March 10, 2021

Artificial Turf at Hilltop Park Would Crown Princeton With Plastic Grass

To the Editor:

What will 1.5 acres of plastic grass (artificial turf) and night lighting do to Hilltop Park on the Princeton Ridge? To answer that question, let’s consider existing amenities.

A lot of recreation is packed into Hilltop Park’s 11.2 acres within walking distance of 435 adjoining households at Princeton Community Village, Copperwood, and Campbell Woods. Improvements include a playground, basketball court, skateboard park,  baseball diamond, and the soccer field. Underground sprinklers keep the field green, on which children also romp, families picnic, and office workers set up lunch-hour volleyball games.

Paved parking suffices for baseball, but soccer crowds spill over onto McComb Road, ignoring “No Parking” signs posted on both sides of the narrow street, posing a public safety hazard.     

Eleven years ago, when residents of Campbell Woods raised parking and environmental concerns, the Recreation Department withdrew its proposal for artificial turf at Hilltop Park.

Imagine our surprise one day last year when test borings observed at 8 a.m. led to discovery that the plan had been resurrected and approved with no neighborhood input! We were not the only ones surprised. So was the Princeton Environmental Commission; last month was the first they heard of it. Incredibly, Princeton Council’s approval to install more than 1.5 acres of plastic grass on the Princeton Ridge bypassed our Environmental Commission!

There are no existing artificial turf installations in any of Princeton’s soccer parks. Why? NJ DEP prohibited it at Farmview Fields.  Neighbors extracted the town’s promise not to do it at Smoyer, just like the town promised 11 years ago at Hilltop. Why does the Recreation Department now want to ramp up day-and-night play at Princeton’s smallest soccer venue? 

So far as we can tell, the big push comes from Princeton Soccer Academy, a for-profit enterprise based in Randolph, N.J., which posts orange and black “tryout” signs. It reported 27 jobs when applying for $218,222 of Federal Coronavirus Bailout money last year. The business model apparently leverages municipally owned and maintained soccer fields around the state to feed its revenue stream. Hilltop Park is one of them.

But Princeton taxpayers will bear the cost – more than $1 million.  Artificial turf and lighting will inflict those other costs too, i.e., environmental degradation, parking hazards, and lost recreational enjoyment. Gone will be the grass where families picnic and kids romp. Forbidden will be those noon-time volleyball setups. Instead, there will be plastic grass behind a protective fence.

We have been invited for input at the Recreation Commission’s public meeting with the design consultant at 7 p.m. on March 25th but warned: “This ship has already sailed; it is too late.” To which we reply, “There is no right way to do a wrong thing.”

We call upon our mayor and Council to carefully reconsider the facts and suspend this project before crowning Princeton with plastic grass.      

Ed Madsen
McComb Road