‘Now, it is my turn to retire’

Lawrence Township Councilman Michael Powers served as mayor in 2006 and 2010


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When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, it will mark the end of Township Councilman Michael Powers’ nearly three decades of public service.

Powers will have completed five terms on the Lawrence Township Council, making him the longest-serving member on the dais. The Democrat will have served 20 years on the governing body, including stints as mayor in 2006 and 2010.

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Powers has enjoyed serving on the Township Council – especially the problem-solving aspects. But he decided that his current term would be his last term.

“Serving on the Township Council requires a tremendous time commitment, and it takes a toll on family time,” he said.

The Lawrence Township native’s foray into public service began in 1997, when he was appointed to serve on the Lawrence Township Planning Board. He said he was recruited to serve because he was a Planning Board attorney in Burlington County, and had a land-use background.

Powers also served on the township’s Growth and Redevelopment Committee, including a stint as its chairman, before being elected to the Township Council.

“I did a lot of serving on the Planning Board and the Growth and Redevelopment Committee, but I thought I would have a better seat at the table as a Township Council member than as a Planning Board member,” Powers said.

Powers lost his first bid for elected office in 2001. He regrouped and was elected to the Township Council in 2003 on the Democratic Party ticket.

“I ran for Township Council on redevelopment issues. Young people and new residents would be shocked to know how blighted Lawrence Township was 20 years ago. In north Lawrence, the hardware store in the village was boarded up,” he said.

The former Lawrenceville Hardware store has been redeveloped into a mixed-use building with a restaurant on the first floor and rental apartments on the second floor.

In southern Lawrence Township, the former Trent Motel on the corner of Brunswick Pike and Cherry Tree Lane was replaced with a new three-story apartment building for income-eligible senior citizens.

“The Lawrence Shopping Center was mostly empty 20 years ago, but now it is bustling,” he said. “The former Acme grocery store has been replaced by the Lidl grocery store. The shopping center even has a Starbucks coffee shop.”

Brunswick Pike itself has undergone a transformation over the past 20 years, Powers said. A proposed boulevard concept was recently completed. The median between the northbound and southbound lanes was landscaped, and a roundabout or small traffic circle was installed at Whitehead Road.

More recently, the Township Council approved a redevelopment plan for the Princeton Pike Office Park at 3131 Princeton Pike. There are significant vacancies in the office park.

A developer plans to demolish three of the six office buildings and replace them with a mixed-use development that combines stores and rental apartments. Some of the apartments would be set aside for low- and moderate-income households.

“The Township Council is confronted with making difficult decisions, such as declaring the Princeton Pike Office Park as an area in need of redevelopment,” Powers said. “It was a first step that led to the proposed mixed-use project.

“No matter what you do, you cannot please everybody. That is the reality. You have to do what is in the best interests of the township. I know what can happen when you allow blight to grow.”

Sometimes, development is not the answer. At times, preservation is important – especially preservation of undeveloped land for open space preservation, the longtime councilman said.

Powers pointed to the preservation of the Loveless tree farm tract on Eggerts Crossing Road. The land will never be developed.

Also, the township purchased a parcel next to the Colonial Bowling Lanes and Entertainment Center on Brunswick Pike, bordering Colonial Lake. The parcel had been proposed for an extended-stay hotel.

During his term as mayor in 2006, Powers worked closely with Hopewell Township and Pennington Borough to convert the former Twin Pines airport into an athletic fields complex. It is located on Lawrenceville-Pennington Road.

“Lawrence Township is in great shape,” Powers said. “The Great Recession of 2010 caused the township to spend down its surplus fund to $154,000, but it has been regenerated and stands at $9 million.”

Looking back on his two decades on the Township Council, Powers said he had the “honor and privilege” of working with four chiefs of police, three municipal managers, three municipal attorneys, two municipal clerks and several township department heads.

“Now, it is my turn to retire,” Powers said.

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