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Proposed Seven-Home Subdivision Approved Amid Legal Wrangling

Matthew Hersh

Following an emotional session marked by legal stand-offs including a threat of arrest, the Regional Planning Board of Princeton last Thursday unanimously approved plans to build seven homes on a 15-acre parcel near the corner of Van Dyke Road and Snowden Lane.

One condition of approval was the presentation of the final design of a pump station slated to be built near the corner of Van Dyke and All Saints Road.

Throughout the evening's hearing, however, the discussion was dominated by concerns about the environmental impact of subdividing the 15-acre property into eight lots for the pump station and seven homes. The site contains a small wetland area on the northeast corner and larger wetlands areas on the southeast corner, and is associated with an unnamed tributary of Harry's Brook.

Under the umbrella of the Herrontown Woods Citizens Association, residents opposed to the planned development pointed out what they felt was an incorrect analysis outlined in a freshwater Wetlands Letter of Interpretation (LOI) released by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in 2000.

That five-year LOI expired September 1, and the developer, Landmark at Princeton, LLC, is seeking an extension. The Herrontown group has filed a petition with Louis Cattuna, Mercer County section chief of the DEP, in an effort to curb that extension, saying there are more wetlands on site than previously considered.

R. William Potter, attorney for the Herrontown group, asked the Planning Board to deny the application in light of the "unanswered questions" regarding the ecological nature of the site, which he said is suitable for endangered species, such as the wood turtle.

Mr. Potter also pointed to the aforementioned tributary's previous flood conditions and said that a "serious flood hazard" would exist if the property were developed.

The residents supplied an environmentalist, Edmund Grasso, of EAG Counseling Services, who testified that the site included "extensive areas of wetlands" in contrast with the data supplied in the DEP LOI, and that a "good portion of that area should be designated as wetlands.

"It generates enough questions to raise serious doubts about the potential of development," he said, adding that the original DEP judgements "are likely to be incorrect."

But Planning Board member Marvin Reed said Mr. Grasso's analysis was not enough to preclude the board's approval: "You're asking us to make a judgment to say DEP was inaccurate. How are we to make that judgment based on your testimony?"

Board member Peter Madison agreed, saying it would be "unreasonable" to ask the applicant, Landmark principal Joel Schwartz, to resubmit his application.

At this point, Landmark attorney Neil Yoskin called for Mr. Grasso's arrest, on the grounds that his September 2 analysis of the property had been unannounced and could constitute illegal trespass. He also asked the Board to dismiss Mr. Grasso's testimony. The Board declined to act on both counts.

While not all residents present were in favor of development on that plot, most who voiced their opinions generally agreed with Mr. Schwartz's plans for the homes.

Herrontown Road resident Sydney Souter said residents "would be naive" to believe the property would never be developed. He added that it would be "fundamentally unfair" to deny the application.

Jeff Dorman of Shadybrook Lane said that while he "understood" why residents along Van Dyke and All Saints roads were not pleased with the prospect of developing a heavily wooded, albeit privately-owned tract, "we have to learn to accept it.

"I would be very offended if my neighbors tried to stop me from doing something that seemed to be within the law and my rights."

Janice Jost-Mazzeo, who has led the residents' campaign to have the site re-evaluated, conceded that she was "not opposed to progress or development," but to the present form of the plan. "The present development will alter the site significantly."


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