The Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society, known as The Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS), has filed an appeal of the Princeton Planning Board decision approving the Institute for Advanced Study’s faculty housing project.
The appeal was expected following a ruling, in June, by the Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson against the Society’s suit to overturn the Princeton Planning Board’s decision.
On March 21 of last year, the Planning Board unanimously approved the Institute’s plans to build a group of faculty townhomes and single-family residences on its property adjacent to Princeton Battlefield Park.
“We were unlucky with Judge Jacobson,” said Princeton Battlefield Society President, Jerry Hurwitz. “With a different judge it may have gone our way. This time we will be able to critique her opinion and show its weaknesses as well as represent our case all over again. That’s a good thing.”
The appeal, which was filed with the NJ Appellate Division, will be more than a review of Judge Jacobson’s recent decision, however. It will be a de novo appeal, which means that the Society will have an opportunity to present their arguments to a panel of judges, instead of one judge as was the case with the Superior Court.
Mr. Hurwitz is hopeful of a successful outcome this time around. “I have a deep respect for what our forebears did here, men fought and died on that field in one of the principal battles of the Revolutionary War, a turning point and a brilliant move by Washington, I would say his most brilliant strategic move,” said Mr. Hurwitz yesterday. “The Battlefield Society remains steadfast in its conviction that preserving the site of the climactic counterattack is of enormous importance to the understanding of this turning point victory.”
“Without preserving the site and its natural topography and setting, still undeveloped after more than 235 years, the American people will lose a vital link to the past every bit as important to the creation of this nation as Gettysburg is to preserving it,” he said.
According to Mr. Hurwitz, the site where the Institute wants to build lies at the very heart of Washington’s counterattack, which broke the British lines. “To allow housing there would be like building over the site of Pickett’s charge at Gettysburg. It’s simply inconceivable,” he said. “The Battle of Princeton was General Washington’s first win against professional British regulars, unlike the Battle of Trenton where he faced only German mercenaries, and it was where the fledgling American Marine Corps suffered its very first battlefield casualty.”
Kip Cherry, vice president of PBS, concurs. “There is a great deal of evidence that if Washington had not prevailed with his winning counterattack, the American Revolution would have been lost and that’s how important we believe our legal challenge is.”
The Institute’s long-standing plans to build faculty housing are described on its website (www.ias.edu) which notes the residential nature of its scholarly community. The plan would cluster eight townhouses and seven single-family homes on a seven-acre parcel of land that sits between existing faculty homes and the Institute’s main campus. The buildings are designed to have a low profile and be screened from the Battlefield Park by trees. An additional 200-foot buffer zone alongside the Battlefield Park would be permanently preserved as open space.
But according to Mr. Hurwitz, the Institute has already done enough damage to the historic site by building over what was an orchard at the time of the battle. “They should not be allowed to destroy more,” he believes. “There is more than enough land elsewhere on the Institute’s property for faculty housing to be built,” he said.
The suit against the Planning Board’s decision, the subject of the current appeal, is one of two that the Society has brought on the issue of IAS housing. The second suit concerns a disputed default decision concerning a waiver from the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission.
PBS attorney Bruce Afran feels confident that the case against the Planning Board’s decision will have a better chance of being heard fairly when it goes before a two- or three-judge panel of the Appellate Division. Interviewed by phone yesterday, he said: “Judge Jacobson’s opinions will be scutinized. With all due respect, she made some mistakes of law and did not address some important issues. For example, the Princeton Planning Board was required to find that the Institute’s plans would not have an unreasonably adverse impact on either the site itself or on the neighboring site. The Planning Board never made that finding, in spite of the fact that there was a report on file from the State Historic Preservation Officer, Dorothy Guzzo, that said that there would be an adverse impact on the neighboring historic site.”
Mr. Afran, believes that the Planning Boards silence on Ms. Guzzo’s report is one of the reasons that its decision to approve the IAS housing should be vacated, or nullified. “That’s just one of many issues we have with Judge Jacobson’s ruling,” said Mr. Afran. Others concern zoning for a cluster development and impact on wetlands.
“It’s going to be many years before the Institute can build, if it can build at all on this site,” said Mr. Afran. “But this isn’t so much about defeating the Institute’s plans as it is about saving ground where people fought and died.”
It is clear that the Princeton Battlefield Society is prepared to take the issue all the way to the New Jersey Supreme Court, if necessary.