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The Township Receives $900,000 in State Grants For Land Preservation

Matthew Hersh

Princeton Township has been granted $400,000 from the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Green Acres Program for use toward the Coventry Farm land preservation effort, located on The Great Road.

Additionally, the DEP awarded Delaware and Raritan Greenway a $500,000 non-profit land preservation grant to be used toward the Coventry project. Greenway is Central New Jersey's regional land trust.

The grants are products of land preservation efforts begun in 2001 to save the land along The Great Road from being developed. At the time, an agreement with the Hillier Group was in its final stages of planning for age-restricted housing. In the end, Hillier offered to yield the land for conservation with a quarter-million dollar discount of the property's $9.5 million value.

The D&R Greenway works through donations and bargain sale agreements, as was the case in the Hillier agreement. It also works with the state and municipality to leverage funds.

John Watson Jr., administrator of Green Acres, said the program benefits communities that have open space master plans in what is termed as a Planning Incentive Category.

"Basically, the policy of the program is to fund as many worthy projects as we can," he said. The program essentially collects taxes from participating municipalities for open space purposes. These municipalities fall into a Planning Incentive Category, a new classification that raises the state grant share to 50 percent of what is previously collected through the program. Formerly, the state contributed 25 percent of the initial dollar amount.

Mr. Watson said the program achieves a higher level of efficacy by "buying into" open space preservation mandates on municipal master plans. "We try to re-charge municipalities' accounts every year instead of having to re-apply year after year for every parcel of land [to be preserved]," he said.

Further, the program enables municipalities to use the money provided for any open space preservation effort on its master plan, and not simply for one specific project. Princeton Township has decided it will only appropriate the grant toward the Coventry Farm project.

The Township's grant money will be used in conjunction with the grant received by D&R Greenway. That transaction was funded by Princeton Township's Open Space Fund, Princeton Borough, Friends of Princeton Open Space, Mercer County, and several sizable private contributions.

Linda Mead, executive director of D&R Greenway, said the grant represents the efforts of the not-for-profit group. "We take every dollar that is given to us by the state and turn it into acres of land very quickly," she said.

She also emphasized the magnitude of private donations raised by her organization. She said approximately $3.7 million out of the $8.5 million raised through Greenway and through state grants and loans were from private donations. Princeton Township and Borough put forth a combined $1 million toward the project.

Mr. Watson of Green Acres extolled Greenway for its efforts in the project. "I believe the organization has been incredibly effective in creating partnerships to preserve land and soliciting donations for funding," he said.

In addition to recognizing Green Acres, Greenway, and Friends of Princeton Open Space, Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand credited the commitment of Township residents in regard to the open space tax.

"We can only applaud their efforts, we could not have gotten the acreage we did without all of these parts working together," she said. "We don't always have the funds we need," she added.

The 155-acre Coventry Farm was once owned by Princeton's Winant family. Twenty-three acres will be used for a park, 28 acres will be used for recreation adjacent to John Witherspoon Woods and Mountain Lakes, and 93 acres of the Coventry property will be preserved as open space.

The Winant House that lies on 11 acres of the site is owned by Princeton Day School. The $1.4 million park project will include two baseball fields, two soccer fields, 98 parking spaces, a children's play equipment area, and restroom facilities.

The park is set for completion by the end of 2004.

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