, his colleague, David Goldfarb) took pains over the past couple of weeks to point out, this is not a perfect settlement from the borough’s point of view. For several hours at three successive meetings, the two councilmen peppered Mayor Joseph O’Neill, former Mayor Marvin Reed and Borough Attorney Michael J. Herbert with questions — some of them substantive, others nit-picky in the extreme — about the terms and conditions of the settlement. For a time, it looked as if Mr. Martindell and Mr. Goldfarb were intent on undermining the good-faith efforts of the borough’s negotiating team.
   But in the end, to their great credit, they voted with Council President Mildred Trotman, Councilwoman Wendy Benchley and Councilman Andrew Koontz to approve the settlement. (Councilwoman Peggy Karcher, who was absent, staunchly supported the settlement and would have made the decision unanimous had she been in attendance.) All are to be commended — along with the present and former mayor, and the borough attorney — for their hard work, perseverance and, ultimately, good sense in settling one of Princeton’s longest-standing and most unpleasant disputes.
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Speaking of long-standing disputes, state Sen. Peter Inverso and Assemblyman Bill Baroni introduced legislation this week that would de-authorize Route 92. The bill would strip the New Jersey Turnpike Authority of its ability to build the proposed 6.7-mile road connecting the Turnpike at Interchange 8A with Route 1 in South Brunswick, just north of the Plainsboro border.
   In explaining their initiative, Sen. Inverso and Assemblyman Baroni declared: "This is the wrong road in the wrong place at the wrong time."
   In a perverse kind of way, they are right. Route 92 should have been built 15 years ago — and it should have gone beyond Route 1 to connect with Route 27 at the Princeton-Kingston border or, better yet, all the way to Route 206 in Montgomery.
   Part of the reason Route 1 is so congested in central New Jersey is that there is no convenient way to hook up with the Turnpike south of Interchange 9 in East Brunswick. And much of the reason east-west traffic in central New Jersey is an absolute nightmare — from Route 571 east of Route 1 to Route 518 west of it — is that there is no limited-access alternative.
   Taking Route 92 off the drawing board will merely ensure that this condition, already chronic, becomes permanently intolerable. This bill, unlike the road, should go nowhere.