Some 230-plus years after the original Battle of Princeton, there’s a new fight brewing at the site of the historical battle.
The Princeton Regional Planning Board on March 1 approved a plan by the Institute for Advanced Study to build faculty housing on a parcel adjacent to the Princeton Battlefield State Park.
Opponents of construction on the 21-acre tract are vowing to take legal action to reverse the decision, claiming the property is historically significant.
The plan, unanimously approved by the board, calls for the construction of eight townhomes and seven single-family homes on a seven-acre portion of the tract, which is also adjacent to the Institute’s campus.
The approval also provides for the permanent preservation of 10 acres next to the battlefield, and a 200-foot buffer zone with the park.
“This plan not only enables us to maintain the essential residential character of our community of scholars, but it will also enhance the Princeton Battlefield Park, which the Institute helped to create and expand,” said Institute Director Peter Goddard.
“We plan to work with others to promote the improvement of the interpretative materials in the park so that visitors might gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the Battle of Princeton,” he added. “We look forward to partnering with local, state, and regional bodies to this end.”
The approved plan included amendments that resulted from talks between the Institute and historians James McPherson, professor emeritus of American history at Princeton University, and David Hackett Fischer, professor of history at Brandeis University. The amendments include:
• Moving a screen of trees from the western edge of the 200-foot buffer zone to the edge of the lots of the single-family homes on the eastern side of the zone.
• Adjusting one of the property lines on the northwest portion of the site.
• Removing the compost area on the undeveloped end of the southern field, and regrading the land.
• Adding a path and interpretive signage at the northern end of the property.
The Institute also says it is committed to developing an archaeological protocol that will ensure the proper detection, documentation, and deposit of any remaining artifacts before and during the construction of the plan. The Institute conducted its own archaeological survey of the property in 2007.
In response to the approval, opponents of the plan say they will appeal the decision within 45 days of the planning board’s final written approval. “This is not the end,” said Jerry Hurwitz, president of the Princeton Battlefield Society.
The nonprofit group has opposed the project since it was originally presented to the planning board in 2003. The group claims the property was the site of General George Washington’s counterattack and first victory against the British during the Battle of Princeton in 1777.
The board’s “decision was a mistake and its reasoning highly flawed. It came down to the institute being famous all over the world,” said Hurwitz.
Bruce Afran, an attorney representing members of the Battlefield Society and other objectors, said they have several actions planned. “We haven’t done all this to drop it. This will be appealed without question.”
In addition to the 45-day court appeal of the board’s decision, Afran said he is going to file a complaint with the state Department of Environmental Protection, claiming that the Institute misrepresented its wetlands in order to get state approval.
He also said he will file an action with the state’s Chancery Division, claiming that the Institute gave up its right to build on the property in a 1992 agreement. According to Afran, the Institute said it would only build “academic support structures” on the property, not homes.
Founded in 1930, the Institute researches fundamental problems in the sciences and humanities. Some of its renowned faculty members have included Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer.
Institute for Advanced Study, Einstein Drive, Princeton 08540; 609-734-8000; fax, 609-924-8399. Peter Goddard, director. www.ias.edu.