Photo courtesy of Walkable Princeton
In the quiet town of West-Windsor Plainsboro New Jersey, at the intersection of Quakerbridge Road and Route One lies an abandoned Cyanamid factory. The industrial grounds, spanning across Quakerbridge Mall, have lain vacant for many years, but the Howard Hughes Corporation is looking to change that. Since submitting a concept plan in February of 2017, the company seeks to transform the 653 acres into housing and potentially a new school.
The housing would aid West Windsor in the recently concluded lawsuit against New Jersey regarding affordable housing. The suit spans across five towns in Mercer County, and on March 8, 2018, Judge Mary Jacobson concluded the West Windsor lawsuit ruling that West Windsor must create an additional 1,500 units of new affordable housing (communitynews.org). While the plan presented by Howard Hughes would provide a solution to the lack of residency, the township argues that the proposed housing would be overwhelming to West Windsor residents and schools. Mayor of West Windsor, Hemant Marathe, along with his running mates Council Vice Virginia Manzari and Council Member Linda Geevers, centered their campaign in direct opposition to Howard Hughes and intend to fight any development.
As seen in the overwhelming victory of Mayor Marathe, many residents of West Windsor are opposed to the plan as well, citing how West Windsor not only lacks a need for any additional housing, but also that any new housing would be economically detrimental to West Windsor. The development would be a dense city right in the middle of suburban West Windsor, and many residents are worried whether their town could survive such a transformation. In addition, residents fret that the development would increase taxes and, with the site being so close to Route One, increase traffic.
At High School North, the opposition also proves strong. Through a poll conducted on the North student’s Facebook group, the Blue Hole, 88 percent of students oppose the mixed-use project, while the other 12 percent simply did not know enough about Howard Hughes to develop a position. The major concern raised by students and faculty is overcrowding. “[Howard Hughes] and two other projects in West Windsor Township are going to add an additional strain on the already nearing-capacity school district,” sophomore Vijay Talluri said. All schools in the district are either at or above the expected enrollment, so the overcrowding concern is not far-fetched.
With the recent addition to Village Elementary School and the impending extension of Maurice Hawk Elementary reaching capacity, the understandable fear of Howard Hughes overcrowding WW-P schools and ultimately lowering the quality of education is gaining momentum. “There are people sitting on the floor during lunch. How could we possibly take in all the new people who would move in?” sophomore Kyra Varnavas said.
Although there is fear surrounding the Howard Hughes development, there are also a few misconceptions. The development is expected to slowly be phased into the West Windsor landscape, attracting new residents gradually, rather than in a large and sudden increase. “It is important for people to be aware that development will not happen all it once––it will be phased in over many years to balance the impacts and benefits,” senior vice president of development for Howard Hughes, Adam Meister, said.
While an influx of students may cause overcrowding, precautions are in place. “The school board and district administration communicate frequently with township officials regarding future development in West Windsor and Plainsboro. This allows us to work together with timely information and be better prepared to plan for an increase in student enrollment,” vice president of the WW-P Board of Education Michele Kaish said.
Moreover, WW-P has faced an increase in enrollment in the past. “From 1980 to 2000, the combined population of Plainsboro and West Windsor tripled while our schools continued to provide an outstanding education to our students,” president of WW-P Board of Education Anthony Fleres said. Hopefully, any future increase would be no different.
The heated debate surrounding the development is ongoing, and while there is fierce opposition from residents, Howard Hughes will certainly not back down. The corporation still believes that its plan would best serve the township; but as shown by the efforts of Marathe, Manzari and Geevers, this battle is far from over. As the future of the land is still unclear, it is in the best interests of residents to stay up to date on any developments that are made. “I would encourage the West Windsor and Plainsboro residents to stay involved and stay informed. Howard Hughes is just one part of the equation. As a citizen, it's your obligation to stay informed and hold elected officials accountable for their actions,” Marathe said.