What a year! 2020 has not been an easy one for Princeton, with the coronavirus contagion upending all our expectations. Schools have closed, businesses have shut down, and, tragically, many people have lost their lives because of a virus pandemic unlike anything in living memory. But as crazy as it seems, coronavirus has not been the only big story in Princeton this year. The town has approved hundreds of new homes, as part of the towns fair share housing settlement, which will shape our community for years to come. The one-way circulation on Witherspoon St, which was enacted in response to demands for ‘social distancing’ may now become permanent. Who could have foreseen that? And what could the new year hold? As in previous years, we have set out some predictions…
The famous ‘Walkable Princeton’ “Predictions of the Year” began in 2015. Over the years, the accuracy of the predictions has varied, but usually we get about half of them right (see below for a review of last year’s predictions!). Here’s what is likely to happen in the next 12 months:
1. A resurgence in Princeton business life. (Probability: 7/10). Although 2020 has seen many long-standing businesses in Princeton close because of the drop in trade associated with the pandemic, 2021 offers a chance to bounce back. With vaccines being distributed already, Princeton residents who have spent much of the last 9 months indoors will hopefully soon be looking for new chances to get out and about. Expect to see many more openings than closings by the year’s end. The first new business to open could be Planted Plate, a new vegan restaurant on Spring St.
2. Princeton will greatly expand resident permit parking. (Probability: 8/10) Some Princeton residents will face new restrictions on parking in neighborhoods close to downtown, as the town introduces a new program to reserve on-street spaces for local neighbors and employees of downtown businesses. The expansion of permit parking has been under planning for over a year, and is likely to start in the ‘Tree Streets’ neighborhood and expand to the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood before year’s end.
3. New hotel on Nassau St will be approved. (Probability: 6/10) In 2020, plans emerged for a new hotel at 20 Nassau St, with around 190 rooms. The plan requires approval by Princeton’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, because it exceeds allowed floor area for the site. The ZBA can be tough, but the proposal has the support of downtown businesses, and makes sense for the town. Currently, many visitors to Princeton stay in Route 1 hotels, meaning their trade (and occupancy taxes) goes to other townships. They also create traffic while traveling in and out of town. If more visitors could stay downtown, it would limit traffic and increase downtown activity. As such, there is a reasonable chance that the plan will be approved in some form.
4. Mayor Freda will Do Something about parking. (Probability: 6/10) Mark Freda is set to take over from Liz Lempert as Mayor of Princeton in 2021. It’s not clear what he will prioritize, but in the past, he has spoken about affordable housing and downtown beautifications as issues that he cares about. In the summer, Freda lent support to residents who were opposing a concept for a mixed-income development at Princeton Shopping Center. Another issue that Freda may focus on is downtown parking. Although the town is taking steps to expand parking (see prediction #2, above), Freda may go further, and may even initiate construction of a new municipal parking deck.
5. Griggs Corner redevelopment will be resurrected. (Probability: 5/10) A plan appeared earlier this year for a mixed-use development on the surface parking lot at Griggs Corner (opposite Princeton Public Library). The plan, which required no variances, was subsequently withdrawn just as it was heading toward a final hearing. Some downtown merchants expressed concern at the loss of the 25 parking spaces. Nevertheless, the plan could be resurrected some time in 2021.
6. Princeton ‘Transitway Study’ will launch. (Probability: 7/10) If NJ Transit doesn’t become completely insolvent because of the coronavirus crisis, expect them to launch a study to examine ways to upgrade transportation along the ‘Dinky’ corridor. The study was included in NJ Transit’s recent capital plan, and is rumored to begin in the coming year.
7. Princeton Council will ban marijuana stores. (Probability: 7/10) In 2019, we predicted that New Jersey would legalize marijuana for recreational use, and that Princeton would respond by banning marijuana stores from the town. It didn’t happen then, but it looks like it really will happen now, so the town is likely to be forced to make a choice. Will Princeton allow marijuana stores to fill some of the commercial vacancies downtown? I don’t think so. Expect a ban.
8. Princeton’s first “self-driving car crash”. (Probability: 1/10) Virtually unregulated by federal or state law, car companies (especially Tesla) have been pushing out automated driving technologies under names such as “Full Self-Driving”. The technology is good enough to make drivers think that the car can drive itself, but from time to time, these ‘self-driving cars’ drive themselves into walls or trucks. The $100K+ Tesla Model X has become the upmarket carriage of choice for the status-conscious Princeton resident, so presumably a bunch of drivers are already letting their cars drive themselves around town. Don’t be surprised if somebody crashes their car in 2021 and tries to blame the computer!
