In an effort to prevent Princeton University from “using West Windsor lands as a garbage dump,” the Planning Board mandated a cleanup of the university’s 80-acre site off Lower Harrison Street before unanimously approving a proposal for five storage warehouses on the site.
The maintenance yard addition will include the construction of five 10,000-square foot storage/warehouse buildings on the university’s property west of Route 1 on farmland stretching between Harrison Street and Washington Road. The site is located adjacent to watersheds for both the Delaware & Raritan Canal and the Millstone River.
In addition to the buildings, plans call for outdoor storage areas, parking areas, landscaping, a bio-retention stormwater basin, driveways, and fencing. The university also received waivers for banked parking, the distance permitted between structures, screening landscaping, and bicycle spaces. The five buildings, to be built over time on site, will be designed to be semi-agricultural in style.
The board addressed three key issues, the first of which was the condition of the current site. The 12-acre site of the proposed warehouses is on an 80-acre parcel, which is part of the 200 acres owned by the university in that area. Planning Board Chairman Marvin Gardner said he visited the site before the meeting and “what I saw was very disturbing.”
“There was literally debris strewn across the site,” he said. “There were vehicles parked on site that appeared to be inoperable, there were long trailers that appeared to be parked there permanently, and there were other hideous conditions that constituted an eyesore and a danger to the health and safety of the public.”
Gardner said that the university admitted that it was “embarrassed” by the condition of the site, and that it was already taking measures to clean it up. Ultimately, the board imposed a condition that not only the entire 80 acres in the board’s jurisdiction be cleaned up. With regard to the remaining land comprising the 200 acres, the board recommended the township’s enforcement division monitor the site. The board also imposed a six-month timeframe for the clean up to be complete, taking into consideration the upcoming winter.
Because the university only plans to construct the first warehouse now, with the rest coming three to six years from now, it must remove all debris associated with the construction of the first building immediately after construction is complete, Gardner said.
The next major issue centered around the residents’ concerns that the new structures would increase the burdens of the flooding of their homes that already occurs in the area. The university testified, using studies and data, that their efforts “would improve the conditions that exist today in terms of flooding, and that it would have a positive and beneficial effect regionally as well,” Gardner recalled.
Residents are also concerned about the state Department of Transportation’s Penns Neck bypass project, which was proposed in 2004 and called for the replacement of traffic lights on Route 1 between Harrison and Washington roads with overpasses.
The university proposed a gravel driveway for its trucks to come onto the site, which appears would impede the Penns Neck EIS roadway. Gary Davies, the board’s traffic consultant, testified that the state Department of Transportation would make a decision on the Penns Neck EIS shortly. Though the board requested the university revise the plan to relocate the driveway, the university agreed that if the roadway was to be built, “they would re-locate either the buildings or the roadway itself at its own cost and expense,” said Gardner.
The board also imposed a limitation on the hours of operation from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and that whenever possible, trucks coming onto site would use the Washington Road access, rather than the Lower Harrison area. In addition, the board said township officials would discuss the screening and landscaping buffers with the university and nearby residents to come up with an agreement.
“We don’t want West Windsor to serve as a dumping ground for the university campus that is situated in Princeton,” Gardner said. “While we can’t require the university to begin to build educational facilities in West Windsor at this juncture, we certainly don’t want them to use the West Windsor lands as a garbage dump.” — Cara Latham