Developer ordered to restore Lawrence Township property it clear-cut

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The would-be developer of a housing development within view of the historic Brearley House at the end of Meadow Road off Princeton Pike in Lawrence Township has been ordered to “cease and desist” clearing the land, and to restore the parcel.

Brandywine Operating Partnership L.P. conducted an extensive clearing of the land earlier this month, in excess of what is allowed without obtaining a soil disturbance permit.

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The issue of unauthorized clearing of the land was brought to Lawrence Township officials’ attention by resident Paul Larson at the Township Council’s Aug. 6 meeting.

The 33-acre parcel is at the rear of the Princeton Pike Corporate Center on Lenox Drive and is part of a settlement agreement between Lawrence Township and affordable housing advocates.

The settlement would allow Brandywine Operating Partnership to build a 300-unit rental development that sets aside 20 percent of the units for very low-, low- and moderate-income households.

However, an application has not been submitted to municipal officials.

In an Aug. 7 letter to Brandywine Operating Partnership representatives, Municipal Attorney David Roskos wrote that the developer’s agreement between the township and the developer requires that “any and all development of the property must be the subject of an application and approval issued by one of the township’s development boards.”

“As of this date, no approval has been issued with respect to a site plan, nor have any other activities been approved,” Roskos wrote. The clearing activities that have occurred without a permit “are therefore illegal,” he wrote.

Brandywine Operating Partnership must submit a soil permit application to restore the disturbed areas and must also submit a soil disturbance plan as part of that submission, Roskos wrote.

Larson, who raised the issue of the clear-cutting of the land, told council members he was “infuriated” over the events at Maidenhead Meadows Park, the 1761 Brearley House, and Meadow Road.

Maidenhead Meadows Park is on the east side of Princeton Pike, south of Province Line Road. The Brearley House is on Meadow Road, off Princeton Pike. The park and the house, which has been restored and is open for tours, belong to Lawrence Township.

The Brearley House was built in 1761 for James Brearley, whose family settled in Lawrence Township in the late 1600s. The house was purchased by the township in the 1970s and subsequently restored.

“Every ‘open space’ document and plan I have seen since I moved here in 2001 mentions preserving the integrity of the Brearley House and Meadow Road,” Larson said. “The historical integrity and rural character of the Brearley House took a direct, broadside assault on two sides, as did a substantial portion along Meadow Road also being clear-cut down to the road.

“It is also a smack in the face to all the men, women and children who toiled to acquire, properly mothball and then ultimately restore the Brearley House, who did the archaeological work at the site and who created a park,” Larson said.

Standing at the end of Lenox Drive in the Princeton Pike Corporate Center office park, it is possible to see the chimney of the Brearley House. The house now is clearly visible, which is a “good demonstration of the thoroughness and completeness of the clear-cutting project,” he said.

Larson reminded council members that Brandywine Operating Partnership had received Planning Board approval more than 20 years ago for another office building in the office park on that site, but it was never built.

The earlier plans, which were approved in the 1990s, provided for a buffer of about 650 to 700 feet from the nearest proposed office building to the Brearley House, he said. But the clearing that took place earlier this month is less than 90 feet from the house.

“Based on my past business background and perspective, quite simply, Brandywine couldn’t close the deal in 20 or 25 years. Now, after all this time, an opportunity arose to make some money on the retained development rights,” Larson said.

Larson said it is rare for a historic house to have its rural character intact, as is the case at the Brearley House. But it has been irreversibly compromised by the clear-cutting, he added.

It appears the Brearley House is on its way to becoming “just another one of those beautiful, historical homes compromised by modern, out-of-place, and too close residential development,” Larson said.

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