The state is holding two public meetings on the controversial plan to move the Dinky railroad station as part of Princeton University’s proposed new arts and transit neighborhood.

The plans call for the station and track terminus to be moved 460 feet south of its current site.

NJ Transit will hold a public open house on Thursday, February 9, to provide information on an application before the state Historic Preservation Office for the move. The meeting will be from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Princeton University Friend Center, room 113.

The project will be presented to Historic Sites Council for application approval at the state Department of Environmental Protection headquarters in Trenton on Thursday, February 16.

The arts and transit neighborhood plan is expected to be submitted to the Princeton Regional Planning Board this spring, said Princeton University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee in a February 2 letter to the board, in which he updated officials on the status of the estimated $300 million plan.

The plan, originally presented to the board in 2006, also calls for the Lewis Center for the Arts to be located in the neighborhood, which was the subject of a rezoning ordinance approved by Princeton Borough Council last year. The zoning changes have been challenged by residents in a lawsuit.

According to the latest schematic released by the university, a building housing the Dinky station and Wawa would be relocated south of their current location on University Place to a site across from the Lot 7 garage.

“In recent weeks we have made further adjustments to accommodate specific requirements in the new zoning ordinances,” wrote Durkee, “and to reflect both suggestions from members of the community and the more detailed design that can be done now that zoning is in place to allow us to proceed with the project.”

According to Durkee, the basic elements of the plan remain, including a roundabout at Alexander Street and University Place; the new Dinky station incorporating the Wawa; a driveway into the Lot 7 garage; the conversion of the existing station buildings into a restaurant and cafe; extensive landscaping; and, of course, arts building and public plaza designed by Steven Holl, to be built during the first phase.

One change is the location and orientation of the Steven Holl buildings, which have been shifted slightly to the south, and the buildings themselves repositioned on the site. The Holl buildings will include the new Lewis Center.

“These modifications allow us to meet zoning requirements, but they also respond to some community concerns about whether the site will be sufficiently open and accessible to members of the community,” said Durkee. “The relocation and reorientation also respond to community interest in making sure that the site can accommodate possible future mass transit options by introducing greater flexibility in the area near the roundabout north of the first phase academic buildings.”

He said the modified design also improves walking paths from Forbes College to the campus to increase the likelihood that the paths will be used; provides a “greater sense of connectedness” between the first-phase arts buildings and the transit area (by increasing the orientation of the buildings toward the transit plaza and the station building); significantly improves traffic patterns and short-term parking options in the transit plaza; and reserves the possibility of a later-phase building in the future between the Holl buildings and University Place.

Durkee also announced that University has selected Rick Joy, “a leading American architect with experience designing train stations,” to design the new Dinky station building and Wawa, and renovate the existing station buildings as a restaurant and cafe.

Joy is the recipient of the 2002 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Architecture, and in 2004 he won the National Design Award. He has served as a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Rice University, MIT, and the University of Arizona.

“He has previous experience designing train stations and retail space in university settings, and he has an excellent working relationship with Steven Holl,” Durkee said.

Meanwhile, the planned move of the train station has drawn opposition from some town officials and residents. A group called Save the Dinky remains staunchly opposed to the plan and has challenged it in court.

“Many in the Princeton community share Borough Council’s frequently stated belief that shortening the Dinky is ill advised and a far greater loss to the community than is the gain of an unfettered pedestrian plaza to the university,” said Princeton resident and transportation consultant Rodney Fisk in a recent letter to newspapers that reflects the feeling of many opponents. “A brand new station farther away would hardly lead to increased ridership. Indeed, those who walk to the Dinky would have to walk an additional 30,000 aggregate miles per year.

He says there are two proposals to save the current Dinky service at no cost to the town: An offer by Henry Posner III to finance the re-acquisition of the railway right-of-way through eminent domain; and a proposal by his company to convert the Dinky to light rail and extend it to Nassau Street under the federal “Very Small Starts” program.

“A unique aspect of the new Dinky would be its becoming the only rail-transit service in the country to run without an operating subsidy,” says Fisk. “Perhaps NJ Transit could be convinced to divert a part of the $1 million per year in Dinky subsidy foregone toward enhancing NJ Transit bus service or other transit options in and around town.

“Allowing the university to thwart this exemplary opportunity through sheer, self-serving will would diminish Princeton forever.”

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