The Princeton Planning Board will decide in February about whether the board takes jurisdiction for Princeton Academy of Sacred Heart’s minor site plan application, which proposes the construction of two turf fields on the school’s campus.
During the planning board meeting on Dec. 10 the Princeton Academy application was carried to Feb. 4. While the board did take jurisdiction regarding the notice, board members wanted to hear more testimony on the application before making a decision about whether to take action.
Princeton Academy is seeking minor site plan and conditional use approval to convert existing natural grass playing fields to synthetic turf fields and enlarge the overall area of the athletic fields. The project would construct 4.2 acres of synthetic turf playing fields on the school’s campus at Great Road.
If the board takes jurisdiction and were then to approve the application, the turf fields, once constructed, would also be leased by Princeton Academy to the Princeton Soccer Association (PSA) for use after school programs are concluded during the weekdays and weekends.
The question of jurisdiction was raised by Stuart Lieberman, attorney for one of the objectors to the application, who stated that the proposed project is inconsistent with the conditional zoning for site, which only allows for accessory uses.
“There is no way that this separate businesses activity is an accessory use to the school and that is how it is being portrayed. PSA is not the owner of the property and not a contract purchaser of the property,” Lieberman said. “What they are proposing to do is to have a completely unrelated organization, which may or may not be for profit, called the Princeton Soccer Academy, and transform the field in the back of the school to two soccer fields with artificial turf and run a very expansive soccer program on the fields.”
He added that what is being proposed are two principal uses.
“One is the school, which is a conditional use, and now there is a separate use of these fields turning it into a monetized type of situation with extraordinary field play,” Lieberman said. “The right application is a D-variance, because they are seeking to expand their conditional use. Princeton Academy is seeking to expand its conditional use by allowing an activity that is not customarily accessory there too.”
Robert Ridolfi, the attorney representing Princeton Academy, in response said Lieberman neglected to mention that Princeton’s land use ordinance permits nonprofit membership clubs for outdoor sports, including swim clubs, having no nuisance factor.
“The leasee of this application is a New Jersey not-for-profit corporation and is a membership club for outdoor sports and we believe it is permitted under the conditional use section of your land use ordinance,” he added. “Almost every educational organization in Princeton has taken advantage of using its facility or sharing their facilities with different organizations for fee generating purposes, so the school itself can survive.”
When asked to weigh in, Princeton Zoning Officer Derek Bridger did state that the school is a conditional use.
“The soccer academy has presented proof that they are a non-profit, which would entitle them to operate under nonprofit memberships clubs for outdoor sports and the key is having no nuisance factor,” he said. “I think we are in the right board. I think the key is to hear the case and analyze the nuisance factors.”
If the planning board does not take jurisdiction, the application would be referred to the Princeton Zoning Board.
“I think we have to continue with the application and basically take the jurisdictional objection by Mr. Lieberman under advisement, so we would basically be reviewing the application but contingent upon ultimately a decision by the board that the board has jurisdiction,” Princeton Planning Board attorney Gerry Muller said. “If it does not have jurisdiction, then it denies the application.”