February 10, 2016

After Long Discussion, Council Votes Yes On Land Acquisition

Princeton Council voted 4-2 Monday to adopt a bond ordinance that paves the way for the purchase of 20.4 acres of open land, located on the Princeton Ridge between Route 206 and Mt. Lucas Road.

The heavily wooded property, to be maintained as open space, was acquired for $4.4 million, a deal that included $2.2 million in funding from the Mercer County Open Space Fund, $153,000 from the Williams Transco pipeline project, $100,000 from Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS), and $1.7 million from the New Jersey Green Acres Program.

“I really think this is something that is just what we have an open space tax for,” said Wendy Mager, who heads FOPOS and was one of several people who spoke during the public hearing. The $4.4 million is “a bargain price,” she said. Architect Ron Berlin called the land “a destination and a haven,” adding, “I think this is a big deal С so worth keeping.”

Every person who came to the microphone spoke in favor of the purchase. Former Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchard said, “I cannot understand how anybody could oppose this bond ordinance.” Resident Scotia Macrae said, “Some have argued that we can’t afford to make this purchase. But there are many of us who believe that we can’t afford not to.” Jim Waltman, executive director of the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association said the tract is “an extraordinary natural piece of land,” adding, “There is no more sound investment you can make than protecting open space.”

Council member Bernie Miller continued to voice his opposition to the purchase, voting against it along with Patrick Simon. Mr. Miller voiced objections to emails from FOPOS, which he said distorted comments he made at the Council meeting two weeks earlier. “It was not that I said Princeton has enough open space, but that it has met the goal for years,” he said. “Much of our existing open space is under utilized and hard to get to. Trails are under-maintained.” Open Space funds are about maintaining land as well as acquiring it, he added.

It was Jo Butler whose “yes” vote pushed the ordinance through, but only after she asked several questions and expressed her thoughts for and against the measure.

Mr. Simon questioned whether the purchase would be the best use of the Open Space funds. “We’re in a budget year when behind the scenes we’re talking about limiting funds for police, the library, and other services,” he said. “Something has to give. Our capital plan is not even close to being balanced.” Ms. Butler suggested the Green Acres funds “could free up a lot of current income to do other projects for open space.” But in the end, she voted for the measure.

The tract will be purchased from Princeton Land Development LLC, which has agreed to abandon an application it had for construction of 36 townhouses on the property. Council President Lance Liverman called the purchase “a win-win for the town, the residents and our future.” Heather Howard and Jenny Crumiller also expressed their support for the ordinance.

“By preserving the land, we preserve it forever,” Ms. Crumiller said. “If we don’t, we lose it forever. It’s more valuable than the money.”