Battlefield Society Still Fighting IAS
By Donald Gilpin
It’s the same battlefield, but 238 years later another Battle of Princeton is heating up. The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) announced last week that it is moving ahead with its 15-unit faculty housing project on approximately seven acres of a 21-acre site, while the Princeton Battlefield Society and other opposition forces marshal resistance on political, historical, and environmental grounds.
State Senator Bob Smith (D-17), chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment, announced Tuesday that hearings on the IAS construction project and the Princeton Battlefield will be held on December 21 from 10 a.m. to noon in the Environmental Committee Room of the statehouse in Trenton. Representatives of the Department of Environmental Protection, the Princeton Battlefield Society and the IAS have been invited to attend, according to Mr. Smith. Others are welcome to participate. “Hopefully,” Mr. Smith said, ”we’ll get a little more information on the issue.”
In a December 9 statement, the Institute stated that it “has received all necessary approvals and permissions from the relevant agencies,” and that “the project meets a critical need for the Institute, which has taken great care to address all reasonable concerns relative to preservation issues, in consultation with historians James McPherson and David Hackett Fischer.”
But The Battlefield Society has been working to reinstate a temporary restraining order to prevent construction on the site while they continue with their appeals. The Battlefield Society has also joined with the Civil War Trust to circulate a petition online at www.change.org, so far signed by more than 9,000 people.
Also, Assembly Deputy Majority Leader Reed Gusciora (D-15) has written to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin requesting a stay on wetlands permits necessary for IAS to pursue the housing project.
“Construction on the battlefield is unnecessary and would damage the historic value of the location, the historic prestige of the town, and the delicate ecosystem which supports the area,” Mr. Gusciora said. “A stay will allow the courts to resolve this matter without the threat of imminent destruction of the historic landmark and its environmentally sensitive wetlands.”
The Battlefield Society’s hydrologist Amy Greene, in a 2011 report, identified wetlands on the site that were not known to the DEP at the time of its 2000 and 2005 field investigations. According to Mr. Gusciora, federal law requires that once wetlands are confirmed on the site no construction can take place without a historical survey and analysis as to adverse impact.
State Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-16) has also been in communication with Mr. Martin about this issue.
The Institute statement last week claimed that they had “made extensive changes to the site plans, including moving the project further away from the park, adjusting the profiles and materials of the housing units, and enhancing the landscaped screen between the site and the park. Archeological surveys have been conducted on the project site to recover any remaining artifacts, and to meet commitments made to the Princeton Planning Board in the course of its approval of the project.”
The IAS statement added that with the project taking seven acres of the 21-acre site, the other 14 acres would be open public space with a 200-foot buffer adjacent to the Princeton Battlefield State Park that will become, in effect, part of the park.
The IAS has commenced ground clearing for the 15-acre site, and, although Princeton Battlefield society lawyer Bruce Afran said he doubted they would start construction while the issue was under appeal, he claimed, “It’s disgraceful that they are proceeding at all. They are destroying an historic site. They should respect the fact that the matter is not resolved by the court. I’m very confident that the court will uphold the appeal in this case. This is a serious legal issue. They should stop what they are doing.”
Mr. Afran also urged local officials to weigh in. “The mayor should be standing up and speaking out on this. She has not spoken and neither has any member of the Council. They’re silent in the face of this academic institution.”
The Civil War Trust, a non-profit organization concerned with preservation of the nation’s battlefields, has offered to buy the disputed site for $3.3 million and transfer it to the Battlefield State Park, and, according to Princeton Battlefield Society vice president Kip Cherry, the Trust is willing to go up to $4.5 million.
In its petition, the Civil War Trust cites the importance of the historic Battle of Princeton as the culmination of George Washington’s ten-day campaign that “reinvigorated the American cause and marked a decisive turning point in the Revolutionary War.” The petition claims that the proposed IAS housing site, Maxwell’s Field, is “the site where Washington’s famous charge struck the British lines and transformed the battle into a momentous victory.”