Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 10
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
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Westerly Road Church Proposal for Ridge Deemed Lacking by Environmental Commission

Dilshanie Perera

While Monday’s Township Committee meeting saw much discussion about Westerly Road Church’s proposal to relocate to a site on Bunn Drive, along the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge (see story on page one), development in town is getting a closer look by the Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC).

The joint municipal body voted unanimously in its February meeting to issue a memo to the Planning Board stating that, as presented, the church’s site plan application would have an overall negative environmental impact.

Recommending that the Planning Board ask the church to remain in its current site on Westerly Road, where, “with the proper design” it could accommodate the growth in its congregation, the PEC requested that if the project were to move forward, a few conditions be placed on future development.

Construction on the Ridge is dependent on State regulations, particularly the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Water Quality Management Plan Rules, which designate the site as one in which sewer lines may not be installed.

Furthermore, the PEC suggested reducing the amount of impervious cover at the site, reducing tree removal, replanting significant numbers of native plant species, revising the stormwater and management plans to protect water quality, provide information on parking lot runoff, submit information on fauna and flora of concern, place a conservation easement on the remaining undeveloped land at the site, and incorporate green building elements into the plan.

At present, the Westerly Road Church proposal “doesn’t necessarily comply with the present and future environmental needs of Princeton. We’d like it to be a little bit more sympathetic to the potential impact,” said PEC Chair Matt Wasserman.

As proposed, the Westerly Road Church site plan involves a building footprint of 43,940 square feet that sits on 18.58 acres. The estimate of total disturbed area is 8.1 acres, or 40 percent of the site. The building would house a sanctuary that seats 520 people, as well as Sunday School classrooms, a nursery, atrium, multipurpose room, kitchen, and administrative areas. Parking involves 288 spaces.

Of the approximately 1,500 trees on the tract, the Church has proposed to remove 521 of them, and replant 118.

Mr. Wasserman added that “Princeton Ridge and its impact on water quality and stormwater management is an ever-pressing issue in Princeton. It’s a concern of ours.” Impervious coverage in the area would increase water runoff, and potentially prove problematic for drainage, thereby disturbing the ecology on site in the surrounding areas.

Attorney Daniel Haggerty from the firm Stark and Stark, representing Westerly Road Church, noted that “the Church has commissioned its design professionals to carefully and thoroughly review the recommendations of the Environmental Commission. The church will be prepared to substantively respond to them in upcoming Site Plan Review Advisory Board (SPRAB) and Planning Board meetings.”

“The church has a long history of responsible environmental, civic, and religious stewardship, and we are committed to continue to work through the land use approval process in a respectful and straightforward fashion,” Mr. Haggerty added, emphasizing that “we are also 100 percent committed to relocating to Bunn Drive.”

Relocation Project Manager for the Westerly Road Church Ed Nyce noted that the church has “been in the community for 50 years,” emphasizing that the congregation has outgrown its present five-acre location on Westerly Road.

The current church structure can seat 290 people, and two services on Sundays barely accommodate the entire membership. It is expected that the new location could draw as many as 800 people to the two services.

As for the future of the church on the Ridge, Mr. Nyce said, “we certainly can be good stewards of the land there.”

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