Princeton governing body slated to decide fueling station location Monday night

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A picture of the municipal fueling station, taken from a resident who lives in the neighborhood adjacent to the station in Princeton.

The governing body for the municipality of Princeton is slated to decide Monday night whether to move a controversial municipal fueling station from Mt. Lucas Road or leave it where it is, in spite of the public outcry about the impact of the station from residents in nearby neighborhoods.

Officials will review recommendations from the town’s public works committee and, even though the meeting is billed as a “work session.” the council is slated to vote on accepting the recommendations and to authorize town employees to implement them.

The municipal public works committee reviewed three alternative sites for fueling stations that were recommended by a site plan review advisory board subcommittee: The existing fueling station on Harrison Street, an area near the Princeton Police Department, and property owned by the Princeton Public Schools on Valley Road. According to the report, there were significant issues with all three sites.

Public works committee members have recommended that officials do the following instead, at a combined cost of more than $120,000: keep the fueling station at the Mount Lucas location; move the fueling of some diesel public works vehicles to the Harrison Street location; remove the canopy on the Mount Lucas location, at a cost of about $22,000; install new lighting at the station to replace the canopy lighting, at a cost of $5,000; add landscaping to the Mount Lucas site at a cost of $13,347; extend the screening wall three additional feet so it will be nine feet high, at a cost of about $39,000; add brick veneer to the site to make appearance of station consistent with the new first aid squad headquarters, at a cost of about $47,000; remove a generator to improve the appearance of the fueling station; and explore making repairs to the River Road fueling facility to allow the fueling of vehicles there.

The new, expanded fueling station opened in the spring. Town officials decided to place it on what used to be the Terhune Road extension between Route 206 and Mount Lucas Road. The town spent almost $570,000 on the project. Access to Route 206 was closed off there, but another entry point was not added. The only road where residents can make a left to head south onto Route 206 from that area now is Cherry Hill Road. Residents said traffic has gotten much worse in the area with the road closure, that the fueling station has brought larger trucks to the area, and that the changes have caused dangerous conditions for school children who walk or ride bikes to school. Residents said the station canopy is an eyesore, and that bright lights shine into their homes at night.

At a tense council meeting in October, residents who live in neighborhoods near the fueling station chastised officials for what they said were poorly thought out fueling station plans that did not include public input. They also told officials they should be embarrassed by the project and their lack of responsiveness to residents’ concerns over the five months since people complained in April.

“The canopy is still there and it is hideous. If you lived across the street would you want that unkempt mess sitting across from you?” resident Dennis Scheil said, adding that the traffic at the intersection frequently backs up.

“It’s beyond horrible. There was no thought given to a plan, no traffic studies done,” Scheil said, adding that he and others worry that a child could get hit by a vehicle because the situation is so bad. and drivers are so frustrated.

Resident Paul Raeder reminded the mayor that she promised back in April that the canopy would be removed. “Five months later, why is it still there?” Raeder said at the October meeting. Resident Bob Holly said the current government in Princeton can’t seem to get anything done, and that officials were trying to blame a lot of the problem on the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT).

Mayor Liz Lempert said the NJDOT has denied requests to allow a left turn onto Route 206 from the Valley Road intersection since about 2014. Resident Jennifer Deming then questioned why the town went ahead with the project when the state had not given permission for the left turn, rather than waiting to work that out. “If the issue with the NJDOT has been longstanding, I’m surprised the fueling station was ever put up,” she told the council at the October public meeting.

Lempert told residents that officials were waiting to see which option was chosen for the fueling station location before the canopy would be removed. If the fueling station were to be moved, officials wanted the option of moving both the tank and the canopy. If the fueling station were to stay in its current location, the canopy would come down, she said.

Even though an official vote had not been taken yet as of last week, some people noted that work was already being done at the Mount Lucas station to make the location more permanent.

To read the reports from various municipal committees regarding the station, follow the link.

The Princeton municipal fueling station on Mount Lucas Road. Photo: Dennis Scheil.

This story has been updated to include a correction/clarification regarding the mayor’s October statement about the canopy removal.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

6 Comments

  1. The lights are a legitimate concern which should be addressed. So is the traffic issue, which clearly needs to be worked through. The Mt. Lucas location, however, seems fairly ideal for such a structure. It is between 2 busy through roads, it abuts the municipal complex on one side and the Mountain Lakes Preserve on the other. It is at the edge of 2 residential neighborhoods, but not in the midst of one.

    The beauty or ugliness of the canopy is a matter of opinion. As a taxpayer and a resident, I don’t want to pay to remove a canopy that is already there and that I am sure serves a purpose. When I am driving past the filling station (as I do frequently), it is just another building that I drive past, like the municipal complex or Valley Road school or the strip mall on the other side of the light on 206. They are not my taste architecturally, but then again, many buildings in Princeton are not my taste architecturally. As a taxpayer, my main concern is that the building and filling station are well-built and well-located for their purpose, and nothing I have seen convinces me that this is not the case. I don’t want to spend money removing a canopy just because some people find it ugly. The strip mall just beyond it heading north on 206 is ugly, should we remove that?

    I am not a fan of many decisions made by the town administration, but it is hard for me to understand the vast amount of whining around this project. Our vehicles have to refuel somewhere, and an empty island of land between two busy roads seems about as good as it is going to get.

  2. Perhaps building the filing station in the middle of town wasn’t the best idea. You only need to go up 206 a little bit to find industrial sites where it could have been built without a problem.

  3. Another thing, I assume that the design and location was the best choice they had. If it were to be built in a different location, the outrage would come from a different set of neighbors. Moving it now and spending more money is ludicrous so that possibility shouldn’t even be thrown there. My point about taking responsibility of decisions being the best or mistaken ones, is that they need to own them and « sell » them to the public and it looks like they can’t. They need to be able to communicate with the tax payers, of course it is impossible to make everybody happy, not everybody is thrilled about changes or they don’t want it in their backyards, it is obvious; but if it is clearly explained with pros and cons, if they try transparency, perhaps they won’t look that bad, which happens so often, it is their mo what is not the best, in my opinion.

  4. Princeton residents should be gratified to learn from the mayor that “local officials didn’t want to waste money” as the reason for not following through on an earlier public commitment. That’s actually progress when a local official would even mouth the words “waste of money.”

  5. It seems to me, and please, correct me if I am wrong, that the council made a decision to build this without considering the neighbors’ input.
    I recently read, before the elections though, that the mayor said that they were going to look into removing the canopy. When I read that, I thought the mayor was sounding like a parent trying to appease annoying children when nothing is really going to happen. It was built, it is there, and though usually council is more reactive than proactive, at this point, after spending all the money, will they spend more removing the canopy or following any of the suggestions of the public works committee or board or whatever it is??? Seriously??? Or is this council meeting/vote just to look as they care?
    The council needs to learn something very important and it is to take responsibility. They make mistakes but refuse to own them, they try to erase them, to back down when they are confronted with the outrage of the taxpayers, this is the m.o., it happens with the park meters scandal, they lost money with the fiasco; they pay consultants, they take action and then they backtrack. This is not different, same old, same old.

  6. If the filling station stays, how about having a light switch so that the lights are only on when a vehicle is there? It’s inconsiderate and environmentally irresponsible to have the lights on all the time.

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