February 3, 2021

Wondering How For-Profit Company Can Lease Land in Residentially Zoned Neighborhood

To the Editor:

“The preservation and protection of the natural environment must be an integral part of all plans and designs for improvements and changes in land use. Examples include rezoning of The Princeton Ridge,” states the Princeton Community Master Plan.

We all live nearby one of the region’s most environmentally fragile and ecologically diverse habitats. The Princeton Ridge is home to many threatened and endangered species, while playing an important role in Princeton’s delicate ecosystem. Measures have always been taken to protect this important land.

At the apex of the Ridge sits Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart’s 48-acre campus. It’s a jewel of a property, surrounded by woods and open fields. Understandably, their R4 zoning prevents commercial use by for-profit entities.  Similar to any residentially zoned neighborhood in Princeton, a 7-Eleven cannot be erected next door to your property.

Several years ago, Princeton Academy inked a partnership agreement with the Princeton Soccer Academy (PSA) in a land-lease opportunity with exclusive rights to the PSA. In the agreement, PSA, an organization outside of Princeton, will rip out 4.2 acres of grass, including 46 mature trees, and replace it with nonpermeable plastic turf. Aside from the devastating environmental and community exploitation, it’s important to expose the unsavory tactics used by the school and PSA to circumvent zoning regulations.

The PSA was founded in 1975 and has operated as a for-profit entity for years. How can the PSA, a for-profit company, lease land in a residentially zoned neighborhood, where they are prohibited to operate? Miraculously, just days before the Planning Board meeting in December, PSA formed a parallel nonprofit shell company. What is the difference between the for-profit PSA, a status they have enjoyed for years (including PPP loans/grants for hundreds of thousands of dollars as a for-profit) and the newly formed nonprofit shell company PSA with no assets or operations? This attempted infringement of the law has taken place with the connivance of Princeton Academy and PSA. It is as deceitful as it is duplicitous.

Princeton Academy Headmaster Rik Dugan and PSA President John Newman amended their contract, nine days ago, stating that the school was leasing the land to the newly formed nonprofit arm of the PSA, not the for-profit PSA they’ve been involved with for years. If allowed, this would set an inauspicious and dangerous precedent.

The Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart is a commendable school and produces fine young men. Their education extends far beyond the classroom. These boys are watching. Will the leaders of our municipality, sports organizations, and schools show them the importance of abiding by the rules? Integrity matters.

Let the Planning Board know that for-profit companies should not be able to change their status to nonprofit to evade Princeton’s laws, while exploiting our environment and quality of life. The Princeton Environmental Commission already recommended that “the variance be denied,” adding that the plan “has far too many negative impacts on the environment.”

Your voice is critical on Thursday, February 4, 7:30 p.m., via Zoom: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85944648915; Webinar ID: 859 4464 8915.

Kristin and Ron Menapace
Heather Lane