With the possibility of major development in West Windsor on the Howard Hughes land at some time in the near future, it would be good for all concerned to learn as much as they can about the possibilities.

A very important aspect of this is the fact that our local planners and decision makers must make the most informed choices leading up to implementing whatever happens. Experience of planners and developers in an area like central New Jersey tells us that almost anything is possible. How desirable it is, however, may be open to debate.

Look around the West Windsor and Plainsboro areas, and you will find just about anything and everything. Just a few decades ago, much of the land was being farmed. But as time went on, farming became harder to do profitably in New Jersey, and the pressure to establish better and more affordable residential housing became more important. This happened both to sustain growing local business and to provide living space for commuters. Goodbye overalls and tractors, hello suit, tie and commuter trains.

One significant byproduct of this process in West Windsor was Mercer County Park, or Richard J. Coffee Mercer County Park, to be exact. As most everyone knows, its entrances are located on Old Trenton Road and Hughes Drive. It was developed in 1985 and includes land mainly from old farms and covers about 2,600 acres.

The new possible development area at Howard Hughes covers “only” 650 acres. Although only a quarter the size of the park, the new development area covers what would be significant on the West Windsor landscape.

It would be nice if all that area could be devoted to things that add to the diversity of our land uses instead of just more houses and stores. A number of suggestions for alternative uses have been given in previous editions of “Looking Back.”

For example, in Plainsboro, nearly two decades ago, a major new land use project was undertaken when the New Jersey Audubon Plainsboro Preserve was created in 1999. This was a joint project, with both Plainsboro Township and Middlesex County taking part. Included were 530 acres of land that had been owned by the Turkey Island Corporation and Walker Gordon Laboratory Company.

Today, that area is part of what is called the Plainsboro Preserve, which includes over 1,000 acres of land and the 50-acre McCormack Lake. If you want to visit, take Schalks Crossing Road east from central Plainsboro and turn left when you reach Dey Road. Continue on Dey Road until you reach Scotts Corner Road, where you turn left. The entrances to both Community Park and Plainsboro Preserve are then on the left just a short distance farther on. To see the lake, you have to get out and walk.

No one is suggesting that there should be no further development of land areas as large as the Howard Hughes property, or that the township needs another lake, but this is the time for conservation of both land and investment that is in the best interest of West Windsor Township.

And by that I mean the people who live here. It is time for West Windsor’s leadership to make it clear that the township is selective about what kind of development is acceptable here. There was a time when it was desirable to encourage the building of new residential developments and additional commercial locations to go with them. But, there are many who feel we may have reached the desirable limit some time ago.

West Windsor is not part of a metropolitan area like New York or Philadelphia. It’s a mostly rural township in central New Jersey. If new residents like the idea of having features that suggest a city, let them move to the city.

In the meantime, they should realize that with the proximity of Princeton University and the cultural attractions that go with that town just a few miles away, they have more of the desirable benefits than they are likely to have under a Hughes-developed community.

It should always be kept in mind that developers do what they do to make money. There may be an idealist among them here and there, but they wouldn’t be doing it at all if they made nothing in the deal. That is true even for some of those local residents who are in that business themselves.

There was a time when a high percentage of local business people worked in fields that were related to what the university did, i.e. education and research. From my perspective, it is regrettable that those days have faded away, since research is how I made my living for over 40 years.

When we think about such innovative research as that leading to the development of color television, for example, many people no longer realize that it happened right here in West Windsor. But it did, not far from “central” Penns Neck.

From what I understand about this round with Howard Hughes, research is not a desired byproduct. Making a profit is. And if West Windsor ends up with an excessive amount of high-priced housing and superfluous commuters, so what.

Now, let’s get started planning the new zoo.