9. Princeton Health Department will ban gas-powered leaf blowers. (Probability: 2/10) Princeton Council has come under a lot of pressure in 2020 to ban noisy gas-powered leaf blowers, which are despised by many residents. However, Council is taking a cautious approach, concerned about the ‘equity impact’ of banning tools that are often owned and operated by minority landscapers. However, Princeton’s Board of Health could also ban leaf blowers, based on the potential health impact of the noxious fumes that they produce. A similar public health justification was used by the Board of Health to ban smoking in public parks in 2013. By implementing a ban on leaf blowers, and distributing coronavirus vaccines, the members of the Board of Health might emerge as some of the most popular people in Princeton in 2021.
10. Princeton University will announce a new bikeshare scheme. (Probability: 3/10) Princeton’s Zagster bikeshare scheme was another casualty of COVID-19. The parent company went bankrupt in the spring of 2020 as their users disappeared. The bikeshare scheme was quite popular, especially on Princeton University campus, and the University reaffirmed their commitment to bikeshare in their Campus Mobility Framework published in the summer. As undergraduates start to return to campus, the University may select a new vendor to provide bikeshare services – potentially also including bikes with electric assist.
And a review of our ‘Princeton Predictions for 2020’! (Read the original post from December 2019 here):
1. “Schools” will be the big issue of 2020.
Did it happen? Uh, no. Coronavirus was the big issue of 2020.
2. The attempt to build housing at the ‘Lanwin’ tract on Herrontown Road will be abandoned.
Did it happen? Pretty much. There has been no further hearing about the application this year.
3. Residents from Clearview Ave and Grover Ave will organize to oppose the planned construction of hundreds of new homes in the area around Princeton Shopping Center.
Did it happen? Yes! Nearby residents expressed all kinds of concern during the summer. Nonetheless, the application is moving forward…
4. We will learn more about the fate of Westminster Choir College. Prediction: a deal will be struck to subdivide the campus will be subdivided, with one part being acquired by the Princeton school district, and the remainder preserved as a Choir College by an independent foundation.
Did it happen? Not really! All the Choir College functions have theoretically been moved to the Rider University Campus in Lawrence Twp, but with students away because of coronavirus, and lawsuits ongoing, the fate of Westminster Choir College still seems undecided.
5. Princeton Council will designate the sidewalk of Wiggins Street as a bicycle facility.
Did it happen? No. Council has punted on what kind of bicycle facility will be added on Wiggins St. A decision may be forthcoming in 2021.
6. Princeton Council will donate two houses on Clearview Ave, which are the former property of Princeton First Aid and Rescue Service, to be converted to group homes for people with intellectual disabilities.
Did it happen? No. Princeton Council is still considering uses for the former PFARS property. No decisions have been made at this stage.
7. The Princeton Council proposal to introduce a “payment in lieu of parking” program for new developments in Princeton will be quietly forgotten.
Did it happen? Yes. There has been no further talk about this proposed program in 2021. It seems to have died a death.
8. The idea of building a new municipal parking deck will be proposed in a serious enough way to warrant discussion in one of the local newspapers.
Did it happen? Yes. Princeton Merchants Association spokesman Jack Morrison proposed it in February! He wants a new deck built on Park Place.
9. Somebody is going to demand new regulations on the use of electric kick scooters in Princeton.
Did it happen? Yes. Princeton University published new recommendations for regulation of e-scooters in February.
10. The Princeton Planning Board will adopt new ‘green building’ regulations, designed to make construction more environmentally-friendly.
Did it happen? Yes. The new ‘Green Building’ regulations were adopted in June.
Final score for 2020: 6 / 10.
> Currently, many visitors to Princeton stay in Route 1 hotels, meaning their trade (and occupancy taxes) goes to other townships.
Do we know that to be true? I think most visitors to the area are likely here on business. Most of the business is outside of Princeton in Plainsboro, West Windsor and Lawrenceville on that same Route 1 corridor.
> Princeton Council will ban marijuana stores.
No problem. I’m sure West Windsor, Montgomery Township and Hopewell will be happy to take the business.