Demolition ends tenant dispute in new Princeton park

Dilapidated cottage at Greenway Meadows Park torn down.

By: David Campbell
   A Hillsborough demolition crew tore down a dilapidated cottage at Greenway Meadows Park this week, all but ending a prolonged dispute by a former tenant who refused to leave and has vowed to continue her legal battle.
   The Princeton Township Committee approved a resolution Monday night authorizing a $16,500 contract with Star Contracting to demolish the old cottage on the former Robert Wood Johnson estate off Rosedale Road, 53 acres of which are now public parkland owned by the township.
   The regional land trust Delaware & Raritan Greenway became the landlord of Jayne Blankenship when the nonprofit organization brokered the $7.4 million land deal to preserve the estate in 2001.
   When the tenant’s lease expired last summer, the Greenway transferred ownership of the small parcel on which the cottage stood to the township, which planned to demolish the cottage as part of its parkland development.
   Ms. Blankenship had been living on the former estate for a minimal rent as a result of her friendship with a now-deceased relative of the property’s former owner, Evelyn Johnson.
   She and the Greenway ended up in court after she refused to pay a rent more in line with market values. Eventually, legal action was taken to evict her.
   In December, after Ms. Blankenship still would not vacate the property and was no longer paying rent, a lock was put on the door and a court order was granted denying her request to be let back in, Greenway attorney and trustee Kim Otis said Thursday.
   The Greenway helped her retrieve her belongings the following month, Mr. Otis said.
   "The basis of removing her originally was that the property was going to be removed from the rental market forever," the attorney said. "She was given 18 months’ notice according to law, and ended up staying one month short of two years."
   Ms. Blankenship, who said Thursday she is now staying with friends in the Princeton area, said she hopes to continue her legal battle if only to make a stand on behalf of tenants like herself.
   "It’s been devastating," she said. "I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay in the area."
   The former tenant said she is trying to hang on and remain here long enough for her son to graduate from an area private school.
   "I’m in the area, but I don’t have housing," she said.