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Princeton Academy removes application before planning board for proposed turf fields

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Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart recently withdrew its application before the Princeton Planning Board for a proposed turf athletic complex on campus.

The independent boys school had been seeking minor site plan and conditional use approval to construct 4.2 acres of synthetic turf playing fields on the school campus at Great Road. The proposed project would have converted the existing grass field space that adjoins Varsity and Radvany fields.

The public hearing for Princeton Academy had been scheduled to continue on Feb. 4, when attorney Robert Ridolfi, who was representing Princeton Academy, announced the decision to withdraw the application that evening.

“After consulting with my clients over the last few days, we have come to the conclusion that it would be in the applicant’s best interest to withdraw the application at this time,” he said. “This will give us more time to take a second look at our plan and spend more time thinking about the more global issues and we look forward to reapplying at the most appropriate time. We will let you know what that schedule is as soon as we determine when we ready to move forward again.”

If the application had been approved by the planning board, the turf fields would have been primarily for soccer, lacrosse and baseball. According to application documents, the fields would have also been used by the Princeton Soccer Academy (PSA).

Princeton Academy of Sacred Heart would have leased the fields to PSA NJ for use after school programs concluded during the weekdays and weekends.

The application faced pushback from neighbors along the the area site of the proposed construction and residents in the Princeton Ridge area. The site abuts the boundary line near residential homes off of Heather Lane.

Residents in the area had voiced concern over the removal of the 4.2 acres of natural surface and trees to make way for the artificial turf fields. Their concerns also included the 11 proposed portable light towers, stormwater management, and potential issues of toxic runoff from the site.

Additionally, some residents raised issues with zoning regulations pertaining to property and the lease agreement with Princeton Soccer Academy NJ, the nonprofit arm of the Princeton Soccer Association.

“This is a clear attempt to skirt around zoning regulations,” said Kristin and Ron Menapace of Heather Lane in a recent letter. “To provide clarity around the agreement between Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart and PSA, Headmaster Rik Dugan and PSA president John Newman amended their contract, nine days ago, to state that the school was leasing the land to the newly formed non-profit arm of the PSA, not the for-profit PSA they’ve been working on this scheme for years.”

Princeton Academy’s Director of Marketing and Communications Joanna Dugan said at this time, the school has no further comment.

In a memo to the board, prior to the withdrawal of the application, board attorney Gerry Muller and Zoning Officer Derek Bridger stated that it was their opinion that, subject to testimonial and documentary evidence submitted during the hearing, that the proposed project is a permitted conditional use.

Additionally, they suggested the board start with the presumption that Princeton Soccer Academy NJ is a nonprofit and after evidence is submitted and arguments by Ridolfi and an attorney for an objector Stuart Lieberman, the board should vote on whether Princeton Soccer Academy NJ is a nonprofit, according to the memo.

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