Arts Council’s ‘Plan B’ more than tinkering


By: Packet Editorial
   Let’s make one thing perfectly clear: We still support The Arts Council of Princeton’s plan to upgrade and improve its facility at the intersection of Witherspoon Street and Paul Robeson Place in Princeton Borough — even if we’re not entirely sure what this plan entails at the moment, and we’re not sure Arts Council officials really know either.
   We thought we knew last week, just before The Arts Council took its revised plan to the Princeton Regional Planning Board for review. We assumed it would be roughly the same plan that went before the Site Plan Review Advisory Board a few months back — a plan that came together after extensive community discussion and debate that followed the Planning Board’s rejection of The Arts Council’s earlier, more ambitious plan in December 2000.
   We were more than a little surprised, then, when The Arts Council unveiled a substantially revised plan — let’s call it Plan B — at Thursday night’s Planning Board meeting. Among other things, Plan B would reduce both the square footage and lot coverage of The Arts Council building by more than 10 percent, move or reduce the size of some stairways, add some trees, planters and signs, and modify the building’s appearance.
   Arts Council officials say these modifications reflect many of the suggestions and recommendations put forward by the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association, Princeton Future, respondents to a survey of The Arts Council’s neighbors and other community input. We have no reason to doubt this assertion, but neither do we have any of the detailed documentation showing exactly how Plan B responds to many of the neighbors’ concerns and, at the same time, allows The Arts Council to fulfill its programmatic objectives.
   And, more important, the Planning Board didn’t have any of this documentation either. What it had before it Thursday night was the full record of the original plan — maps, drawings, site plan specifications, the list of variances required, staff reports, advisory committee recommendations. Board members got the same introduction to Plan B on Thursday night that the audience got — a PowerPoint presentation by Arts Council representatives.
   If Plan B involved some incidental refining or a little tweaking at the margins of The Arts Council’s submitted plan, we’d have no problem with any of this. But we’re talking some significant changes here; reducing the building’s size by more than 2,000 square feet is, in our judgment, reason enough to warrant a detailed review of the amended plan. Some neighbors will no doubt think the building is still too large — but there may be more than a few arts’ supporters in the community who fear the building may be getting too small.
   The Arts Council insisted on pressing ahead with Thursday’s hearing — and treating Plan B as a minor modification, rather than a revised application — because it doesn’t want the Planning Board deliberations to drag on and on. Earlier, Arts Council officials rejected Princeton Future’s offer to continue brokering talks with the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association because they felt there were no more potential compromises left to talk about. But after four years of refining and redefining and rewriting and revising their application — all the way up to last Thursday night — we can’t understand why Arts Council officials can’t take a couple of more months to get it right. And since many of the modifications they are still making respond directly to the criticisms voiced by the Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association, we can’t understand why they wouldn’t want talks with this group to continue as long as possible.
   Like we said — we still support The Arts Council’s efforts to expand. But we believe its neighborhood and the wider community are owed a more thorough and comprehensive review of its revised plan than an 11th-hour slide show.