The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) has amended its plans for faculty housing on land adjacent to the Princeton Battlefield in response to a January 15 ruling by the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commision (DRCC). The state regulatory agency voted 4 to 3 against the plan on environmental grounds.
Planning Board Coordinator Ilene Cutroneo confirmed that the Planning Office had received an amended site plan, and that as yet no date had been set for the Board’s review.
“The Institute’s submission to the Planning Board is a very minor amendment to the previously approved plan for faculty housing,” said Institute spokesperson Christine Ferrara in an email statement last week. “It responds to the DRCC’s preference that its buffer not be used for the project, and makes minimal adjustments to the several housing lot lines, all within the previously approved boundaries, and well away from the Battlefield Park. The project continues to leave two-thirds of the site in public open space.”
“The Institute’s original plan intended to use one-third of an acre of the 100 foot buffer along the intermittent stream that flows down toward the Delaware and Canal and which therefore comes under the jurisdiction of the DRCC,” explained IAS lawyer Chris Tarr Monday. “The DRCC asked that we avoid using that one third acre and recommended that we modify our plan by making our lots slightly smaller. That’s what our amended plan does.”
According to Mr. Tarr, the file sent amends a plan unanimously approved by the Regional Planning Board of Princeton in March, 2012.
With this amendment, Mr. Tarr believes that the IAS has met all the subdivision requirements of the municipality. “All that was left for us to do was to comply with the requirements of the DRCC. Since the amended plan now complies with the requirements of both Princeton and the DRCC, I am confident that the Institute’s minor amendment to its housing plans will be approved.”
But according to Jerry Hurwitz, president of the Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society, known for short as the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS), much hangs on whether the Institute has submitted an “amendment” or a “new” plan.
“I haven’t seen the plan but I am not surprised that they have come back with one,” said Mr. Hurwitz Tuesday. “Their options were limited after the DRCC’s ruling; either they would have had to appeal that ruling or make changes to avoid encroaching on DRCC land. I’m assuming that’s what they are doing but even if their ‘amendment’ reduces lot size, that could result in a potential zoning problem. You can’t just arbitrarily reduce a one-acre lot size.”
Mr. Hurwitz regards the Institute’s submission to the Planning Board as a “new” plan, which should be treated as such. “By describing it as an ‘amendment,’ the Institute is trying to avoid a new hearing. I believe and our lawyer Bruce Afran believes that we should be able to present our case in front of the entire planning board.”
Claiming that the Institute has “no sensitivity whatsoever” with respect to the land where the Battle of Princeton was fought, Mr. Hurwitz, likens the Institute’s plan to Gettysburg College putting faculty housing at the scene of Pickett’s Charge. “This is where a historic counterattack took place in the Battle of Princeton, a turning point in the Revolutionary War,” he said.
The Princeton Battlefield Society received a set back, last June, in its attempt to halt IAS building plans when Judge Mary Jacobson ruled against its suit to overturn Princeton Planning Board’s 2012 approval.
Last July, PBS appealed the Judge’s decision in Mercer County Superior Court.
So far, PBS and its attorney Bruce Afran have brought three suits to stall IAS plans. “The Institute is proposing a cluster development and has to show no negative environmental impact on the wetlands and stream corridor and no disturbance to the traditional historic setting,” he said Tuesday. “They have no fundamental right to build and what they are planning will bury forever all the archeological materials at this historic site. It is our position that they have to file a completely new application with the Planning Board and I look forward to putting new environmental evidence before the Board. The amendments they propose are not minor, they are significant.”
The Institute’s long-standing plans for faculty housing are described on its website (www.ias.edu) which notes the residential nature of its scholarly community and the connection between the Institute and the Princeton Battlefield State Park, which “it helped to create and expand” by the sale of land to the State of New Jersey for the purpose of Battlefield preservation.
The Planning Board has 45 days to respond to the Institute’s amended plan. “This is a legal process,” said Ms. Cutroneo, “if the application is complete then a meeting will ultimately be scheduled and an agenda posted on the municipal website.”