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Council will determine if special improvement district in Princeton moves forward

Businesses on Nassau Street, including the Princeton University Store, have had to adjust how they operate under COVID-19, June 7.

After a feasibility study and introducing an ordinance, the Princeton Council will soon decide on whether the creation of Special Improvement District (SID) is given a green light.

The council is set to hold a public hearing for an ordinance creating a special improvement district (SID) in Princeton on Feb. 28 at 7 p.m.

A SID pools resources from commercial businesses to increase the economic value of a commercial corridor and is predominately governed by property owners.

The proposed SID in Princeton would encompass the entire municipality and has 10 sub-areas each designated with an assessment to be paid by businesses ranging from 1% to 3%.

When asked about including all of the municipality as a SID instead of just properties on Nassau Street and Witherspoon Street, Councilwoman Michelle Pirone Lambros said, “We have many commercial zones. There is so much opportunity for growth and so much happening in all of the different areas, like in 206 North. This allows them to be part of it and have a voice in it.

“That is why the tier structure came into effect, knowing that some areas will need and receive more services, but that all commercial properties can participate.”

Designated sub-areas include Nassau Street, Witherspoon Street, Jugtown, 206 North, Dinky, Harrison, Palmer Square, PSC, Poor Farm Road and other.

 

Special assessments

The proposed special assessments for properties in the SID sub-areas are Nassau Street (3%), Witherspoon Street (2%), Jugtown (2%), 206 North (1.5%), Dinky (1.5%), Harrison and PSC (1%), Palmer Square (1%), Poor Farm Road (1%) and other (1%).

“This is the Steering Committee’s proposed assessment table based on the location and traffic area. While it is not set in stone, unless there is going to be a new proposal to say we should change it then we will go with the proposed rates that have been established,” said Helena May, member of the Steering Committee.

The assessments rates would be applied to the amount of property taxes paid by property owners in the sub-areas.

“The assessments that were determined are a combination of the concentration of the number of properties in the area along with the type of benefits they would receive. That is the overall guiding principal,” May said.

The apartment building at 255 Nassau St., which has an assessed value of $5.7 million and paid $139,023 in taxes for 2021, would be assessed at 3% in the SID. The property owner would be contributing $4,170 to the SID.

The office building at 701 Poor Farm Road with an assessed value of $11.9 million paid taxes in 2021 in the amount of $291,345. With an assessment of 1%, the property owner would pay $2,913 for the SID.

The commercial property owner at 18-20 Witherspoon St., whose building has an assessed value of $2.1 million, paid $51,219 in taxes for 2021. The property in the SID would receive the 2% assessment and the property would pay $1,024 for the SID.

If the creation of a SID is approved by the Princeton Council, the budget is anticipated to be between $350,000-$400,000.

“We do not want to be higher that $400,000 for the budget. We want to be calculated and targeted,” May said.

Tenants at commercial properties may be impacted by the property owners SID assessments in the sub-areas.

“I think that will vary from property to property and depending on the type of lease and agreement that the tenant has with the property owner,” May said. “I think some may already have a fixed lease and in those cases the property owner would have to absorb the assessment. That will be a case-by-case basis for each property.”

The rationale behind the creation of the 10 sub-areas for the SID is that the businesses will benefit from what can be done in terms of the marketing effort, in terms of the interface between the public and private sectors to help with making a more business-friendly environment, Lambros said, ‘helping to implement decisions that we make in streetscapes investments, infrastructure, parking and traffic, and zoning,” she said.

If approved by the Princeton Council, there will be more discussions about what the tiers are as a budget hearing would follow the creation of a SID, Lambros said.

The owner of an apartment building or commercial property in the sub-areas would not receive funds specifically from the budget to go towards building improvements such as replacing a roof, repainting of a building, or the replacing of a porch floor or windows.

“It is not the idea of the SID. The SID does have the ability to do grant programs for rehabilitation, but because Princeton is not in an economically disadvantaged community that would not be a priority. If you look at the work plan it is not even in consideration,” Lambros said.

“There are state statute powers that enable the SID to be able to do things like that, if you look at the contents of the ordinance, but we do not have a situation in Princeton where the SID would need to be helping in that aspect.”

For owners of apartment buildings in the sub-area the SID would not help the owners recruit residential tenants.

“No, I think the marketing in general will help with the tenants, where people would say Princeton is a place I want to live,” Lambros said.

Property owners in the 206 North sub-area will see less services compared to properties on Nassau Street and Witherspoon Street.

“That is why it is a higher tier for (Nassau Street or Witherspoon Street), because those tiers might have more events and things that enhance activation of the downtown for decorations and things,” she said. “But in 206 North, maybe they need a new traffic light. Everyone is going to benefit by us fixing our sign ordinances, transit opportunities, and maybe increasing walkability or whether it’s crosswalks.”

When asked about how commercial property owners would benefit in the Poor Farm Road sub-area, specifically for an empty office building as the one across from the Princeton Senior Resource Center at 701 Poor Farm Road, Lambros said, “A database would be a benefit. Where you would be able to know here are the Realtors that have contacted us, here are the tenants that are interested in coming, here are where we know the places that are vacant.”

A businesses directory for residents and visitors, a recruitment opportunity database for people to be able to exchange information, having more of a mix of different business offerings to increase the ability to attract tenants, and helping inform decisions regarding streetscapes and zoning were examples provided on how the SID would help commercial property owners on the Poor Farm Road sub-area regarding tenants.

There are membership clubs that fall into several sub areas. Examples include Jasna Polana, the members-only golf club, Pretty Brook Tennis Club, and the Nassau Club.

A benefit of the SID for these membership-only clubs is seen as participating in marketing, Lambros said.

“If there is any marketing the SID is doing, special events they can participate in, for instance Springdale (private golf course in Princeton) was a big participant in Restaurant Week when the Princeton Merchants Association did that,” she said. “Those types of programs will continue and grow, so why leave them out? Their special assessment tier levels are fairly nominal.”

For the benefit to the Dinky sub-area, the SID would also utilize marketing.

“You have a couple restaurants there, McCarter Theatre, and Skillman Furniture store, which is going to close to my point, but the university owns a lot of that property and the university’s commercial properties will be a part of this,” Lambros said. “If there is a coupon program, promotions, the SID helps supplement the marketing they are doing and enhances our brand and to help have people patronize at their establishments.”

The reason why all residential properties are not included in the SID is because the SID is solely for the business community, Lambros said.

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