Hearings set on firehouse site

9 November, 1988 (~estimated)

Hearing set on firehouse site

By Barbara Preston
Staff Writer

After a year of private negotiations Princeton officials are going public with a proposal to build a new firehouse on Witherspoon Street. Two public hearings are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday nights. Town and school officials will discuss in detail a proposal to swap a 14-acre parcel next to the Johnson Park School, now owned by the township, for a site of approximately half an acre next to the Valley Road Building on Witherspoon Street, owned by the Princeton Regional Board of Education.

The Witherspoon Street site, now being considered for the firehouse, is currently used as a parking lot for municipal employees.

Monday night, the Township Committee will discuss and possibly vote on the land swap at 8 p.m. in the Valley Road Building. Tuesday night, the school board will meet in the Valley Road Building to do the same.

The 14-acre tract off Rosedale Road was left to the township years ago in the estate of the late Gen. Robert Wood Johnson, according to Margen Penick, the Princeton Regional Planning Board chairwoman.

“It is a habitat for birds and wildlife,” she said, “and it is suitable for a school nature preserve. It also buffers the school from a busy road.”

Some concern has been expressed that the property, which Ms. Penick characterized as a heavily wooded tract on low-lying ground, might be wetlands and therefore unsuitable for swear fields or other active recreation.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if it were wetlands,” Ms. Penick said.

A consultant is assessing various pieces of Princeton land, including this site, for their suitability for active recreation, said school board member Corinne Kyle.

The Township Committee-School Board firehouse ad hoc committee, of which Ms. Kyle is a member, also has “looked at it and our judgment was that some of it could be used for active recreation,” she said.

“I would be astounded if it were mostly wetlands,” she said, refusing to speculate whether the board’ would refuse the swap if the property turned out to be unsuitable for active recreation.

She added that, although the land off Rosedale Road is deed restricted, the does not believe the deed excludes active recreation.

“The deed is very specific,” she said. “It is to be used as a public park.”

Ms. Kyle said she is using Marquand Park, which has picnic tables, a nature preserve and playing fields. as a model of the deed’s meaning of a park

There are marked walking trails on the tract, she added.

Ms. Kyle noted that beaux of the increasing school population, the need for recreation space has also grown

Township Committee cited the Valley Road Building parking lot as a favorite site for the firehouse last year. But the school board was concerned the safety of school children at the Community Park School, which is diagonally across the sheet from the proposed site.

Robert Rader, business administrator for the Princeton schools,’said the safety issue will be addressed.

As part of the agreement, the firefighters, in consultation with the school district, will develop and carry out a safety education plan in thc school, he said. The plan would also educate the community . large and the firefighters.

“Our biggest concern is that (the firefighters) will come racing down the sheet,” he said.

“I think we can design this to have the greatest safety possible for the children,” he added.

Another concern is parking in the Witherspoon Street-Valley Road area. Officials plan to square off the Community Park Pool parking lot to gain about 20 additional spaces.

A new firehouse is needed to replace the Chambers Street firehouse. For the past few years, the firefighters. and a consultant’s study have said that traffic congestion and Illegal parking on Chambers Street hinder firefighting response time.

The Mercer Engine Company No. 3 would vacate the Chambers Street station and move to Witherspoon Street. Proceeds from the sale of the firehouse would finance construction of the new approximately $1.8 million Witherspoon Street firehouse.

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