The municipality of Princeton has reached an agreement with the Lanwin Development Corp., the compaly owned by the son of real estate mogul Bryce Thompson, that officials say will preserve 153 acres of undeveloped land in Princeton. The Princeton Council will vote on an ordinance Monday night to officially approve the deal. The land borders Hopewell Township and Montgomery.
Councilwoman Mia Sacks clarified that there are two different Lanwin Development Corp. parcels, and the one being preserved by the town is different than the one that has been slated for a housing development, Thompson Woods. The planning board is still reviewing that application. The land the council is voting to preserve has frontage on Province Line and Cherry Valley Roads. Several years ago, Toll Brothers had approvals to build houses on the land, but the project fell through.
The municipality will buy the Lanwin tract that borders Hopewell for $8.8 million. The George H. and Estelle M. Sands Foundation is contributing an undisclosed amount for the purchase price. Grants from the Sands Foundation and nonprofits total $3 million. The New Jersey Green Acres Program and Mercer County’s Open Space Program will contribute funding for the purchase, but the amounts they will donate are still unclear. The county has not voted on the funding yet. Local officials estimate that about $2 million will be spent from the municipal open space tax trust fund. The final price tag for the town is dependent on how much money is received from the state, county, and other private donations.
“The County is pleased to participate in the purchase of this environmentally sensitive property along the Princeton Ridge, ensuring its permanent preservation, a primary goal of the county’s open space trust fund,” Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said.
Princeton officials have been meeting with representatives from local and statewide conservation groups to find a way to preserve the land. Partners include the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Watershed Institute, the Friends of Princeton Open Space, and the Ridgeview Conservancy. Administrator Bernie Hvozdovic and council members Eve Niedergang and Mia Sacks participated in the negotiations. Niedergang works for the Watershed Institute.
The acquisition is part of an initiative called “Princeton’s Emerald Necklace” that aims to connect open spaces throughout the town and provide greater access to a more diverse group of community members. The property has been listed in Princeton’s Master Plan as a property that should be acquired because of its environmental significance.
“The more we learn about forests, the more we realize that fragmenting them even for ‘limited development’ is extremely harmful to populations of birds and animals,” said Wendy Mager, president of Friends of Princeton Open Space. “On the other hand, as we’ve seen during the pandemic, access to open space is essential for the health and wellbeing of our community.”
“This tract offers so much more than its obvious beauty,” said Michele Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. “It provides a home to endangered and threatened species like the Red-shouldered hawk and Barred owl, connects vital habitats, and has the potential to link neighboring communities through walking and biking trails. The benefits to Princeton and Mercer County are irreplaceable and New Jersey Conservation Foundation is thrilled to support this amazing preservation partnership.”
Princeton Municipal Administrator Bernie Hvozdovic thanked the Thompson Family for making a conscious choice to work with the town and open space partners to ensure that the parcel is preserved. Real estate mogul Bryce Thompson died in 2019, and Thompson’s son runs the Lanwin Development Corp.
In a joint written statement about the purchase, Sacks and Niedergang, praised the purchase as a model public-private partnership to support the goals of Princeton’s Climate Action Plan, writing in the press statement, “We are deeply grateful to the County, and to our community partners, for stepping up so quickly to ensure the future sustainability of our town. We are excited to preserve an important ecological resource in a way that is consistent with the smart growth principles guiding our development decisions.”
The Lanwin Development Corp. is still seeking to develop the 90.6-acre tract in the northwestern section of Princeton on the north side of Herrontown Road that is bordered by Herrontown Road, Herrontown Lane and Mount Lucas Road. Plans call for 30 homes there. About 67.4 acres would remain as open space if the plan is approved by the planning board. Three acres of the site will be used for affordable housing in the northeast corner of the property. A group of residents and environmentalists represented by local lawyer Bruce Afran oppose the project.