PRINCETON: Old alliances appear to be shifting on bond ordinance vote for vacant land


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By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Princeton council members will decide next week whether or not to buy and preserve 20.4 acres in the northern end of town for $4.4 million, an issue whose outcome will be determined amid shifting alliances on the governing body.
Councilwomen Jenny Crumiller and Jo S. Butler are political allies. Council President Lance Liverman and Councilman Bernard P. Miller served together on the former Township Committee. But on this land deal, past has not been prologue in how their votes have fallen into place.
“I can’t explain it,” Mr. Miller said Monday of how the alliances have been opposite what they are normally.
On Feb.8, he and the rest of council will consider a bond ordinance to acquire the vacant land between Route 206 and Mount Lucas Road on the Princeton Ridge. The vote, originally scheduled for Jan.25, was pushed back to give municipal staff time to firm up where all the funding is coming from.
Most of the money is from Mercer County and the state Department of Environmental Protection through its Green Acres program, although a question mark surrounds roughly $400,000 in state money to put the project over the top. Officials want to get a commitment from the state that those funds would be available to the town.
So far, Mr. Miller and Councilman Patrick Simon voiced their opposition to the ordinance, while Mr. Liverman, Ms. Crumiller and Councilwoman Heather H. Howard support it. Ms. Butler is the swing vote on a measure that needs four yes votes, given Mayor Liz Lempert cannot break the tie in this instance.
“I have no idea how the vote’s going to shake down,” Mr. Miller said.
To the degree that officials are discussing the issue privately, Ms. Butler and Ms. Crumiller have had a conversation about the matter.
“I agree we feel differently about it,” said Ms. Crumiller on Monday, although she’s quick to add that she and Ms. Butler have taken opposite sides before on other issues. Asked the last time that has happened, she replied, “I don’t remember.”
Ms. Crumiller supports the purchase on environmental grounds to preserve a natural wildlife habitat but also to prevent an age-restricted residential housing development from being built there. The contract purchaser of the property, Princeton Land Development LLC, has filed plans with the town for 36 townhouses for people age 55 and older.
For her part, Ms. Butler said the town should not make a policy of buying property “because we don’t like what could be built there.”
“I do disagree with her on that wholeheartedly,” Ms. Butler said.
“Jenny might not like 55 and over (housing), but that kind of housing tends to be very beneficial to our financial bottom line, because they (the residents) tend not to have kids in our schools,” Ms. Butler said.
Ms. Butler rejects the notion that she and Ms. Crumiller are on opposite sides of the purchase. She has said she would vote for the ordinance — provided the town gets assurances that the state funds would be there. She is leery of the town being on the hook for roughly $400,000 at a time when the municipality faces a preliminary $2-million-budget shortfall that would require a tax hike to fill.
Asked how she would vote without a 100-percent-guarantee from the state, Ms. Butler said, “I’ll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Mr. Liverman, in his first year as council president, predicted that the ordinance would be adopted by an overwhelming margin and that Mr. Simon would change his mind and Ms. Butler would vote for it.
“I think they’ll go along fine,” he said.
If so, that still would leave Mr. Miller voting no — a position that he has no plans to change. He said Princeton has acquired open space over the years, but he said it is “barely used” and “difficult to access.”
“The whole thing is not a good deal as far as I’m concerned,” Mr. Miller said.
“I think it’s a great deal,” Mr. Liverman said.

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