Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 14
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
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Westerly Road Church Answers Critics of Its Bunn Drive Building Application

(This Headline Pertains to the First Five Letters)

Her Activism and Experience Commend Township Candidate for School Board

Terhune Road

Public Service Workers and Utilities Thanked for Hard Work After Storm

Bertrand Drive

Westerly Road Church Answers Critics Of Its Bunn Drive Building Application

To the Editor:

For over fifty years, Westerly Road Church (WRC) has been a vital and vibrant part of Princeton. Many children from our community attend a variety of programs year-round; our police force has been served by chaplains drawn from the church staff; families have received aid from WRC’s partnerships with organizations like the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen and WomanSpace; and generations of university students have found a home away from home at WRC. Senior Pastor Matt Ristuccia is himself a Princeton alumnus, and is celebrating his 25th year of service with WRC, another testament of WRC’s long-term commitment to our community.

The proposed relocation to the commercially-zoned property on Bunn Drive will allow WRC to continue to provide these and many other important services to our community. At WRC, we recognize that the richest natural resources in our community are our families, friends, and children. We do not take the responsibility to care for these human needs lightly. In order to properly continue to serve our community’s needs, we need more space. This space must be single-level in order to fully welcome persons with disabilities and mobility impairments, and also to maximize our children’s access to natural light in classroom space. Currently, some of our students have been relegated to meet in office lobbies and in space that is less than half the square footage recommended for children by educators, a situation that is clearly untenable.

WRC’s commitment to environmentalism remains strong. When we were initially confronted with the need for more spacious facilities, we proposed expanding on our current property, in an attempt to meet our community’s needs with minimum impact. However, changes in the zoning regulations geared towards even lower-density development prevented us from being able to expand on our current lot. In the proposed plan for relocation onto the Bunn Drive property, we have pulled back considerably from what the “office and research” zoning on the parcel would allow us to build. For example, we have limited our proposed building to 44,000 square feet (as opposed to the 66,000 allowable under the zoning); we have scaled back our parking lot to 220 spaces, banking 68 spaces; and we have on our building team two LEED-certified professionals to guide us in the environmentally efficient design of our facility. Less than a third of the trees on the property would be disturbed by the proposed building; indeed, more people will be able to enjoy the preserved wooded area by being brought to the church nestled among these trees.

Our relocation efforts thus far have been marked by careful planning, investments in researching the most environmentally-sensitive and cost-efficient ways to build, and taking stock of the needs of the most vulnerable in our community (children, the elderly, and the disabled). We at WRC are grateful for the opportunity to build a house of worship for our community that addresses all of these competing concerns. Those who have further questions about WRC’s relocation efforts may visit under Relocation FAQs.

Associate Pastor
Westerly Road Church, Westerly Road

To the Editor:

Why is the Westerly Road Church planning a huge development at the crest of the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge, with a minimum of 8.1 acres of valuable habitat including wetlands to be clear-cut, 500-odd trees to be destroyed for the sake of 220 surface parking spaces and a one-story building? This makes no sense, either as architecture or as a display of environmental stewardship and responsibility to the Princeton community.

It’s cheaper to build on two stories for the main building (with administrative and educational units on two stories, not one), and it’s environmentally responsible to have two tiers of parking to shrink the “total footprint disturbance” and preserve as much contiguous habitat as possible for creatures on the Ridge, saving trees that store carbon, and reduce flooding.

To learn that WRC is planning a detention basin of at least one acre in size as their only means of stormwater management is truly shocking. What has happened to the idea of non-structural stormwater measures that do not interfere with habitat? Surely the Church must know that, by relying on a detention basin alone, its plan is not in compliance with state and local codes and regulations, which insist on using non-structural stormwater measures “to the maximum extent practicable.”

