Princeton University’s Arts and Transit project prevails in court ruling

Princeton University’s $330 million Arts and Transit Neighborhood Project gained traction when a state Superior Court judge ruled against opponents’ request to overturn the zoning permitting the project, which is currently under construction.

Judge Douglas Hurd of the Mercer County Superior Court rejected the plaintiffs’, Walter and Anne Neumann and Marco Gottardis, claims that the zoning ordinances adopted by Princeton Borough and Princeton Township to allow for the Arts and Transit Neighborhood violated a Municipal Land Use law and constituted impermissible contract and spot zoning.

The ruling stated that, “the ordinances were not substantially inconsistent with the Princeton Regional Master Plan and that the ordinances advanced several purposes of the MLUL.” The ruling followed a bench trial in September 2013 and a myriad of briefing.

Jonathan Epstein, Princeton University’s lawyer, said he considers this ruling the “most significant victory for the university in the multiple lawsuits filed by the objectors to the university’s Arts and Transit project.”

The university has prevailed in all cases to date, but, “this is a milestone because it upholds the zoning for the project,” Epstein said.

Epstein explained that he agreed with Hurd’s rulings.

“Judge Hurd’s decision was comprehensive, and I am confident it will be upheld should the objectors appeal,” he said.

According to university spokesman Martin Mbugua, “the court specifically rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the ordinances were inconsistent with the MLUL because the Planning Board did not endorse the university’s Arts and Transit Project, finding that the ordinances were substantially consistent with the Regional Master Plan.”

The court also rejected the argument that the Memorandum of Understanding entered into between the university and municipalities constituted improper contract zoning, which said the town adopted local zoning laws that would allow the project in exchange for a series of payments from the university. The court found the MOU was a result of a separate process from the adoption of the zoning ordinances and “did not involve any circumvention of the procedures required by the MLUL.”

Legal representation from the opposition could not be reached for a comment.

The vast construction project includes the use of a former NJ Transit easement has been used for the Dinky rail commuter line, and is being converted into a café. The new Dinky station will be constructed 460 feet south. Currently, commuters are using a temporary station.