West Windsor girds for new sessions on redevelopment

More educational meetings, more committees and more community involvement on agenda

By Greg Forester
Staff Writer
   WEST WINDSOR — A new series of dates for educational meetings, more committees, and more community involvement are part of the township’s plan to determine exactly what West Windsor residents want on the 350-acre redevelopment area around the Princeton Junction train station.
   Last week, Township Council announced that the new educational meetings for the public will take place on Oct. 11, Oct. 22, and Nov. 7, and passed resolutions creating ad hoc committees tasked with working on materials for those meetings.
   A statement from the council said the newly formed committees — the Redevelopment Finance Committee and the Infrastructure/Traffic Committee — will be assigned to review materials to be used in the education sessions and analyze issues specific to the redevelopment process.
   Members of the Township Council said their goal in the next series of meetings is to have a community discussion that will help residents reach consensus and avoid the problems they saw with some of the meetings held earlier in the year.
   ”Township Council is very concerned with this redevelopment process, and we want to put it back on a sound track by avoiding the failures of earlier meetings,” said Councilman Charles Morgan. “We do not want a repeat of the Hillier meetings.”
   In support of this drive for more fruitful community discussions, township officials have put out a call for help from any residents with expertise in the fields the ad hoc committees will be working on.
   The committees will each contain three spots for members of the public, in addition to a contingent of elected officials, consultants and professionals.
   ”Right now we are starting the search for members of the public who can join the committees and raise the quality of discussion,” Councilwoman Heidi Kleinman said.
   Township Council members said they also sent out an open letter to the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustment, and Site Plan Review Advisory Board asking if any members had an interest in serving on the committees, according to Ms. Kleinman.
   ”These are the structures the township already has in place,” said Ms. Kleinman. “I would like to think we can get the right team of people working on this.”
   Despite the announcement of the three dates for the educational meetings, township officials have said that the ad hoc committees will have the ability to put off any educational meetings to a later date.
   ”If the ad hoc committees deem we are not prepared with adequate material for a quality discussion with the community, the dates will be set back,” said Ms. Kleinman. “This is all about having a fruitful discussion with the community.”
   Mr. Morgan said he believes the preliminary dates are already too early to allow for the necessary preparation, citing the fact that officials of Orth-Rogers and Associates already said they needed at least two months to prepare materials for any kind of meeting.
   ”No one should believe that anything is set in stone,” said Mr. Morgan, referring to the three meeting dates. “We will not allow ourselves to be held to a schedule that will cause us to fail.”
   Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh said he would like to see the township reach out to the West Windsor business community and include it in something in which he believes it has a vested interest.
   ”These subcommittees seem to be focusing on West Windsor residents, but I feel we need to look to the business community for further input,” Mayor Hsueh said.
   Mayor Hsueh said the Township Council needs to work out a budget for the additional work being done by township officials and consultants.
   Also looming are revisions to the contract with project planning firm RMJM Hillier, whose original $400,000 contract with the township is nearly exhausted, according to township officials.
   ”We still need to work with council to create agreeable revisions to Hillier’s original contract,” Mayor Hsueh said.
   Earlier in the month, RMJM Hillier officials and members of the steering committee for the redevelopment project met and worked out tactics for the planning process going forward, which spawned this new series of meetings and a Hillier-produced educational booklet to be provided to the community.
   Mr. Morgan said that he feels the only kind of project the community could accept is one much smaller in scope than some of the original Hillier plans that called for 1,000 residential units.
   ”Right now there is no appetite for anything more than parking around the train station for residents, a redone Main Street area in the Route 571 corridor, and traffic and circulation improvements to support those things,” said Mr. Morgan. “I believe any concept plan that includes anything more than these features will not get support from the Township Council, without a clear signal from the community.”
   As the township continues the drive toward redevelopment consensus, the search for a redevelopment attorney has also begun, with the township openly soliciting proposals from law firms interested in the position.
   Township Attorney Michael Herbert was precluded from working in that position after Mr. Morgan attempted his ouster earlier in the summer.
   The appointment of a redevelopment attorney was stipulated in the compromise reached between the two sides in the dispute over Mr. Herbert’s position.