Gun Control, Police Accountability, Combatting Racism

In the wake of the tragic and senseless killings of Black men and police officers in Baton Rouge, suburban St. Paul, and Dallas, I’ve been reflecting along with many of you on what we as a community can do at the local level. The horrific headlines have brought the problems of gun violence, police accountability, and systemic inequality based on racism to the fore, but these problems are not new. As a community, we’ve been actively working to address them, and I’m interested in hearing your ideas about how we can work together to make our town more equitable and just.

Some of the measures we’ve already instituted include the following:

  • As a member of  Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Everytown for Gun Safety, we’ve advocated for sensible gun control, and joined with others in using the purchasing power of our police department to pressure gun manufacturers to adopt stricter safety measures.
  • Working together with many longtime residents, Princeton Council voted to make the Witherspoon Jackson neighborhood our town's 20th historic district. The Wise Report, a document which led to historic designation status, narrates the poisonous history of slavery, segregation, and forced relocation of African American families, as well as their legacy of exceptional perseverance. 
  • The Princeton Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Sutter, has taken steps to emphasize community policing, train officers in de-escalation, increase openness and transparency, and diversify our force.  The Chief produces monthly and annualpolice reports, including stats on diversity within the force, and the racial breakdown of traffic stops. We are currently working with the Rutgers University Police Institute to analyze and benchmark traffic and pedestrian stop data in order to work to ensure bias-free policing.       
  • The Council is working with the PrincetonHuman Services Commission to create a Civil Rights Commission. Among other responsibilities, the Commission will coordinate with local groups such as the YWCA and Not In Our Town to engage the community on issues surrounding race.
  • Tomorrow night (Wednesday, 7/27) at 7pmat John Witherspoon Middle School, the town, school district, and religious community are jointly sponsoring a forumin response to the tragedies of recent police shootings of black men and sniper attacks on police. The event seeks to build bridges of empathy and help move us towards reconciliation. All are welcome.

We still have work to do in striving to become a more just, tolerant community. I look forward to hearing your ideas. Feel free to email me or visit during my monthly Meet the Mayor open office hours this Friday, July 29 from 8:30-10am in the lobby of the Princeton Public Library.

Neighborhood Character and Zoning Initiative

Submitted by Mayor Liz Lempert and Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller

The Princeton Planning Board, with the support of the Princeton Mayor and Council, has launched an initiative to address the spate of teardowns and out-of-scale, out-of-place new construction occurring in many neighborhoods throughout town. As members of the Planning Board subcommittee organizing the neighborhood character project tasked with spearheading this comprehensive review and revision of our residential zoning, we would like to update the community on the effort and provide an overview of the process. The initiative will depend on robust public engagement and citizen input, and as we move deeper into the process we will be setting up a website to keep the community informed and engaged.  We will also be seeking input from residents through neighborhood meetings and town-wide meetings.  

In May we retained the consulting firm RBA Group to help guide us through the process, and on May 18th we held our first organizing meeting to set the schedule and next steps. The Council decided to hire an outside consultant because the option of having our planning staff overhaul the zoning regulations was not feasible except as a long term project, and the growing pace of change in our neighborhoods requires an expedited response.  After interviewing several consultants, we chose the RBA Group because they will be able to bring perspective and sensitivity to our challenges through their experience in working with other communities, as well as their depth of expertise in analyzing the economic and environmental impact of changing regulations that will help to inform our deliberations.

The consultants are tasked with developing a strategic approach to understanding the various dimensions involved in our land use regulations and the housing construction they allow and in some cases, encourage. The consultants will be looking at the economic dimensions. For example, the calculations that drive decisions to rebuild vs rehabilitate existing homes, and the impact that teardowns and rebuild activity has on equity, affordability and diversity in Princeton. They will be looking at environmental impacts, including storm water and drainage issues as well as construction waste. They will be collecting lessons learned and best practices from other comparable communities.

The consultants will be documenting neighborhood characteristics and outcomes of recent residential development and identifying areas of Princeton’s neighborhoods that share common characteristics and attributes. Based on the analysis they will recommend short term and long-term policy and regulatory actions. The recommendations may include additions or changes to zoning ordinances, site plan review ordinances, enforcement standards, and the master plan.

We are striving for as much public input as possible from residents, our most important stakeholders.  We will also be seeking input from developers, real estate agents and others with a stake in the process. We feel including everyone will result in the best outcome.

In addition to the more structured avenues for communication, we welcome residents to contact us directly with questions and concerns by email at llempert@princetonnj.gov and jcrumiller@princetonnj.gov.  

We are hopeful that this initiative will result in land use controls that contribute to the enhancement of our tree-lined, walkable streets and development that honors existing neighborhood contexts, and we look forward to the work ahead.