Most members of borough council agree that relocating the Dinky nearly 500 feet further away from Nassau Street is bad policy, bad planning and a bad idea.
Yet on Monday they voted 3-2 to approve a revised Memorandum of Understanding with Princeton University outlining the borough benefits when Princeton University moves the train station.
The MOU still must be approved by Princeton Township Committee.
Borough Council members Kevin Wilkes, Roger Martindell and Barbara Trelsdad voted in favor of the MOU, Jenny Crumiller and Jo Butler voted against.
Council member David Goldfarb recused himself because his employer represents the university.
Wilkes said the MOU includes changes sparked by community concerns.
“We heard a lot from citizens over the summer from citizens about what they felt was lacking or inadequate.”
-A joint task force will convene to study both transit needs and traffic issues in Princeton.
-The university will establish a $500,000 transit trust fund, managed by community and university representatives.
-The university will install three signalized pedestrian crossings on Nassau Street, one per year for three year up to $450,000.
-All parties agree to extend a possible light rail easement from 50 to 65 years.
Martindell said alternatives to signing the MOU- lawsuit, condemnation, a proposal for a public-private partnership for the Dinky, creating a “transit only zone” for the Dinky, all seemed fruitless, too expensive and would cast a pall over the relationship between the community and university.
“In that context, I come to the table tonight not enthusiastic about the MOU, I wish the university hadn’t decided to move the Dinky,” he said. “But bottom line is they say they’re going to do it anyway and the question is what are we going to do in response.”
Butler scoffed at Martindell’s concern over the borough’s relationship with the University.
“They have threatened to withdraw the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes), misled us at every turn in regard to the MOU, slandered us in the press and we’re going to be concerned about this casting a pall on our relationship?” Butler asked. “I think not.”
Princeton University Vice President Robert Durkee said the university never threatened to withdraw PILOT payments.
Crumiller argued the university does not need to move the Dinky in order to build its new arts center, and signing the MOU forfeits the Dinky’s straight path many hope could someday extend to Nassau Street.
She said the task force was charged with finding out what benefits the university would offer the local arts community; instead it became a discussion about what it would take for the borough to approve the university's requested Arts and Transit zoning.
And she argued the Dinky- old, simple and solid- is the epitome of an intangible concept known as “boroughness.”
“Moving the station is losing 'boroughness' and if you think that is not of value, you have not been listening to the consolidation debates,” Crumiller said. “The whole thing comes down to the university insisting they have the right to move the Dinky.”
Butler agreed and questioned why the MOU must be signed now, when the planning board is still discussing the proposed zoning and a resident lawsuit was filed on Monday to block the Dinky move.
“I guarantee this document will be held up to NJ Transit that we approve moving the Dinky,” said Butler, who proposed an amendment to the MOU outlining the borough’s opposition to the Dinky move.
Butler and Crumiller voted for the amendment, Wilkes, Martindell and Trelsdad voted against it.
Nearly all the audience members who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting urged the council not to sign the MOU. Two university graduates said they were ashamed of their alma mater for its actions.
Mayoral Candidate Jill Jachera said the university has the right to move the Dinky, a fact that many seem to be forgetting. She praised the borough, township and university for working together.
Trelstad explained why she supports the revised MOU.
“I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that if borough council came to pursue its options in court, there is a slim to none chance that we would prevail,” she said. “I must vote for this MOU. We are not going to court and we must move on. This MOU will allow us to move forward on traffic and transit issues. “
Butler was less optimistic.
“My colleague, Mrs. Trelsdad, said perhaps the university will listen to our concerns. I say, ‘perhaps pigs will fly.’"