A lawsuit challenging the legality of the zoning granted to allow the University’s Arts and Transit Neighborhood went to trial in the Superior Court of Mercer County on Monday.
The suit, brought by a group of local residents led by Walter and Anne Neumann, challenges the zoning ordinances granted by the former Princeton Borough and the Princeton Township to allow for the construction of the University’s Arts and Transit Neighborhood. The University, as well as the former Borough and Township, are named as defendants in the suit. The existing town of Princeton, which was created in the 2013 consolidation of the Borough and Township, inherits the legal liability of both former municipalities.
The trial will continue over the next few days and is expected to conclude on Wednesday or Thursday, according to both Jonathan Epstein, a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath who represents the University’s side in this case, and Bruce Afran, the attorney representing the plaintiffs. The case is being heard by Judge Douglas Hurd, and the decision will become available in the next few weeks.
The first witness, urban planner Carlos Rodrigues, testified on behalf of the plaintiffs Monday, attorneys for both sides said. His cross examination will continue Tuesday and be followed by the testimony of town planning director Lee Solow and private planning expert Philip Caton ’72 later in the week.
Rodrigues testified that the zoning ordinances granted for the Arts and Transit Neighborhood do not comply with the town’s Master Plan for land use, and are therefore illegal, Afran said. He added that in addition to the Master Plan’s technical specifications, the plaintiffs also charge that the University offered illegal payment for the ordinances.
The University signed a memorandum of understanding with the former Borough and Township in spring 2011, offering the town governments a monetary payment of $850,000 toward a study of the community’s long-term transit needs. This payment was contingent on the approval of the University’s requested zoning.
Additional arguments made by the plaintiffs include claims that the new zoning eliminated some of the area’s previously permitted functions and reduced the town’s taxable properties in ways that are inconsistent with the Master Plan, Afran explained. He said the town governing bodies never justified their reasons for departing from the Master Plan’s prescriptions.
Attorneys arguing on behalf of the University contested these arguments, contending that the zoning ordinances granted were indeed legal, Epstein said. He said they also contend that the plaintiffs’ claims regarding the monetary payments are not valid.
The case is one of six lawsuits challenging the move of the Dinky station. A few of the other pending suits are being brought by Save the Dinky, a citizens’ group that opposes the move.
Construction has already begun on the University’s Arts and Transit Neighborhood, a $300 million development which will place new rehearsal and performance spaces in the Alexander Street corridor. It is scheduled to open in fall 2017 and will relocate the Dinky station approximately 460 feet south of its former location.