Princeton Academy withdraws plans for turf playing fields

The Princeton Academy, a private school for boys in grades K-8, has withdrawn its controversial proposal to replace grass playing fields with artificial turf. A lawyer for the school said new plans will be resubmitted at a later time.

The Princeton Planning Board was scheduled to hold a hearing regarding the school’s proposed project on Thursday night, Feb. 4.

Bob Ridolfi, the lawyer for the school, told the board during that meeting that the school was not moving forward with the application. The school had requested the approval of a minor site plan and bulk variances.

“After meeting with my clients over the last few days, we have come to the conclusion that it would be in the applicant’s best interest to withdraw the application at this time,” Ridolfi told the planning board. “This will give us more time to take a second look at our plan and to spend more time thinking about the more global issues. We look forward to coming back to reapplying at the most appropriate time. We will let you know what that schedule is as soon as we’ve determined we are ready to move forward again.”

Ridolfi acknowledged that the proposal, which generated numerous letters to the editor, was very controversial. “We’ve learned a lot and we look forward to coming back with a renewed application at the appropriate time,” he said.

Students at the school, which was founded in 1998, play soccer, lacrosse, and baseball, participate in physical education classes, and enjoy recess playtime on two grass athletic fields. The project would have converted the existing grass athletic fields in the northeast corner of the campus into turf fields for soccer, lacrosse, and baseball. The plan was for the Princeton Soccer Association to lease the turf fields, using them on weekdays from 6 to 9:30 p.m. and on weekends until 7 p.m. A revised proposal featured permeable artificial turf and 16-foot-high portable light towers.

Neighbors of the school, which is located along the Great Road on the Princeton Ridge, objected to the plans, citing environmental concerns and issues regarding nighttime lighting and noise at the fields.

At a planning board meeting in December, Stuart Lieberman, a lawyer for a resident of Heather Lane who opposed the project due to concerns about lighting and noise, questioned whether the planning board had jurisdiction over the project. He argued that the town’s zoning regulations for the site only allow for accessory uses that do not create a nuisance. He also argued that the Princeton Soccer Academy, as a separate organization, was proposing a separate primary use for the site, not an accessory use. Ridolfi counted that it is common for schools to rent out their spaces to other organizations. During that December meeting, Princeton Zoning Officer Derek Bridger confirmed that the school is a conditional use on the site, but said the soccer academy had presented evidence that it was a nonprofit, which would make its use of the site acceptable. Neighbors have questioned whether the creation of a nonprofit was done to work around zoning regulations.

One Comment

  1. This is an ill fraught, shorted sighted plan. These plastic grass fields have a short life, often not lasting as long as their 8 year warranty. They begin to deteriorate the moment they are placed.

    The installation, maintenance, grooming machinery, cleaning, GMax or HIC testing, topping off infill (2-5 tons/year), closure for failing GMax or HIC testing, snow days (plowing the snow voids the warranty) and extreme heat (they have been shown to reach up to 202F) make this an extremely expensive short term fix.

    The environmental concerns are significant. Degradation of blades, backing and infill create 1-5 tons of microplastic pollution per year: in the soil, storm drains, waterways and lakes and beyond. They are an illicit violation of MS4 permits. The US EPA interim strategy for Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) in federally issued National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, signed Nov. 2020, is a necessary consideration. Every synthetic turf field tested to date has been shown to contain PFAS (The Ecology Center, Ann Arbor, MI; PEER.org).

    Injuries on synthetic turf are significantly higher than on natural grass. University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, and UH Sports Medicine Institute (2019) found that “athletes were 58 percent more likely to sustain an injury during athletic activity on artificial turf. Injury rates were significantly higher for football, girls and boys soccer, and rugby athletes. Lower extremity, upper extremity, and torso injuries were also found to occur with a higher incidence on artificial turf.” Read in full: “Artificial Turf Versus Natural Grass,” bit.ly/Turfinjuries.

    A 2012-2016 study of 1,280 NFL games (213,935 distinct plays) found:
    • 4,801 lower body injuries occurred affecting 2,032 NFL Players
    • Synthetic turf resulted in a 27% increase in non-contact lower body injuries
    • There was a 56% higher knee/ankle/foot injury rate on synthetic turf resulting in any
    time lost from injury and a 67% higher injury rate resulting in > 8 days time lost from
    • There was a 68% higher ankle injury rate on synthetic turf resulting in any time lost
    from injury and a 103% increase in injury rates on synthetic turf resulting in > 8
    days time lost from injury.
    • Applying the incidence rate ratios of injuries in this study, if every NFL game were
    played on natural grass during these 5 seasons, there would have been 319 fewer
    lower body injuries.

    The NFLPA president, J.C. Tretter, wrote in August 2020, “The unforgiving nature of artificial turf compounds the grind on the body we already bear from playing a contact sport … The data supports the anecdotes you’ll hear from me and other players: Artificial turf is significantly harder on the body than grass … Specifically, players have a 28 percent higher rate of noncontact lower-extremity injuries when playing on artificial turf. Of those noncontact injuries, players have a 32 percent higher rate of noncontact knee injuries on turf, and a staggering 69 percent higher rate of noncontact foot/ankle injuries on turf compared to grass … NFL clubs should proactively change all field surfaces to natural grass. This data is clear, so everyone involved with our sport should be similarly motivated to make this switch.” Read in full: bit.ly/NFLfield

    Patents reveal the myriad toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in synthetic turf systems and infills. They are installed with these hazardous chemicals; they are are hazardous at disposal… whether in landfills or illegally disposed of, which often happens. How are they then, magically safe for children and adults to play on, often for many hours per week?

    Additionally, they harbor MRSA and other bacteria. COVID19 can live on plastic for 3-9 days. Cleaning agents promoted by the industry and contractors as being on the US EPA List N as effective against Covid19 do not disclose these chemicals are not approved for use on porous materials (e.g. plastic), discharge into drains and waterways and are toxic to aquatic life. Turf burns offer an open portal for MRSA and other potentially life threatening infections.

    Lastly, because synthetic turf creates massive heat islands and off gas methane and ethylene, they do not meet criteria under Climate Action Plans.

    I am happy to provide source citations for all claims.

    Dianne Woelke MSN
    Ret. Advanced Practice Nurse & Public Health Nurse

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