Princeton University's Dinky Move Would Violate "Fair Trust Doctrine," Attorney Testifies

The planning board is in the midst of hearings for Princeton University's arts and transit neighborhood, which involves moving the Dinky train platform about 500 feet south of its current location.


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.

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PrincetonIQ December 03, 2012 at 11:50 AM
I wonder how many times each of these roadblocks have taken the train in the past five years. We are talking about one additional minute of walking to get to the new station. In exchange, we receive as residents a free $300 million arts area, with two new restaurants in the currently unused stations, many performing arts spaces, much new parking and redirected traffic movement that promises to be much more efficient. 80% of the Dinky traffic is Princeton University related, mostly student, and the remainder are tourists and daily commutes. NONE of these people are coming out against the Dinky. The obstructionists are the usual suspects who want nothing different, no progress, and to keep Princeton always stagnant and neverchanging. They should be ashamed of themselves, and move to Cherry Valley, where nothing will ever change.
Jim smith December 05, 2012 at 12:13 PM
I wonder how many times each of theses shills have received free McCarter tickets in the past 5 years. We are talking about one additional minute of driving to a parking garage. In exchange we take ensure that more cars continue to descend on Alexander Street, get an un-needed pretetious eatery with only McCarter's on-street parking, waste money on a stucco - enhanced bus shelter serving an unused BRT system that waters public money, and delay and possibly obviate the construction of a free $250 million arts area with many performing arts spaces . They should be ashamed and move to Cherry Valley, where nothing will ever change.


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