In Plainsboro, a new landscape will greet familiar faces

Village Center construction and hospital announcement among major developments of 2005

By: Emily Craighead
   PLAINSBORO — The faces have stayed the same in Plainsboro through 2005, but the landscape is beginning to change.
   Mayor Peter Cantu was re-elected to his 11th three-year term on the Township Committee, receiving 68 percent of the vote. Mayor Cantu, who served last year as president of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, was tapped by Gov.-elect Jon Corzine to serve as co-chairman of a property tax reform advisory panel.
   While continuing to work toward property-tax reform at the state level, within the township, Mayor Cantu said his objectives include continuing the township’s land-preservation program and stepping up fundraising efforts for the new library, which will be part of the township’s growing downtown.
   Meanwhile, in a major announcement in late November, the University Medical Center at Princeton’s corporate parent, Princeton HealthCare System, announced plans to buy 160 acres owned by FMC Corp. at Route 1 and Plainsboro Road for a new $350 million hospital campus. The new 269-bed hospital will replace the 12-acre UMCP campus in Princeton. PHCS plans to break ground in Plainsboro in 2007 and welcome its first patients to the new campus in 2010.
   The hospital is awaiting a certificate of need from the state Department of Health and Senior Services. The FMC land, zoned for research and office uses, would have to be rezoned to permit a hospital.
   "The hospital presents an opportunity and a challenge," Mayor Cantu said. "We think they made a good choice to come to Plainsboro. Now we have to make sure it will work for the community."
   Construction projects in other parts of the town continued to progress over the year, including at the Plainsboro Village Center.
   The First Constitution Bank on Schalks Crossing Road will be among the first businesses to open. Other tenants likely will include Merle Norman Cosmetic Studios, Cold Stone Creamery, the New England Soup Factory, an eBay-related outlet, Verizon Wireless, an Italian gourmet deli, a café, an Italian restaurant, an Asian fusion restaurant, a day spa and salon, a gourmet dog biscuit shop and a second-floor doctor’s office, according to the developer, Sharbell Development Corp.
   The retail portion could host between 20 and 25 tenants, depending on the square footage assigned to each. The Village Center, which Tom Troy, senior vice president at Sharbell, said will cost more than $20 million to build, will include 47,500 square feet of retail space, as well as 37,500 square feet of office space, homes, townhouses and apartments.
   Another anchor in the development will be the new Plainsboro Public Library. The Township Committee recently reviewed a consultant’s report predicting that between $1.6 million and $2 million could be raised through fundraising to help finance the new library, which is expected to cost more than $8.5 million. The township decided to move forward with plans for the new library after the BKSK Architects’ study determined that building a new library would cost nearly $1.5 million less than expanding the current facility. This proposal would allow the township to use the current library space for recreational and cultural activities, since the township has outgrown many of its facilities.
   Plainsboro also saw the groundbreaking on a Homewood Suites hotel. The 142-room hotel, which will front Route 1 with access from Mapleton Road — next to the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel — will include residential-style, studio, one- and two-bedroom suites with fully equipped kitchens, and separate sleeping and living areas. Also, it will have 750 square feet of meeting space.
   Winston Hotels reportedly closed on the $2.94 million purchase of 4.5 acres of land where the hotel will be built.
   Two other retailers announced last year that they would open Plainsboro locations. The Planning Board approved applications for Ace Hardware and Peebles Department Store to move into the Plainsboro Plaza. The new stores will occupy a 40,000-square- foot space the Super Fresh grocery store occupied until 2002, when Super Fresh reopened in a 60,519-square-foot space at the other end of the shopping center.
   Also last year, the state Department of Transportation agreed to replace the Schalks Crossing Road bridge over the Northeast Corridor railroad tracks. The DOT will fund the $8 million project, for which construction is slated to begin in 2008. Plans for the new bridge include making it less steep with a wider roadway, including bike lanes and sidewalks on both sides. The bridge was built in the late 1940s.
   The township last year adopted an $18.2 million budget, a $1.3 million increase over last year. This was the first tax bill residents received since the 2004 revaluation. The budget called for a municipal tax rate of 20.53 cents per $100 of assessed value, an increase of 1.46 cents over the 2004 tax rate. The owner of a home assessed at the township average of $395,000 paid about $811 in property taxes under the 2005 budget.
   The budget required eliminating four positions, including the receptionist in the clerk’s office, the transportation planner, and a secretary in the community development department, and the communications director in the administration department. The 2005 budget benefited from an increase in municipal court fees, which rose $103,000 between 2003 and 2004, the township said. Also, 2005 revenues included $380,000 in new hotel tax funds, and about $2.2 million in state aid was expected, the township said.
   "It’s been an active and busy year in Plainsboro, and on balance a good year," Mayor Cantu said.