Alison Miller ran for council in the 2001 election with Shing-Fu Hsueh as her running mate. Now she wants to be elected to his job.
Miller, 59, is running for mayor on a slate called Openness, Integrity, Action, along with council candidates David Siegel and George Borek in the May 10 municipal election.##M:[more]##
She says her main reason for challenging her former teammate is that township government needs to allow residents to be more involved than under the Hsueh administration, and needs to be more proactive in dealing with outside influences that want to develop in the township. “We need a more open and responsive govenment both to our citizens and to people who have ideas for West Windsor,” says Miller. “I believe I can provide that. You have to keep people involved and keep people informed.”
All members of the public should be allowed to take part in the planning process, says Miller. “We have to bring in people at the ground floor. Start with a planning charette. Our challenge is to involve the public at all stages and anyone who is interested. I don’t want to shut out the public.”
Miller says that the vision study for a transit village at the Princeton Junction train station being performed by the state in conjunction with the township should have been more open to the public. “I thought this should have been a community-based planning exercise. It was not,” Miller asserts. “What we’re going to have now is the result of what New Jersey Transit wants to do, not what the township residents want.
“I’m a planner. I know the difference between experts saying, ‘This is what you want, isn’t it?,’ and facilititors asking you what you want. To get the community involved you need a facilitator.”
Miller said at one of the public meetings the state held on the vision study last year, a state official referred to a traffic study on Vaughn Drive and its function in the village.
She points out that the Vaughn Drive connector is an essential component of the traffic circulation plan that came out of the Penns Neck Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) study. The road, to be built by the state, will extend Vaughn Drive through the train station connecting Alexander and Washington roads.
Under the concepts plans proposed for the transit village, the Vaughn Drive connector would be transformed into a tree-lined road with stores, offices, and on-street parking.
“To redesign Vaughn Drive is not something that should be done lightly,” Miller says. “It should be done in public and should be done in front of the people who did the EIS. I asked for the traffic study after the meeting and I still have never seen it.”
Miller believes it’s much too early to be coming up with plans for a transit village when there is so much uncertainty as to other development in the area.
“How can you design the clothing for a creature whose skeleton you don’t know the size or shape of,” she says. “Traffic is the defining issue in the Route 1 corridor. So far as I’m concerned, what’s been described is not a plan, it’s a vision. It’s nice, but does it really fit there? I don’t know. Until we have a traffic study that shows where the traffic is going to go, you can’t plan a village.”
She also points out that what’s being proposed for the train station is different than traditional transit village plans. “Most transit villages revitalize a downtown area. In West Windsor’s case, it is trying to create a downtown area. Before making a decision I’d like to see whether it would hurt existing Princeton Junction businesses.”
The township also needs to look more closely at the revitalization of the downtown Princeton Junction area, says Miller. “We already have a village. People like not to think of it that way because it wasn’t designed as one, but we can have a walkable village there. We can enhance it, or we can throw it away and say we can do better from scratch (with the transit village). I don’t believe in throwing away our existing neighborhhods. I believe in preserving them.”
“We also should look at whether we can turn our existing shopping centers into village centers,” Miller says. “What I would like to see is whether you can make the front of the shopping center into something that’s a little more main street and a little less strip mall. Retrofit it so it will be more like a main street.”
Miller says another challenge is creating better communications with residents. She says that officials should continue to go into the community even after the elections are over. “Just because we’re going to be elected doesn’t mean we’re going to stay out for four years. We can go door to door, or leave fliers when there is an issue affecting a neigborhood.”
Miller is no stranger to door-to-door campaigning, having won election to council in the township’s first election after changing to the non-partisan mayor-council form of government.
Born and raised in New York City, Miller attended the Walden School from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Her father ran an independent book production and design department for smaller independent publishers. Her mother was a freelance editor and ghost writer.
She graduated from Hunter College with a bachelors degree in English Literature in 1967 and worked for her father through 1979, learning the book making trade. In 1979, Miller and her husband, Richard, moved to Trenton where they lived for one year. They then lived in Hamilton Township for eight years, before moving to West Windsor in 1988 because of the school district.
Miller decided to pursue a career in planning after her youngest son started kindergarten. She attended Rutgers University for four years and earned a masters degree in city and regional planning in 1992. She has also received certification from the American Institute of Certified planners.
Miller was also active in the West Windsor Democratic Party, working on township committee election campaigns in the early 1990s. She worked with other community activists on the successful effort to change West Windsor’s form of government to the current mayor-council system.
