Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 10
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
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Township Defers to State on Wastewater Management

Ellen Gilbert

Discussion of whether or not the Westerly Road Church’s 18½ acre site and proposed building on the Princeton Ridge should be subsumed under the Township’s recommendations for wastewater management turned Monday evening’s Township Committee meeting into a nearly four-hour marathon. The Committee ultimately left the final call up to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).

Speakers for and against the plan weighed in after Planning Director Lee Solow’s explanation of how wastewater management, formerly under the purview of local municipalities, had been reassigned by the state to the county. In response to Mercer County’s request for each of its municipality’s requirements, the Township had approved and forwarded a set of “principles” several months ago.

“Considerable discussion” since then had led to revisiting the question at Monday’s meeting, said Mr. Solow. He noted that “once delineated on a county wastewater management map,” it would be “extremely difficult to make changes on a single unit basis. We’re trying to be proactive.”

Members of the Westerly Road Church showed up in numbers, many speaking up to reiterate Stark and Stark lawyer Daniel Haggerty’s plea that the Township Committee refrain from interfering “with the opportunity to finish what we started,” by changing the existing wastewater management plan. “Don’t let the sewer system be the way you amend your zoning system,” Mr. Hagerty observed.

Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed representative Joan McGee, newly elected Environmental Commission chair Matt Wasserman, and other supporters of minimizing development on Princeton Ridge were equally adamant in their call to handle the situation according to “broad principles,” rather than as a determination about a single project. Mr. Wasserman noted that “this is a different Princeton than 25 years ago,” with concerns for “saving open space” rendering older guidelines obsolete.

In an earlier memorandum to the Princeton Regional Planning Board, the Environmental Commission said that the Westerly Road Church’s Site Application Plan “lacks the environmental and aesthetic sensitivity that the site deserves and that the plan proposes to turn one of Princeton’s largest and last connected forest areas into, at best, a manicured suburban setting, and, at worst, a strip-mall-like site that will have multiple deleterious effects on the environment.”

“The plan’s proposed stormwater management system relies largely on structural techniques rather than on natural, vegetative alternatives,” noted the memorandum in its list of objections to the plan. “Among other things, it calls for vast removal of vegetative undergrowth around the site’s perimeter, and for 40-foot wide entrances on Herrontown Road and Bunn Drive.”

Members of Township Committee acknowledged church supporters’ concerns by agreeing to submit an appropriately annotated map and the church members’ comments to the NJDEP.

“Whatever we decide tonight is not about any particular property,” observed Committeewoman Liz Lempert. “We’re obligated to follow the law, and the law states that the county is responsible for removing land from sewer service if that land is deemed environmentally sensitive.” While other members concurred, Township Committeeman Lance Liverman acknowledged that this “hard decision” was set against the backdrop of the church having proceeded “under the assumption that everything was okay.” It was noted that the Regional Planning Board would be discussing the issue at its March 18 meeting, presumably before the NJDEP would have an opportunity to make a decision.

Other agenda items at Monday evening’s meeting included Regional Planning Board Master Plan Subcommittee Chair Marvin Reed’s presentation, “Moving People and Making Places,” envisioning a “Route 1 bus rapid transit service” that would provide rail-like bus service with flexible routes using low-carbon vehicles. Unfortunately, he noted, the expensive nature of the proposed system meant that its implementation will probably be delayed, although smaller improvements could be made over time.

In public comments unrelated to agenda items, Cherry Valley Road resident John Lasley noted “the permanent change” in the way Americans, as well as Princeton residents, now live as a result of the financial downturn. Noting that 50 people in Princeton are currently on welfare, he said that “we cannot afford another increase in the cost of running the Township.” Mr. Liverman pointed out that, as of that day, there are now 51 welfare recipients in Princeton.

“We all share your concern,” said Mayor Bernie Miller in his response to Mr. Lasley. “We will do everything possible to get to that goal. But remember that the Township is only a small part of your tax dollar. We’re working as hard as we can to ensure that there are no unnecessary expenditures in the budget, while maintaining services — including helping those people on welfare.”

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