To its discredit, sadly, the WRC seems to be following the model of the Medical Arts Building on Bunn Drive (also a terrible mistake of clear-cutting). Instead, WRC should have been paying attention to the Hillier designs for the Lowe tract on Bunn Drive: age-restricted housing on less than four acres, non-structural stormwater measures, maximum preservation of forest. We can only hope that the Planning Board, at its upcoming public meeting on the WRC site plan (probably April 8), will impose conditions that will reduce this oversize development.

Dodds Lane

To The Editor:

As a neighbor who lives downstream from the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge, I am dismayed to learn that Westerly Road Church intends to clear-cut 11 densely forested acres of the 18-acre Block 2803 for the construction of a vast one-story building, a 220 car parking lot, and a one-acre detention basin. Their plans will not only be devastating for the existing eco-system, they will have a negative impact on the properties of Township citizens who live on the flood plain bordering Harry’s Brook.

I would ask the board of directors of the Westerly Road Church to heed the warning stated in the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 20, verse 19, to maintain regard for the general welfare and “not destroy trees by swinging an axe against them.”

Governors Lane

To the Editor:

Recently, I was disappointed to read some of the comments made by fellow residents concerning Westerly Road Church’s proposed relocation. For me, the comments struck a nerve because as one who regularly attends Westerly Road Church, I am also committed to protecting the environment.

Westerly Road Church is a spiritual home. Like many families, our church family has outgrown the house we’ve occupied since the 1950s. Local zoning laws prohibit us from expanding any further on the current site, and naturally, we want to remain in the Princeton area where most of our members live. Within the last couple of years, we purchased one of the few remaining sites available in Princeton on which to build a new church.

The site itself is adjacent to other commercial properties, and we have worked with various environmental groups and commissions to revise our plans for the site. To say that we have not done so is inaccurate. Less than half of the site will actually be disturbed in any way; the building itself will take up only about 5 percent of the site. The congregation has no interest in building a “sprawling” “strip-mall” for a church. At its own expense, the church has not only conducted environmental surveys of the site to ensure that there are no endangered species living there, it has hired two LEED-certified environmental consultants to help guide the project, and they have set a goal of replacing — either on-site or on another property — all live-cut trees that would be removed in the process. Wetlands on the property will remain undisturbed. On the advice of environmental groups, the church has indeed looked into a multi-story building and tiered parking garages. Unfortunately, both are unfeasible from cost and accessibility standpoints as well as the limitations they would place on efficiency, specifically the use of natural light for heating and indoor lighting. For its parking needs, the church is investigating the feasibility of a permeable parking surface, and it has already reduced the number of spaces by almost a quarter, bringing the total in line with recommendations made by local environmental groups.

Personally, I am grateful for the advice from local environmental groups. They have made the project better and given us ideas that we might not otherwise have thought of. I don’t understand their continued opposition. We are striving to be good stewards of the environment, but we also recognize that to build a church (or a house, for that matter) requires altering the environment. Like any good homeowner, we want to use our property wisely by balancing environmental interests and those of the community with our own needs and rights as property owners. We are neighbors and community members from all walks of life. As a body, we minister to children, university students, the sick, the elderly, those who don’t have enough to eat, and those in prison. To do these things requires a home, and at the moment, we are a family looking for one that meets our needs.

Devereux Avenue

To the Editor:

The Westerly Road Church (WRC) application is an act of “wholesale environmental destruction,” according to the Site Plan Review Advisory Board.

Clear-cutting 8.1 acres and putting down 5.6 acres of impervious surface that can only be managed by installing a huge detention basin, the WRC developer also wants to blast off the top of the ridge and then fill in the sides with imported dirt to make an artificial platform for the building. Why is such folly even being considered? Why is WRC unaware of what Robert Hillier intends to accomplish elsewhere on the Princeton Ridge (using the slope of the land for underground parking with handsome multi-story residences above)?

Further, the WRC plan does not comply with State and Princeton storm water code, requiring non-structural storm water measures to be used “to the maximum extent practicable.” The Planning Board should not even consider this application until WRC plans comply with state law.