In the first mayor-council election in May, 1993, Miller was part of a successful team that won five out of six elected positions, Hsueh was one of her council running mates in that election.
Miller lost a bid for re-election to council in 1997, but won in 2001 on slate with Hsueh and Jackie Alberts, who opted not to run for re-election this year. Miller, with her decision to run for mayor, is also forgoing a council re-election effort.
Although West Windsor is almost at full buildout under the township’s current master plan, the state’s master plan identifies the Route 1 corridor in the township as a center for increased mixed-used development. Such developments have already been talked about on the former Cyanamid parcel, now owned by General Growth Properties and in a transit village at the Princeton Junction train station.
Miller says such development should only be allowed if it doesn’t adversely affect current residents. “We have to figure out how to accomodate the new mixed-use smart growth, that the state would be very happy to see in our community, in such a way that it would be a benefit to the existing residents, as well as these new residents and businesses.”
According to Miller, the township needs to determine the impacts of adding population — residential and commercial — to the township.
“We have to make sure we preserve property values, the quality of life, safety, and not overburden roads,” Miller says. “We have to integrate the new development into the existing development. We cannot sacrifice existing neighborhoods for the sake of what outside experts might consider to be better design.”
She believes that, with all the talk of property tax reform in New Jersey, future township planning must also anticipate that the tax system in the state could be changed.
“We have to take into consideration the plans for possibly changing the tax structure, and to be creative with regional solutions,” says Miller. One of her proposals is that if a town like West Windsor becomes a receiving zone for residential units as outlined by the state master plan, other communities in the region should chip in and pay part of the tax burden.
She says the township should also be more aggressive when it comes to public safety issues. “We need to look at roads where there are the most accidents. We should look at police reports and also reach out to the residents to find out about the places where accidents occur and the police are not called.
Another important issue facing the town for many years is providing youth activities of programs. “We have to find out what the kids want and publicize the search. I would put together a group of people who would reach out to youth and have programs for young people develped by young people. I’m not interested in young people who are already scheduled 24-7, and are looking to add this to their resume.”
Says Miller: “Once we know what the kids themselves want we can move forward and find out who can help us give it to them.”
Future development on Route 1 will be an important to West Windsor in the coming years.
The one major parcel, she points out, without approval for a development is the General Growth tract, formerly the site of American Cyanamid at the Corner of Route 1 and Quakerbridge Road. “The limits of what can be done there are not defined by the acreage, but by the access. I don’t think the people who own it know what the limits are. Until all the information is in, the township shouldn’t make a decision.”
Another factor that could have a significant impact on development on Route 1 is a possible plan by the University Medical Center at Princeton to locate on Route 1 in the township.
“There are an awful lot of people in West Windsor who would be delighted to not have to drive through Princeton to get to Princeton Hospital,” Miller says. “Many members of the community have also commented that we don’t want to have this non-ratable (the hospital as a non-profic company would not have to pay property taxes) instead of a ratable. Others have said they don’t want their property values lowered by having a hospital located next door to them.”
Miller says the 660-acre General Growth property would be a good location for the hospital because it would not generate peak hour traffic, and would have minimal impact on residential communities. “There is ample room on that property for a center-based mixed-use development. The more variety we can get into the plan for the tract, the more viable it would be.”
Miller criticizes Hsueh for a lack of movement by the township in coming up with a plan to provide for the required amount of affordable housing. The township has until the end of November to submit a plan to the state complying with new regulations issued last year. If the township does not comply with the affordable housing requirements, it would be vulnerable to lawsuits similar the the Toll Brother’s litigation that resulted in the Estates at Princeton Junction.
“We are moving far too slowly,” Miller says. “Waiting until after the election to tackle any rezoning leaves us only five months. Work should be going on right now.”
Last year, the township submitted a draft affordable housing plan that proposed a series of programs and rezonings to meet its future affordable housing requirements to state Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg. Based on that plan, the judge gave the township until the end of 2005 to comply with the new state requirements.
“It may very well be that not all of the zoning chages that were listed for the judge will be necessary,” says Miller. “If they aren’t, then we should not have them on our plan. Our affordable housing plan should have the minimum amount of rezoning possible.”
She adds that the township should make the affordable housing plan public. “The fact that nothing has been done to this point is an error. I don’t want to be stuck against a deadline. I want West Windsor to send its plan in ahead of time. There is no way it is responsible for the township to wait for the last minute. A plan like this is not something you can do in five minutes. It has to be approved by the planning board, the mayor, and the council, and that’s not an overnight process.”