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Recreational Open Space Is Top Priority for Board

Matthew Hersh

In a move aimed at quenching Princeton's demand for recreational playing fields, the Regional Planning Board discussed an amendment to the 1996 Princeton Community Master Plan regarding use of open space and recreational sites.

The draft amendment calls for 12 additional recreational fields throughout Princeton which will require approximately 30 to 50 acres. It also recommends approximately 28 acres on the 40-acre site that makes up Gulick Farm be used for recreational purposes. The draft amendment demarcates "recreational facilities" to include football, soccer, youth and adult baseball, and softball facilities.

Jack Roberts, executive director of the Princeton Recreation Department, cited two square parcels of land, 18 acres total, that sit at the confluence of River and Herrontown Roads as being open for potential recreational use. However, because the parcels are wetlands, they should be designated as "passive recreation," Mr. Roberts said.

Mr. Roberts added that the Recreation Department is currently involved in negotiations with the New Jersey State Department of Military Affairs to acquire a "small footprint" for the possible future construction of a youth baseball field. Located near the Princeton Armory, the area overlaps land earmarked for the military department.

According to Mr. Roberts, the land needed for baseball fields would span approximately five acres, and the existing buildings on the site could be developed for indoor recreational purposes. Some residents raised issue with the fiscal feasibility of creating new athletic fields.

Douglas Schleifer, a Borough resident and member of the Princeton Environmental Commission, said the Planning Board should not succumb to pressure to build sport facilities on tracts reserved for open space. He said development and maintenance of the facilities will present a "greater tax burden on [Princeton] residents" and will place added pressure on the Department of Recreation's resources.

Princeton Borough Mayor and Planning Board member Marvin Reed expressed concern that the recommendations might lock open space agreements into irreversible situations regarding land use. The recreation fields would use approximately 20 acres out of the 80 acres that make up the parcel.

"I'm concerned that we are putting numbers in here that that [will] plague us later," Mayor Reed said.

Mayor Reed specifically addressed the potential use for recreational fields on the 80 acres available at River and Herrontown Roads. The land, which is jointly owned by the Township and the Borough, is also home to a shooting range for both Police Departments. Mayor Reed noted that while adding recreational fields is a priority, the remaining acreage should be looked at as well.

"What is the rest [of the land] set aside for?" Mayor Reed asked.

The Gulick property, located off of Princeton-Kingston Road, was conserved in 2001 by the Township as open space and conservation farm easement.

The open space and recreational element of the master plan will be amended next year. Maureen Smyth, also of Chestnut Street, said she would like to see unleashed-dog parks included in the list of fields recommended for construction.

"I think there are a lot of residents who would see this as an amenity," she said. "I think it is a recreation that would have community-wide support. There are a lot of dog lovers in this town," she said.

Township Mayor and Board member Phyllis Marchand said because the Board takes municipal regulations into consideration, the Township Committee or Borough Council would be better suited to hear suggestions on dog parks. She said parking, fencing, and health issues would be at play in such designations.

Since 1996, approximately 1,000 acres of land throughout Princeton Township and Borough have been preserved, according to Board Planner Lee Solow. This land includes parcels recently sectioned off for designated open space such as the Institute Woods, Smoyer Park, Coventry Farms, and Greenway Meadows Park.

"The policy of the open space element [of the Master Plan] is to preserve, protect, provide, and enhance open space and recreational resources," he said.

Open Space Grant

New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection has recently issued a $400,000 matching grant to the Friends of Princeton Open Space. Wendy Mager, of the Friends, said that the money could be used to help realize some of the goals listed in the revision of the Princeton Community Master Plan.

Ms. Mager emphasized that open spaces do not "necessarily have to be great, big pieces of land." She cited smaller easements in the Borough that could be used for open-space designation. It was the final meeting with Chairperson Victoria Bergman presiding (see story on page 5). The Board will elect a new chairperson at the beginning of the new year.

In other business, representatives of Princeton Day School were present for the public hearing regarding its final site plan for the expansion of entrances along The Great Road and Coniston Court. According to the Board's Mr. Solow, all road work is in place with the exception of some paving and speed humps.

Mr. Solow added that because of an increase in impervious surfaces created by expansion, storm water drainage facilities will need to be installed in the future.

In October, PDS submitted an application to the Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB) for road widening of its main entrance along the Great Road. The Planning Board suggested in a recent memorandum that PDS consider installing a traffic light at the main entrance to facilitate traffic flow during school arrival and dismissal. The Board has also asked the school to review vehicular circulation on the main campus. Currently, vehicular access from the lower to the upper part of campus is restricted by a one-way traffic flow and requires use of public streets. This year, PDS implemented a carpooling program that is part of an effort to alleviate traffic problems around the school.

Mayor Reed pointed out that the traffic problem around PDS was, in fact, exacerbated by growth in the Montgomery area which "obviously complicates the situation for PDS." PDS attorney Daniel Graziano said PDS is prepared to accommodate the upsurge in traffic from outside elements. He cited the carpooling program as an element that will remove cars from the road, along with the advent of more comprehensive bus service.

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