What's this? Has Westminster Choir College decided to erect play structures in the parking lot for the amusement of its younger students? Not exactly.
A day or two prior, three stumps appeared where three healthy oak trees had been. Princeton has been losing many red oaks and pin oaks to bacterial leaf scorch
, but these trees were cut down for a different reason.
In the fall of 2009, this field next to the parking lot became a flashpoint for controversy when Rider University, of which Westminster is a part, proposed expanding its parking lot. The neighbors along Linden Lane, in the distance in the photo, fought the proposal at planning board meetings.
It seemed to me that the field was better suited to become a wetland to catch the surrounding runoff, and the last thing the world needs in the age of climate change is another parking lot. The neighbors would be looking out on pavement and the glare of streetlights where before an open field had stretched. Couldn't the students catch a shuttle from Rider to Westminster?
After the planning board approved the project, a neighbor's will provided funding for legal efforts to stop the construction. Those efforts continued until recently, judging from a phone call I got from a lawyer asking what stream the field's runoff flows into (Harry's Brook).
But the tyranny of car culture continues to sabotage efforts to circumvent it. Westminster made the case that its students often had no choice but to drive, and then scramble for parking spaces on local streets, competing with high school students and neighbors for scarce spaces. The uncertainty of parking often led to students being late for class.
Within a day or two of the oaks coming down, the fence went up.
Topsoil was scraped into a pile at the edge of the field.
People have been worried about the parking lot increasing runoff from the area. In fact, if memory from the planning board presentations serves, runoff from the parking lot will filter through several narrow raingarden-like plantings, then drain into an underground matrix of three-foot-wide tubes that will serve as an elaborate retention basin beneath the pavement.
There's going to be a whole lot of digging going on to bury these pipes.
After a storm, the collected runoff will then slowly drain out of the pipes through smaller openings and flow underground through the town's stormwater system down to Harry's Brook, which runs parallel to Hamilton Avenue a few blocks away.
Westminster will plant a berm along the back of the Linden Lane houses as a visual buffer, and students won't have to burn extra gas searching for parking spaces compromised by dumpings of yardwaste. We'll see if some arrangement was made to keep the lighting pointed down towards the ground.
Here, by the way, is the stream the runoff will flow to. Harry's Brook "daylights" at Harrison Street and Hamilton Avenue, after traveling underground from its beginnings at Palmer Square (and the bottom floor of the borough parking lot next to the library, which used to be a pond--thus the name Spring Street).
Back when kids had more free-range childhoods, without electronic distractions or air conditioning, hot summer days could be made cooler and more fun by exploring the insides of piped streams.
If Westminster has some pipes left over, there's a precedent for using them for playground equipment after all.