Progress in talks on both ends on the Dinky train line could be paving the way for an expanded transit experience between the main line of the railroad and downtown Princeton.
On the Princeton Junction side, the matter came close to being settled on June 3, when state Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg was set to hold a hearing on whether InterCap Holdings, a West Windsor-based development group run by Steve Goldin, could build more than 800 new residential units and some 70,000 square feet of retail development surrounding the train station. InterCap’s plan is to develop a transit village surrounding the train station.
The fate of the InterCap plan has been hung up by concerns over affordable housing. West Windsor Township and InterCap came to an agreement last November, which called for the housing units, retail, and infrastructure and amenity improvements on InterCap’s property. Plans hit a snag when the Fair Share Housing Center questioned whether the 5 percent of the development InterCap set aside for affordable housing was enough. Fair Share has contended since the beginning that any development on InterCap’s property should set aside 20 percent for affordable housing.
Just as Feinberg was about to open the hearing, on June 3 the Fair Share Housing Center, which advocates for affordable housing, proposed “a new settlement,” according to the court. In an effort to give officials on all sides of the InterCap issue time to work out the details, Feinberg has pushed the hearing date to Thursday, July 7.
Feinberg originally was scheduled to rule in the matter in April, but the date was pushed off to June 3 in order to spark a more thorough hearing.
On the downtown Princeton end of the Dinky line, tempers have softened over what to do about the train station that currently sits on Princeton University property across from McCarter Theater. For months officials from Princeton Township, Borough, and university have discussed plans to move the station closer to Princeton Junction and develop an arts district. Things came to a head in late January when the university announced that it was fed up with opposition to its arts district plans and threatened to develop the district elsewhere.
Talks got back on track in April, and most recently a “memorandum of understanding” between the university and municipal officials has gotten all parties back to the negotiating table (U.S. 1, May 25). One idea under consideration involves moving the Dinky station further away from the campus — and paving the way for a mass transit line that could link the existing Dinky tracks and replace the heavy rail Jersey Transit car with a multi-stop streetcar that would run all the way from the main line of the railroad in Princeton Junction to Nassau Street.
While there has been no direct progress from the memorandum of understanding, its presence goes a long way toward cooperation between the university and the towns.
If the InterCap deal is approved and if the current plans for Princeton as outlined in the memorandum appeal to officials, the result will be a rarity in central New Jersey – two residential areas connected by a dedicated rail transit system.
And, as current thinking suggests, it would be a light rail system similar to the highly localized rail lines that would act more like a trolley. The idea stems from a graduate level urban design studio taught at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy by Jim Constantine, principal of community planning at the Looney Ricks Kiss office at 182 Nassau Street, and Gonzalo Echeverria.
The design studio was commissioned by Princeton Future to find a way to transform the Dinky through a process that involved stakeholders from the university and the community. Constantine referred to the concept as one of “the ghosts of transit pasts. We knew what we were doing when we were a simpler nation with less resources.”