Princeton University soccer complex wins approval

New stadium endorsed by Planning Board

By: Courtney Gross
   The Regional Planning Board of Princeton has unanimously approved plans for a new soccer stadium at Princeton University.
   Proposed for a site between Washington Road and Elm Drive, the new soccer complex will include a practice field with synthetic turf and a game field with natural grass. The 99-acre site is located in the center of campus and is in close proximity to dormitories where student athletes could reside, university officials said Thursday.
   The soccer stadium, slated to open in the fall of 2008, will include three pavilions with restrooms, concession stands and a press box. It will seat 2,412 spectators. Many of its features, such as size and location, are subtle upgrades — for example, aluminum grandstands instead of the current wooden bleachers, university officials said.
   "Certainly there is no major change in how these fields are currently being used," University Architect Jon Hlafter said at Thursday’s meeting. "What will change is how these fields are used conveniently by students."
   Mr. Hlafter said the university expects no increase in athletes, spectators or tournaments at the new facility.
   The board’s approval included several variances regarding lighting and signage, as well as several waivers for the lack of loading space, lighting pole heights and the use of florescent lighting.
   The stadium will be several hundred feet from nearby roadways, university officials said, and therefore larger signs would not be overwhelming. As for lighting, it will be in compliance with the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s standards and state-of-the-art techniques will be used to reduce the impact on surrounding properties, officials said.
   "I can’t wait for Beckham to come visit us," Planning Board member and Princeton Borough Councilwoman Wendy Benchley said, referring to professional soccer player and pop culture icon David Beckham.
   The lights, which will stand at 90 feet on the game field and 80 feet on the practice field on eight separate poles, will be on most nights during soccer season — which runs from the end of August to mid-December, said Associate Director for Facilities and Athletics Jeffrey Graydon.
   Noting the likely effect of the stadium’s lighting, Planning Board member Marvin Reed said, "That whole stretch of Faculty Road is pretty much going to be an illuminated part of the campus. … I’ll accept that, but I don’t think we should encourage people to think it’s not going to be a bright part of town."
   In addition to the soccer stadium’s approval, the Planning Board also reviewed and endorsed several ordinances introduced by the Princeton Township Committee, including zoning revisions to the current site of the University Medical Center at Princeton.
   The ordinance creates criteria for developers specific to the 743-space Henry Avenue parking garage, such as lighting requirements, a condition not to increase the structure’s footprint and limitations on the amount of parking spaces in the facility.
   The revisions reviewed by the Planning Board on Thursday accompany several zoning changes the Township Committee made last year to the hospital’s site in anticipation of its proposed move to Plainsboro. The recent additions to the ordinance were prompted by questions raised by the medical center’s neighbors and were addressed by the committee this month.
   Because some of the conditions arose from a 1996 Zoning Board of Adjustment approval for the garage, some Planning Board members raised concerns on their specific nature and asked the Township Committee to expand on their meaning.
   Mark Solomon, an attorney for the medical center’s parent company, Princeton HealthCare System, said taking the conditions from a zoning approval in general was not a "good practice" for drafting ordinances.
   Another condition set by the Planning Board in its endorsement was to consider an empty lot slated as a buffer adjacent to the garage for recreational use.
   The Planning Board also endorsed an ordinance introduced by the committee that would increase developers’ application fees.