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It's Back to the Drawing Board For the Springdale Golf Club

Liane Yvkoff

Springdale Golf Club officials met with the Princeton Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB) last Wednesday to seek approval for site improvements to the club, located on College Road in Princeton Township.

But Springdale attorney Alan Frank and Princeton Horticulture Services owner Rick Henkel, who presented to SPRAB, faced sharp criticism of the plan, which calls for the removal of approximately 1200 trees to accommodate a new clubhouse, driving range, and related facilities. Princeton arborist Gary O'Neil identified 650 of the affected trees to be 8-inch caliper or greater.

The main features of the development plan submitted to SPRAB originally included a 24,750 square foot clubhouse, a driving range approximately 900 yards in length, parking lots, and a limited use access road off of Springdale Road to be used by emergency vehicles.

However, Springdale engineers have recently reduced the size of the clubhouse to less than 16,000 square feet by removing the basement level. This change will not affect the footprint of the building or lessen the forest removal.

The clubhouse will be built on the area occupied by the current driving range, and Springdale will construct a new driving range adjacent to the Lawrence Apartments. The old clubhouse will revert to the University for reuse.

The club, which leases 201 acres from Princeton University, cited the need for extensive and costly renovations to the existing clubhouse and the possibility that Princeton University may want to develop a building in that location as the main reasons they need to construct a new clubhouse.

Mr. Frank explained that they did not want to invest a considerable sum of money into a location that was not permanent.

But the main concern of several SPRAB members was not the construction of a new clubhouse and driving range, but the number of trees targeted for removal. To create a new driving range, Springdale will remove approximately 1200 trees, half of which are secondary growth and include very large specimen oaks and trees that are rare to Princeton Township.

According to Township Engineer Robert Kiser, Springdale has not included a mitigation plan to compensate for the loss of trees, except for 36 three to three and one half-inch caliper shade trees to be planted in the proposed parking lot in accordance with Township ordinances. Mr. Kiser recommends that Springdale submit a mitigation plan similar to the one created by Princeton University when it removed a similar number of trees to build the extension to the Lawrence apartments.

But simply replanting trees is not enough to compensate for the loss of a large mass of forest, argued Environmental Commission Representative Barbara Simpson.

Princeton University Director of Physical Planning Jon Hlafter said that there has always been an "ebb and flow of trees in this country," and that due to the Lawrence Apartment project, there are more trees in Princeton Township than before.

Ms. Simpson reiterated, "[Springdale] is not looking at the value of wildlife and a forest – simply planting more trees can not replace a forest."

At the core of the SPRAB's objections was what many members saw as an "incomplete plan" being presented to them. They argued that the plans did not reflect the changes that Mr. Frank and Mr. Henkel were telling the board that Springdale has made, specifically the partial grading of the driving range, which would enable Springdale to preserve some of the large oaks at the far end of the proposed range. Mr. Henkel could not estimate how many trees will be saved by not contouring.

SPRAB Vice Chair Harry Cooke then told the Springdale representatives that they needed to redraw the plan and stressed, "We cannot vote on a plan that we cannot see." Mr. Frank agreed that there was a disconnect between what Springdale is planning and what SPRAB is seeing.

But for SPRAB member Louise Schiller, the changes she wanted to see were the re-design of the layout to preserve as much forest as possible.

"I'm concerned that Springdale will do all that work and that we still will not be happy they are cutting down all those trees to build a bigger clubhouse," she explained.

Mr. Frank said that Springdale has a right to develop the property in accordance with zoning and, while they will be happy to talk about mitigation, they had a right to develop that land. Mr. Frank summed up the meeting by agreeing to all parts of the engineering report not related to the trees and suggested that Springdale should redo the grading plan and return at a later date so that SPRAB can properly evaluate the impacts and properly vote on the plans. "The new plan will show fewer impacts," he assured SPRAB members.

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