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Vol. LXV, No. 46
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
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IAS Says that Preservation and History Are Key Components in Its Housing Plans

Ellen Gilbert

“We’re not a nine-to-five place at all,” said Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) Director Peter Goddard in a recent interview. Emphasizing the importance of being able to offer housing to scholars from around the world, Mr. Goddard said that the Institute’s “residential aspect” was second only to its strong endowment in ensuring its status as one of the world’s leading centers for theoretical research and intellectual inquiry.

Concern about the Institute for Advanced Study’s residential character is particularly keen right now, with a proposal to build additional housing coming before the Princeton Regional Planning Board on December 1. According to IAS, the project site of seven-and-a-half acres sits entirely outside and to the east of a 200-foot-wide historical buffer zone. The plan’s most vocal opponent, however, The Princeton Battlefield Society, claims that the new housing will be built on land where the Battle of Princeton was fought on January 3, 1777. This claim is largely based on a report prepared by Milner Associates of Philadelphia.

American military historian John W. Shy’s comments are among the strongest of those made by several historians asked by the Institute to respond to the Milner report. “I have seen a copy of the Milner report, and found nothing in it to refute the carefully done monograph by Samuel Stelle Smith, The Battle of Princeton (1967),” Mr. Shy said. “The battle proper was about fifteen minutes of intense fighting in the area of the present park. After that there was a running fight all the way to Nassau Hall. It seems unreasonable to claim that any of this latter territory, which would include most of southwestern Princeton and the central building on the University campus, should become part of the battlefield park.”

In addition to the absence of support for claims made by the Milner report, Mr. Goddard pointed to the Institute’s long-standing consideration for its “environment and historical context” as a positive precedent for the proposed housing. “The Institute has been on this land since 1939,” he observed. As the Institute’s first permanent home, the tranquility of the setting was an important consideration. “Its favorable setting is no accident,” notes a recent post on the Institute’s website. “[T]he Institute itself preserved the Institute Woods through the Green Acres easement and played a key role in the founding and expansion of the Princeton Battlefield State Park.”

The 20 new houses, which have been in the planning stages for about ten years, would not reflect an increase in the Institute’s population, but rather a wish to enable more faculty to live closer to the Institute. Indeed, among the positive results of the new housing that Mr. Goddard sees is a diminution of vehicular traffic in town as more people walk to work.

Other benefits to the community include an increase in the tax roll, since houses occupied by Institute faculty pay taxes, in addition to the “mutually responsible relationship” enjoyed by the IAS and the Township about its level of payments in lieu of taxes. “We certainly have not tried to shirk taxes,” noted Mr. Goddard. He also cited the Institute’s ability to attract “extremely talented people from around the world” as a boon to the community, which may enjoy two or three free Institute-sponsored events a week during the academic year.

Mr. Goddard said that the recent vote in favor of consolidation would not affect the IAS or its plans for the future.

Both Mr. Goddard and IAS Associate Director John Masten emphasized the ways in which IAS has “listened and adjusted” to comments on their proposal, including those of the Battlefield Society. As a result, the proposal represents “compressed development” that does not invade the 200-foot buffer zone between the Institute and the Battlefield, and actually adds 14 acres of public space to the park.

The land on which the houses will be built has already been subjected to archeological surveys, said Mr. Goddard. While recent efforts have turned up nothing new, the Institute is, he added, willing to put an archeological protocol in place to ensure that potential artifacts will be saved.

“We want to work with whoever will work with us,” added Mr. Goddard. The Battlefield is “not in the best shape,” he noted, and collaborative efforts to restore a badly aging marker and strengthen interest in visiting the site would be to everyone’s advantage.

Battlefield Association spokespeople who were asked to comment on IAS’s current housing plans were unable to respond by press time. An article next week will include their point of view.

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