To the Council:
I am deeply disturbed that on Jan. 25,, you did not support the bond ordinance to purchase 20 additional acres of land on the much-prized Princeton Ridge, for the following reasons, as widely reported.
Princeton has “enough” open space. This claim ignores the following matters:
1) These acres provide absolutely necessary land adjacent to the Princeton Ridge Preserve that will preserve habitat for creatures in addition to us, who continue to occupy a dangerously anthropocentric world. This purchase is especially needed in light of habitat-fragmentation resulting from the Leidy pipeline invasion elsewhere on the Ridge; the power of the mature forest to store carbon monoxide makes it unethical for Princeton officials to “vote to pollute” our global atmosphere.
2) The argument for purchase to maintain contiguity of land is made all the stronger because the Mt. Lucas tract borders on land privately owned and set aside as open space. Please look again at your maps. This purchase has been projected for years; many people, including Mr. Solow, Princeton’s urban planner, have contributed to its realization.
3) The argument that the acreage provides little access for a trail-system yet to be developed is specious. Access can only be arranged after the purchase has been legally effectuated. Please remember that the trail system on the NJCF tract (now the core of the Princeton Ridge Preserve) tract has taken years to develop.
4) The development of the 90-acre Thompson/Lanwin tract on Herrontown Road, about which Council recently heard a presentation, will mean that at least 30 acres that are presently open space will be lost, even if development is clustered. If it is developed conventionally, the entire 90 acres will be disturbed and a great deal of mature forest lost. Making the current purchase on Mt. Lucas would help offset those losses and will help protect habitat, control storm water, and store carbon dioxide.
5) The Mt. Lucas acres are situated at the very “gateway” to Princeton from Route 206, a “pride of place” that should be used as such to indicate Princeton’s identity and values. If a development is permitted, instead of open space, the world will again know that Princeton is low-hanging fruit, ripe for the plucking. Indeed: Princeton will gain a reputation as Asphalt City, instead of being ranked among the significant Tree Cities in our nation. A vote against this purchase is a vote for dead urban-planning and against sustainability. Non-Princetonians want to live in Princeton because it has been so dedicated to gaining open-space; those same purchasers have a sometimes negatve effect on the housing market (tear-downs, mega-mansion replacements, undesirable revaluations of property in areas whose residents cannot afford more taxes).
6) I don’t understand how PC members who just voted to put a Climate Action Plan on the high-priority list for the 2016 agenda now fail to see the connection between “climate action in general” and “climate action actually taken by purchase of the Mt. Lucas tract.” Climate Action means taking real steps, in real time, now, to control climate pollution, as indeed everyone at the Paris Conference (December, 2015) has urged us all to do. A “plan” can take a long time to implement; this current purchase can happen now, to the benefit of us all.
I reject the idea that Princeton cannot afford to purchase this tract because of concern about future refunding of $397,000—9% of the purchase price, which will otherwise be funded by the County, NJ Green Acres, FOPOS, and some TRANSCO-Williams pipeline remediation money. As explained by Wendy Mager, devoted president of FOPOS, on 1/25/16, future Green Acres funding has been constitutionally dedicated from the Corporate Business Tax by the 2014 voter referendum and will eventually be forthcoming, despite the governor’s pocket veto of legislation prescribing how the funds will be divided among various Green Acres functions. Grace Sinden, in a Letter to the Editor, Town Topics, 2/3/16, has written that “Mayor Lempert has received word that the state funding will be available” (p. 9). I have never had reason, in my ten years of activist work in Princeton, to doubt the word of either Grace Sinden or Liz Lempert. It is not reasonable to suggest this purchase will cause taxes to escalate, when money to support it would come from a fund dedicated by Princeton voters specifically to open space.
As for the general budget, I will not go into detail about various climate-friendly initiatives to reduce expenditures, but certainly you should (re-)consider the following:
1) Help wean Princeton from a town-wide leaf pickup regime that costs between 650K and 800K per year, with continued inability to track the numbers for has, personnel time, equipment depreciation, etc, A change in Princeton’s leaf-program has long been advocated by former Princeton Environmental Commission Chair Matt Wasserman, Steve Hiltner, Stephanie Chorney, and me. Since you have voted (by what majority I do not know) NOT to put the matter of a revamped leaf-program on the 2016 high-priority agenda, I honestly can’t say that I understand how or why (some of) you are now arguing that Princeton can’t afford the Mt. Lucas purchase. In addition, Steve Hiltner has recently explained to PC how the municipal government may easily save 20K a year by adopting a different policy concerning leaf pick-up; he was rebuffed.
2) A new system for the generation of solar power is being installed: does the municipality expect to use all of the electrical power thus generated, or will it be able to SELL its surplus, on whatever market, and achieve bottom-line cost-savings? Until you’ve done the math on this question, I don’t feel that you can responsibly claim that Princeton would face a long-term deficit by this purchase alone.
I am hopeful, however, that at least some of you will see the light of wisdom before dusk on Feb. 8 and will vote to acquire acreage which is so meaningful and necessary for the Princeton Ridge Preserve, for all of the creatures who use it, and for generations who will thank you for wisdom. I would not wish any of you to be on the wrong side of Princeton’s future history.
I intend to present an abbreviated version of this letter to PC on 2/8 but will send the full text to the Princeton Clerk. Thank you again for your time in reading with care,