February 10, 2021

Princeton Academy Withdraws Application for Artificial Turf Fields

By Anne Levin

A controversial proposal by Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart (PASH) to turn grass playing fields into artificial turf fields, to be leased by the Princeton Soccer Association (PSA), was withdrawn last week by the school’s attorney.

“After consulting with my clients over the last few days, we’ve come to the conclusion that it would be in the applicant’s best interest to withdraw the application at this time,” Bob Ridolfi told the Princeton Planning Board at its February 4 meeting. “This would give us more time to take a second look at our plan, and spend more time thinking about the more global issues. We look forward to coming back and reapplying at the most appropriate time. We will let you know what the schedule is as soon as we have determined we are ready to move forward again.”

PASH is a private school for boys in grades K-8. There has been considerable opposition to the school’s plan since it was first announced at the end of September. Neighbors of the academy, which is based in a Tudor Revival mansion on the Great Road, on the Princeton Ridge, have cited concerns about environmental issues, noise, and lighting. The Princeton Ridge is known to be environmentally fragile and ecologically diverse, and is home to various threatened and endangered species.

Neighbors have also questioned whether Princeton Soccer Association is a for-profit organization, complaining that the PSA had formed a nonprofit entity just before a December Planning Board meeting, to evade zoning regulations. At that meeting, Princeton Zoning Officer Derek Bridger said that the soccer academy had presented evidence that it was a nonprofit, making it acceptable to lease the field.

Under the plan, PSA would lease the turf fields weekday evenings and on weekends until 7 p.m. The project would convert the two grass athletic fields where students play baseball, soccer, and lacrosse into the turf fields, using permeable artificial turf and 16-foot portable lighting towers.

“The proposal of these turf fields is ridiculous,” wrote Heather Lane resident Jennifer Buono in a letter to the Town Topics Mailbox on February 3. “They will cause light pollution, noise pollution, traffic issues, flooding issues, environmental issues. They are not for the school, they are for a for-profit entity based in Wall, N.J., that is disguising itself as a nonprofit to steal our tax money.”

In a letter in the same issue, PASH Board Chair Nikki Sheetz Frith and Head of School Alfred (Rik) F. Dugan III wrote, “We have the utmost respect for our neighbors and value the relationships we hold. Therefore, we look forward to discussing the realities of the project in a civil manner at the Planning Board meeting on Thursday, February 4. The entire project is for the youth of today and we take in earnest the fact that they are paying attention to how we as citizens proceed.”

Ridolfi acknowledged that the plan has generated controversy. “It’s been a good experience for us,” he said. “We’ve learned a lot. We look forward to coming back with a renewed application at the appropriate time.”