The planning board continues to hear Princeton University’s plan for its new arts and transit neighborhood, but community objectors argue there’s no need to move the Dinky train, an integral part of the University’s plan.
The University plans to move the Dinky, which runs between Princeton Borough and the Princeton Junction train station- about 500 feet south of its current location- in order to make room for its new $300 million arts project.
Thursday’s hearing was an opportunity for the objectors’ attorney, Bruce Afran, to outline why his clients object to the university’s proposal.
Transportation expert and Princeton University Professor Alain Kornhauser argued the project may be built without moving the train platform.
“I urge the planning board to request that the university withdraw its site plan, an post haste, submit a plan that does not move the Dinky terminus,” Kornhauser said.
William Slover, an attorney and expert in deeds, titles and easements, said NJ Transit’s easement over the Dinky tracks would end five years after abandonment of passenger services.
And that, Slover argued, would make NJ Transit subject to the public trust doctrine.
The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the doctrine in 1895 after it ruled that the state of Illinois could not sell its waterfront to a rail line because it was not in the best interests of the people of Illinois.
“Whatever rights NJ Transit has in that easements, those rights of a pass rail station, those rights exist for the benefits of the people of New Jersey, or at least the people who might use that Dinky station,” Slover testified. “It would be an abandonment of that easement, even if done by NJ transit. They need to do so only after determine if they’ve done so in accordance with the Supreme Court of the United States decision.
Planning Board Member Peter Madison expressed concern after the experts testified.
“It’s my position we have before us an application that’s in full compliance with current zoning, whether or not you agree with current zoning. I have to make a decision on whether this application complies legally with zoning and if it does I don’t see that I have a lot of alternatives in turning this app.
Afran disagreed, saying that board has a wide latitude in its decision making process.
Residents spoke both for and against the project. The hearing continues on Dec. 18.
Afran also represents four Princeton residents- members of “Save the Dinky- filed suit in October against Princeton University, Trustees of Princeton University and NJ Transit, claiming there is no legal basis to move the Dinky and seeking a court judgment barring them from doing so.