In addition, the WRC plans are sometimes self-contradictory. Princeton professional staff note failures to perform necessary tests (e.g. soil borings), inconsistent measurements, conflicting plans for building elevation in relation to building floor-plan, the choice of invasive plants, and a tree map that shows trees of 6 inch diameter and higher (whereas Township Arborists have done calculations for trees of 8-inch diameter). This application is mired in confusion and is not complete. Requests for more information riddle the professional reports.

The Planning Board should postpone its April 8 hearing until everyone can analyze a complete, accurate set of designs. The damning reports of the Princeton Environmental Commission and the Site Plan Review Advisory Board should be honored by a Planning Board that insists, before wasting everyone’s time, on updated, thorough information from WRC. Decisions about the environmentally sensitive Ridge cannot be based on flawed information.

Governors Lane

To the Editor:

Regarding the Westerly Road Church (WRC) plan for Bunn Drive, I am dismayed by such a sprawling single-story building with 288 parking spaces on environmentally sensitive land. The detention basin alone is more than one acre, and no measures for nonstructural stormwater management are planned.

This plan is not only insensitive to current thinking about environmental stewardship and responsibility to the community. It is obsolete. For religious architecture, it is 50-60 years out of date. Years ago, churches and synagogues all stretched out on one floor, with the sanctuary at one end, and other functions — administrative, educational, social — stretched out along never-ending acreage. All Saints’ Church, built in 1960, hews to this general design; so does the Unitarian Church of Princeton, erected in 1956-57. But when Temple Beth-El in Somerville recently expanded in 2008, it went up, not out, for everything except the sanctuary, all on two stories, with much valued space saved.

WRC should redesign according to current needs, not past models. Ecological and environmental needs, as well as obligations to the larger Princeton community, must be a part of any sane site plan. In addition, it is hard to believe that WRC leadership can be unaware of the resolution endorsed by Princeton Township Committee in August 2009. This resolution cheered the idea of the Princeton Ridge Preserve for all this delicate terrain, including the wetlands on which WRC intends to build.

Valley Road

Her Activism and Experience Commend Township Candidate for School Board

To the Editor:

I am writing to share with my fellow Princetonians the high regard I have for Afsheen Shamsi, Township candidate for the Princeton Regional School Board this spring.

I met Afsheen about a year ago through our mutual involvement in Organize for America, an effort to turn the energy generated by the bi-partisan enthusiasm for Barack Obama’s campaign into real change in our communities. In the intervening months I have crossed paths with her again when she invited me and my wife to hear Greg Mortenson speak at Nassau Presbyterian Church, at various Democratic club events, and when she and her husband attended a kick-off meeting in Princeton for J Street, a new pro-Israel lobbying group that puts an emphasis on fairness to both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The common theme in all of our interactions has been one of pursuing positive change through empowering individuals and seeking common ground.

This approach to community activism, coupled with Afsheen’s warm, effective personal style and her extensive experience on educational issues, uniquely qualify her to join our school board. Her “day job” working as director of public relations at the Council on American Islamic Relations, has helped her develop real expertise on issues of tolerance and bullying, current hot button topics in schools across the country. Her personal experience advocating for a son with special needs has helped her develop empathy for other families facing all kinds of unique educational challenges. Finally, her thoughtfulness and no-nonsense pragmatism will be invaluable in helping the School Board address the monumental challenges of the current budget crisis.

I urge all voters in the Township to come out and support Afsheen at the polls on April 20.

Terhune Road

Public Service Workers and Utilities Thanked for Hard Work After Storm

To the Editor:

Princeton is only just now emerging from a difficult period of power outage, flooded basements, and extensive tree damage. Some Princeton residents were without power for many days.

We wish to express our thanks and admiration to all the Public Works people who worked tirelessly to clear the roads, and to the Fire Department that helped to evaluate and clear the flooded basements. Police, PSE&G, and Verizon also worked long hours to restore normal services as quickly as possible under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.

These hard-working and capable people should know that their efforts are truly appreciated. Thank you!

Bertrand Drive

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