4.3 Wooded Acres Preserved

A 4.3-acre wooded property off Route 206 that was once proposed for condominiums has been permanently preserved by a public-private partnership, adding to a green belt in the environmentally sensitive Princeton Ridge.

The purchase of the Klepper property on October 9th marks the end of a multi-year process that began when the town’s planning director brought the property to the attention of Wendy Mager, president of the Friends of Princeton Open Space, in 2009. In addition to FOPOS, preservation partners include New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the Municipality of Princeton, Mercer County, the state Green Acres Program and the Borden Foundation.

The newly-preserved property includes forests characteristic of the Princeton Ridge, with mature trees, large boulders and wetlands. It is located on the east side of Route 206, near the Ewing Road intersection and less than a quarter-mile from the Ricciardi property, which was preserved in 2011 by many of the same partners.

“This property is relatively small, but it’s a vital link in the network of greenways that are being created in the Princeton Ridge area,” said Michele S. Byers, Executive Director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

“The Friends of Princeton Open Space are so happy that this important property on the Ridge could be preserved because of the owner’s interest in conservation and with the help of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, which handled all the nuts and bolts once the acquisition was agreed on,” said Mager.

She noted that the Klepper property is part of a 27.7-acre parcel that was approved many years ago for a 49-unit townhome development, Princeton Senior Townhomes, despite important environmental attributes such as undisturbed forest, threatened species habitat, wetlands, and a large unique boulder field.

The development plan was strenuously objected to by environmentalists, including FOPOS and the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association. A lawsuit by neighboring property owners resulted in a lower density than originally proposed, and fortunately preservation became an option.

After learning that the 4.3-acre parcel’s original owner, Anne Klepper, was no longer associated with Princeton Senior Townhomes, Mager set out to track her down, only to learn that she had recently passed away. Undeterred, she located Klepper’s daughter, Leslie Klepper Arkin, who agreed to sell the property for conservation.

“We were lucky the development was not immediately built and eventually we were able to work with one of the owners to acquire this parcel,” Mager said.

The acquisition was completed using FOPOS’s Green Acres grant, grants to FOPOS and New Jersey Conservation Foundation from the Mercer County open space program, funds from Princeton’s open space tax, and a grant from the Borden Foundation to cover the costs of appraisals, title work and legal fees.

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said she is thrilled at the acquisition of a key property on the Ridge, which she had helped spearhead efforts to protect when she was a member of the Township Council, prior to consolidation.

“It’s clear that town residents recognize the Ridge as a precious and special resource,” Lempert said, pointing to current efforts to prevent a proposed additional gas pipeline from damaging forest and streams in that area. She added that the town is getting senior housing through another project, the Copperwood development, that is much more “green” than Princeton Senior Townhomes would have been.

Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes praised the acquisition. “Mercer County is pleased to continue our partnership with New Jersey Conservation Foundation and the Friends of Princeton Open Space to preserve this environmentally sensitive land on the Princeton Ridge,” said Hughes. “We look forward to the enhancement of the trail network in that area that will allow many people to enjoy it for generations to come.”

Mager said she is grateful to Lee Solow, Princeton’s planning director, for drawing her attention to the Klepper property. “It taught me that you should never give up on a property that is worth preserving,” she said. “Projects get approved, but not all of them get built, and sometimes there is still a chance to turn things around. I especially appreciate the spirit of conservation and public-mindedness that Leslie Klepper Arkin showed in working with us.”

Mager said she hopes to talk in the near future with the owners of other lots that were part of the proposed development, in the hope that they might be willing to preserve their land. “This is not the end of the story,” she said.

The Klepper property will be owned 65 percent by Princeton, 25 percent by New Jersey Conservation Foundation and 10% by Friends of Princeton Open Space.