A new combatant has entered the fray in the effort to keep the Institute for Advanced Study from developing a 15-unit housing project on a tract contiguous to the Princeton Battlefield.
Opponents and some historians argue that the 21-acre parcel — an undeveloped property adjacent to the state park called Maxwell’s Field — was the center of General George Washington’s counterattack on the British during the Battle of Princeton.
Now the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the field — where the Institute plans to build the housing development — to its annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places.
The trust states that its goal is to “prevent construction of housing on a key portion of the Princeton Battlefield” and “permanently protect the battlefield from future development.”
“As proposed, the project would radically alter the integrity of a rare, intact battlefield,” says the trust in the Internet version of the list, which was released on June 6. The list can be found at the trust’s website, www.preservationnation.org.
“The battle at Princeton transformed prospects for the American Revolution. Not only did Washington’s success inspire countless soldiers to renew their commissions, it reinvigorated support for the sometimes desperate Colonial effort,” says the trust. “The story of our country’s fight for independence is incomplete without a fully preserved Princeton Battlefield.”
According to the trust, “the list spotlights historic places across America that are threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, inappropriate development, or insensitive public policy.”
The placement of the battlefield on the list is the latest attempt to stop the Institute from developing the property. In April the Princeton Battlefield Society filed a lawsuit aimed at stopping the project. The Princeton-based nonprofit group has opposed the project since it was originally presented to the planning board in 2003.
The project, approved by the Princeton Regional Planning Board in March, 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 provides for the permanent preservation of 10 acres next to the battlefield, and a 200-foot buffer zone with the park.
The suit, filed on April 5 with the state Superior Court in Trenton, alleges that the project violates a 1992 settlement the Institute made with Princeton Township intended to preserve the site from future residential development.
The suit also claims that the agreement prohibits the Institute from building cluster housing on the site since cluster housing was not in the E-2 zoning code at the time of the settlement. The Battlefield Society argues that the 1992 agreement limited the Institute’s building rights to zoning rules that were in effect in 1992.
In response to the property being named to the endangered list, the Institute issued a statement asserting that the housing plan was “carefully developed to respect and enhance the historic setting while ensuring that the institute will retain its essential character as a residential community of scholars of the highest quality.”
“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,” Institute Director Peter Goddard has said.
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.
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 its project. The Institute conducted its own archaeological survey of the property in 2007.
“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,” Goddard said. “We look forward to partnering with local, state, and regional bodies to this end.”
Institute for Advanced Study, Einstein Drive, Princeton 08540; 609-734-8000; fax, 609-924-8399. Peter Goddard, director. www.ias.edu.