Princeton, NJ may soon begin its first major overhaul of the town Master Plan since 1996. That’s the outcome of a meeting earlier today of the ‘Master Plan Subcommittee’ of the Princeton Planning Board. The Master Plan Subcommittee, as its name suggests, is responsible for making changes to the Master Plan, the document that is supposed to guide all development in the town of Princeton. The meeting today was scheduled to discuss how to incorporate recommendations of the recently-published ‘Princeton Climate Action Plan‘ into the town Master Plan. Members of the Subcommittee quickly pointed out that tweaking the Master Plan was unlikely to be successful, and that a more significant rewrite would be required.
The Princeton Climate Action Plan included numerous recommendations that would need to be addressed by the Planning Board. For example, one recommendation was to “prepare plans and update zoning regulations in selected areas to build mixed-use, transit-oriented and location-efficient development”. Members of the Subcommittee seemed skeptical that the Planning Department has the resources to draft the required changes to the Master Plan. The possibility of prioritizing a subset of action items from the Climate Action Plan was discussed, but several members pointed out that the Master Plan has not been properly revised since 1996, and is barely fit for the purpose as things stand, even before further revisions are made. One commitee member said that several sections of the Master Plan, as currently written, are “hopeless”.
The Master Plan Subcommittee therefore focused on what it would take to do a broader overhaul of the town Master Plan, which would include making changes necessary to meet the recommendations of the Climate Action Plan. As the Planning Department is apparently overloaded with work, the consensus was that it would be necessary for Princeton Council to dedicate funds to hire a team of consultants to oversee the rewrite. Chief Planner Michael LaPlace was enthusiastic about the idea of a Master Plan overhaul, noting that the Master Plan had not thoroughly revised since Princeton Borough and Princeton Township merged to form one town in 2013. He also pointed out that any rewrite would require substantial public input, and would necessarily address controversial questions such as “downtown density and open space preservation”.
The Master Plan Subcommittee agreed that Mr. LaPlace should draft a memo, for consideration by the full Planning Board, which would be intended to make a recommendation to Council to fund a process for rewriting the entire town Master Plan. If Council agrees to fund the exercise, the rewrite could begin in mid-2020.