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Statement on the Proposed Trail at Princeton Pike Development

On May 6, 2019, members of the Board of Trustees presented Lawrence Township Town Council with a cover letter and statement regarding the proposed development known as the Trail at Princeton Pike.  Members of the Planning Board, Township Manager Kevin Nerwinski, and Township Clerk Kathleen Norcia were copied on the letter and position statement made by the society.  The statement appears below.  PDF copies of supporting materials can be found by clicking the appropriate link:  Letter to Township Council, Statement by Dr. Ian Burrow, Statement by Michael Mills.

Lawrence Historical Society

Position Statement on Trail at Princeton Pike Subdivision Application

May 6, 2019

 

As the stewards of the 1761 Brearley House (National and State Register of Historic Places), and in light of our longstanding partnership with the Township of Lawrence, the Lawrence Historical Society would like to express our opposition to the proposed Trail at Princeton Pike subdivision application in its current form due to the direct threat to the 1761 Brearley House and its associated archaeological site. Our two main concerns center on the destruction of archaeological site 28-me-297 and encroachment onto the view shed of the 18th-century Georgian patterned brickwork house.  We urge the Township to uphold our shared commitment to historic preservation and investment in the 1761 Brearley House. 

 

Lawrence Township has invested significant resources into preserving the 1761 Brearley House and its view shed.  The Township purchased the house and 48-acre tract with Green Acres Funds in 1978.  The Township and the Lawrence Historical Society then went to great effort to preserve the 1761 Brearley House, raising $700,000 with assistance from the New Jersey Historic Trust to restore the house in 2000. Lawrence should take great pride in this effort as the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office holds it up as a model.  The Township has also taken significant steps to protect the historical feel of the area by designating Meadow Road as a historic landmark in 2000 and establishing Maidenhead Meadows Park in 2015, which finally realized a master park plan dating back to the 1970s anchored by the 1761 Brearley House.

 

As the only historic house open to the public in Lawrence Township, the 1761 Brearley House is a vital local cultural asset.  The Society has provided public tours since 1996, attracting local residents and visitors from across the U.S. and overseas each year.  The site brings history alive for local school children.  From 1998-2005, hundreds of Lawrence Middle School students participated in archaeological digs with Hunter Research that resulted in the discovery of over 1,000 artifacts.  Currently, every spring over 500 Lawrence Township school students visit the 1761 Brearley House, including second graders from Eldridge Park Elementary School and fourth graders from the Lawrence Intermediate School.  The proposed site plan for the Trail at Princeton Pike will displace the historic context of the house and end the treasured experience of stepping back in time. 

 

The Society has two primary concerns with the proposed site plan.  First, we object to the destruction of archaeological site 28-me-297.  This site contains significant prehistoric and early American artifacts as well as the known location of the historic barn associated with the 1761 Brearley House as noted by Dr. Ian Burrow in his report posted on the Township’s website and in his attached review.  The Society is also deeply alarmed by the encroachment onto the view shed by the proposed plan to build out to the park boundary within 90 feet of the 1761 Brearley House.  This will do irreparable damage to the view shed and negatively impact the site’s historical integrity and visitor experience.  We ask that the Township consider increasing the open space between the 1761 Brearley House and its associated archaeological site and the subdivision to protect both of these vital historical resources.

 

Other issues that must be considered include the impact of increased run-off from the proposed development on the 1761 Brearley House and historic Meadow Road.  The Township will also need to substantially increase funding for policing and maintenance of Maidenhead Meadows Park.

 

While the Society objects to the current site plan, we do not oppose thoughtful development of the area and view such development as an opportunity for partnership.  Over the years there have been some issues that the Society and Township have tried to resolve but were unable to due to the remoteness of the house.  With proposed development of the adjacent property, even at a distance greater than that in the proposal, some of these issues could now be addressed.  The Brearley House currently has only an outdated copper wire phone line and no cable or fiber optic connection.  The copper in this service area is being phased out by Verizon, which will affect the functionality of the burglar and fire alarms at the house and must be replaced.  We request that either a Comcast or Verizon connection be made to the 1761 Brearley House for internet/phone service and to upgrade the alarm systems and install security cameras.

 

Another item that could both enhance the historic setting of the house, as well as address a shortcoming that appears to be in the current site plan proposal, would be to place a reconstruction barn near the 28-me-297 site.  The current site plan lacks a community center for the subdivision.  A reconstructed barn could serve both the subdivision and the Society as a place for meetings and events, while at the same time protecting the historic view shed of the house.   Future exploration of the 28-me-297 site would be enhanced by such a structure since the main findings in that area are believed to be the original barn foundation.

 

The Society welcomes the opportunity to work constructively with the Township to resolve our concerns about the proposed Trail at Princeton Pike subdivision application.  We are dedicated to protecting the 1761 Brearley House and preserving Lawrence’s rich and diverse history for future generations.