April 3, 2024

Ninety-Acre Property on Herrontown Road Should Be Used for Park with Trails for All

To the Editor:

On March 25, Princeton’s Council introduced an ordinance to permit the acquisition of 90 acres on Herrontown Road, to preserve the property in perpetuity for passive open space. This important project is supported by Friends of Princeton Open Space, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Ridgeview Conservancy, and The Watershed Institute, all nonprofits that are donating grant funding towards the purchase. The state, through its competitive Green Acres grant program and the County Open Space Advisory Board, has also deemed the purchase worthy of funding. $1,830,000 has been raised from private donors. The town will ultimately pay between 20 percent and 25 percent of the purchase price, depending on the county’s contribution, which has not been finalized. Princeton will initially advance more than that amount, and will be reimbursed as funding from other sources arrives, as has been done in the past.

The municipality’s share of the purchase price will come from the Open Space Trust Fund. The money in this fund was approved by the voters of the then-Borough and Township in various referenda on implementing an open space tax. The money is being used as the voters approved and as the enabling legislation requires, to protect and preserve open space; funding for this purchase is not being pulled from general tax revenues that can fund other types of projects. If the land were not preserved it is likely that 29 clustered residences on lots of about one acre would be built there, as is contemplated by an application that has been moving forward before the Planning Board. In all likelihood, the price of these homes would be too high for them to be affordable to people in the so-called “missing middle” income bracket. And the parcel is far from the stores and services in downtown Princeton that are needed by affordable housing residents.

Construction on this property would have substantial negative impacts, because the large, old forest there provides Princeton with many environmental services: taking up stormwater, sequestering carbon, and mitigating against the heat island effect. The land also is home to streams, extensive wetlands, exceptional vernal ponds, and endangered and threatened birds and reptiles. The negative impacts of loss of trees and creating large amounts of impervious surface here would exacerbate flooding on neighboring properties, which will only get worse as we experience increasingly intense storms due to climate change.  And fragmenting this property’s connection with neighboring preserved areas would greatly devalue it as habitat to support a wide variety of species. 

The best option is creating a park with trails for all, including residents of older affordable housing projects located just a short distance away. We are in full support of preserving the 90 acres and look forward to the day when that park will open.

Wendy Mager
President, Friends of Princeton Open Space
Mountain Avenue

Christopher Barr
Executive Director, Ridgeview Conservancy
Ridgeview Road

Jim Waltman
Executive Director, The Watershed Institute
Titus Mill Road