Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 48
 
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
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Joint Land Talks May Clear Air

Matthew Hersh

The Princetons will receive a report at a joint municipal hearing next Tuesday examining the future use of 127 acres of land off Canal Road, most of which is located in Princeton Township. The land, owned by Princeton Borough, and currently operated by the Princeton Sewer Operating Committee, has long spelled opportunity for both Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, and next week’s discussion on those lands could serve as a venue for the airing of other concerns that have created a wedge between the two municipalities.

Assembled by the municipal Planning Department, the report examines the suitability of the PSOC lands, eyeing potential uses for both Princetons, as well as for Princeton Regional Schools.

The five parcels, four of which are in the Township, and one that crosses the municipal border into Montgomery Township, currently house PSOC operations, as well as some municipal outdoor storage areas. Both Princeton police departments maintain a practice shooting range in the center of the site, and a closed municipal landfill takes up approximately seven acres.

The site also contains wetlands and has for years been subject to speculation as to use. It is a perennial topic of conversation, with the Princeton Recreation Department seeking additional playing fields, and with both the Borough and Township departments of Public Works seeking to upgrade their current facilities. In March, the Princeton governing bodies held a joint session following up on a 2004 agreement between Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand and then-Borough Mayor Joe O’Neill that would add Princeton Township to the property’s deed and affirm co-ownership.

The report, which was compiled by municipal planner Lee Solow and Planning Department staff, was released to Town Topics Tuesday by the Borough’s Administration Department; it outlines various site constraints, including the slope of the property, as well as heavy tree canopy. While the report, as expected, does not outline any recreation use, it does identify public works storage for the Borough and Township, new outdoor storage, a municipal truck and car wash facility, and a school transportation office, as well as a busing storage area.

The upcoming discussion dates back to 1995, when Princeton University, a former partner with PSOC, withdrew from the municipal conglomerate, leaving the Borough and Township committed to redrafting its agreement. The Borough then acquired the land outright, leasing the use to the University and the Township, according to PSOC manager Don Mayer-Brown.

The upcoming December 4 discussion, slated to take place at Borough Hall at 7 p.m. could be used as a platform for some Council members to air joint-municipal concerns, particularly related to 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.

Members of Borough Council who could be reached for comment Tuesday said they hoped the meeting would result in a schedule of future joint-municipal meetings focusing on inter-municipal issues. The Borough and Township typically meet once a year during the budget cycle to iron out financing for the towns’ 17 shared agencies.

“These are not terribly difficult issues,” said Councilman David Goldfarb. “We just need to get the facts out there and talk about it.” Mr. Goldfarb said that while discussion could stray from Tuesday’s set agenda, “we’re not able to discuss with the Township these specific concerns and we need to get back on track regarding issues of mutual interest.”

Councilman Roger Martindell agreed, urging a schedule of planned meetings between the two governing bodies. “When you propose to marry someone, it’s best to get to know them first,” he said, before offering a grim assessment: “I don’t think anyone can say that the Borough and Township have a relationship at this point, other than in geography and joint agencies.”

This most recent recession in the complex Borough-Township relationship began in spring 2004 at the annual budget meeting where costs related to the library parking subsidy eclipsed much of a five-hour discussion that left both sides calling for future talks.

Mr. Martindell said both towns should create incentives for joint meetings: “We need to make it worthwhile for both parties and until there’s a sufficient incentive for joint meetings, the meetings are not going to happen.”

It is unclear whether the Borough or Township will use the PSOC discussion as negotiating leverage on other issues, though each municipality can veto the other’s plan for the PSOC lands.

Township Committeewoman Vicky Bergman, the municipal liaison to the SOC, said that while other issues are open for discussion, the upcoming meeting would focus on only PSOC lands. “Nothing else is on the agenda for discussion, and I think that some of us are hoping that this is going to be a happy occasion where we can resolve a long-standing issue.”

“I am open to dialogue with the Borough, but this is not the place for it,” said Township Committeeman Lance Liverman, adding that he did “not want to see a situation where people would walk out of a meeting.” Mr. Liverman did say that the two towns would “do themselves a disservice by not talking” about issues raised by Mr. Martindell and Mr. Goldfarb and called for a regular dialogue with Princeton Borough.

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