Friends of Princeton Open Space has been involved in advocacy since board members persuaded the Institute for Advanced Study not to pursue a development proposal in the early nineteen-eighties. Not long after, prime open space on the western Princeton Ridge, and a farm adjacent to Stony Brook, became the targets of “builder’s remedy” lawsuits – where developers seek to have zoning restrictions set aside so they can build dense developments including affordable housing. FOPOS intervened in the litigation on the side of Princeton Township. We helped achieve good outcomes in both cases: one tract was developed with affordable housing with 2/3’s of the land preserved, and the other was developed with market-rate housing in “cluster” fashion – again, preserving substantial acreage.
FOPOS advocated for an open space tax in both the former Borough and Township. This tax provides funds for preservation and also gives municipalities access to 50% financing from the state Green Acres Fund. Combined with state and county grants to FOPOS and other non-profits, this has provided great leverage of funding for land acquisitions. In 2014, FOPOS and other groups successfully urged Princeton voters to support a permanent source of funding for Green Acres from a preexisting state tax, avoiding the necessity for approval of serial bond issues.
FOPOS has been a watchdog on the process when master-plan-listed open space has been proposed for non-conservation uses. We have given testimony before hearings at the DEP and State House Commission on this issue, successfully obtaining multiple-acreage replacement land when part of Smyth Woods Preserve was used to expand Elm Court. FOPOS has been active in recommending open space acquisitions during revisions of the Master Plan, and frequently speaks at hearings regarding land-use applications that impact water, forests and important habitat. We have been successful in getting landowners to donate pathways and other easements.
Currently, FOPOS’s president is chairing the Passive Open Space Advisory Committee. This committee is making an inventory of passive open space and the associated maintenance needs, and will make recommendations to the Mayor and Council regarding budgeting and staffing.
FOPOS has partnered with The Garden Club of Princeton to start a special collection of works at the Public Library regarding gardening with native plants, and the groups jointly sponsored an appearance by professor and author Douglas Tallamy on this topic. We hope that by helping homeowners choose attractive native species rather than invasive exotics, we will help Princeton’s forests and meadows remain healthy and viable habitat.
FOPOS has joined with New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association to appeal permits granted by the state Department of Environmental Protection to TRANSCO for a second gas pipeline that traverses the Princeton Ridge, crossing many wetlands and category-1 protected streams. While TRANSCO has largely completed the work, we hope that the court will establish legal principles that are important as many more pipelines target protected open space in Mercer County – such as the proposed PennEast pipeline’s plan to cross Baldpate Mountain.
With only a volunteer board and limited staff, FOPOS has had a significant impact on environmental issues in Princeton.