Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 50
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
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Princetons Split Land, but Not Before Going Head-to-Head on Issues

Matthew Hersh

Following a 2003 agreement to split ownership of 171 acres of land off River Road in Princeton Township, Princeton Borough and Township finally made good on that compact last Tuesday, but not before engaging in a back-and-forth that left both sides vowing to meet again in a single venue to vet other inter-municipal problems that have stewed for several years now.

Both municipalities have long expressed interest in further use of the land, which is currently owned by the Princeton Sewer Operating Committee, under the aegis of Princeton Borough, with about 127 acres serving as the centerpiece of last Tuesday’s meeting at Borough Hall. Another 44 acres located east of River Road, extending out into Montgomery Township, were subject to the deed amendment, but have not been eyed for development because of the site’s tendency to flood.

A report delivered by municipal planning director Lee Solow outlined several potential uses for the 127 developable acres, including PSOC and municipal storage areas, new public works garages, and school bus storage. The land also includes 21 acres of wetlands, as well as 50 acres that have been placed on either the Borough’s or Township’s Recreation and Open Space Inventory available for recreational purposes only, according to Mr. Solow’s report.

The entire tract is valued at an estimated $2.75 million.

For years, the Township has held that the property deed should indicate joint ownership because the Sewer Operating Committee is a joint-municipal agency, first established in 1932. The Borough acquired the 171 acres slowly between 1931 and 1971, primarily for use related to sewerage and solid waste collection and disposal. Princeton University, along with the Princetons, formed the PSOC, but the University withdrew from the agency in 1995.

In May 2004, an Interlocal Services Agreement was signed by then-Borough Mayor Joe O’Neill and Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand indicating that all future uses of that land would require the approval of both Princetons, and that any title transfer or amendment would accompany that agreement.

But since then, the relationship between the two governing bodies has deteriorated, often resulting in rancorous joint municipal hearings, particularly during the budget cycle when intermunicipal agencies are discussed.

And while last week’s hearing was no different, the end result, the passage of a resolution providing joint ownership of the River Road lands, could be a signal that the two governing bodies are beginning to find common ground. Township Committee voted 5-0 in favor of splitting the deed, with Borough Council voting 5-1 in favor of the resolution. Councilman Roger Martindell dissented. The joint land deed involved no cash transaction between the Princetons.

Initially, it appeared as though Council had the votes to kill the resolution, amid concerns over the lack of a freestanding joint municipal committee that would oversee the lands. But after an impassioned plea from Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman, and an agreement that the resolution mandates the formation of such a committee, dissenting Council members relented, and signed on to the joint deed.

Ms. Trotman later said that her last minute plea was a necessary measure, potentially creating a foundation on which the Borough and Township can repair the hobbled relationship. She and Ms. Marchand revealed that the two mayors had been in talks for several weeks, with the intention of holding a series of joint municipal meetings on outstanding issues that have created a wedge between the two towns, including Princeton Public Library parking, North Ridge sewer connection fees, and an estimated $2.1 million that Princeton Borough bonded for joint municipal projects that has yet to be reimbursed by the Township. In casting the lone nay vote against the joint land deed, Mr. Martindell said that yielding the River Road lands would strip the Borough of its perceived negotiating leverage in addressing those outstanding issues.

The mayors said that the respective municipal administrators have begun crafting a timeline and potential agenda for those meetings, slated to take place after the new year.

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