June 18, 2014

Princeton Battlefield Preservation Society Readies for “Second Battle of Princeton”

The Princeton Battlefield Preservation Society (PBS) is readying for what it has called “The Second Battle of Princeton” when the Princeton Planning Board meets Thursday, June 19, for a hearing on plans by the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) to build eight townhomes and seven faculty houses on land adjacent to the Princeton Battlefield State Park.

In an email message, Battlefield Society President Jerry Hurwitz called for supporters to come to the meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the municipal building, Witherspoon Hall. The meeting officially begins at 7:30 p.m. and the IAS plans are the fifth item on the agenda.

The PBS has described the Institute’s plans as “destruction of the heart of the Princeton Battlefield” and “the destruction of hallowed ground.”

The IAS faculty housing would sit on seven-acres between existing faculty homes and the Institute’s main campus. A 200-foot buffer zone alongside the Battlefield Park would be permanently preserved as open space.

The land upon which the Institute proposes to build is not part of Princeton Battlefield State Park but the PBS has expressed the hope that it might one day be added to it. “Ultimately, it is our hope that someday we will have a willing seller and that the State of New Jersey will be able to proceed in purchasing this property and adding it to the Park …” a statement included in the PBS email message reads.

The land for the proposed faculty housing, which is owned by the Institute for Advanced Study, is described by the Battlefield Society as “the exact site on which Washington and his army broke the British line to win his very first victory over British regulars and successfully conclude the ‘Ten Crucial Days’ campaign that began with Washington’s crossing of the Delaware to attack Trenton.”

Thursday’s Planning Board hearing promises to be a lively one. “We need to get a maximum turnout of our supporters,” says Mr. Hurwitz’s message. “Three years ago, the Institute packed the Board meeting with their supporters. We cannot afford to allow that to happen again!”

Mr. Hurwitz goes on to say of the upcoming Planning Board hearing: “The Board will likely be influenced by who attends” and suggests that those unable to be there on Thursday, put their objections in writing to Ms. Wanda Gunning, Chair and Members of the Princeton Planning Board, so that the objections will become part of the record.

“The more people who attend the hearing to show their support of our fight to stop the revised faculty housing plan the more the Planning Board and the media will be impressed with the depth of your support to win the ‘second battle of Princeton,’” states the email.

The plans to be discussed at the public hearing have been described by the Institute as an amendment of originals submitted and approved by the Planning Board in 2012. According to the PBS, however, the changes made are so significant that the Planning Board should regard this as an entirely new plan, which would mean that the Battlefield Society would have a second chance to present their objections and ultimately, they hope, defeat the proposal. “Supported by newly discovered major flaws in the site plan, we are contending that the project is a new application and that, in fact, it does not meet the criteria necessary to approve their revised plan,” reads the PBS statement.

PBS attorney Bruce Afran is suing to overturn the Planning Board for approving the Institute’s plans in 2012, which was also the year in which the Princeton battlefield was named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in the United States.

In an article describing the Institute’s plans (Town Topics, June 11), Institute Director Robbert Dijkgraaf spoke of his optimism
regarding the hearing.

According to the Battlefield Society’s statement, the group also feels “very confident of our position.”

As for the Battlefield State Park, lovers of history are invited to celebrate Independence Day there on Friday, July 4, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Re-enactors in Revolutionary War period costume will be on hand to demonstrate drill, artillery, and flintlock muskets. The Thomas Clarke House will be open for tours and the Declaration of Independence will be read aloud at 1 p.m.

Visitors are encouraged to bring a picnic lunch and enjoy hiking on the trails of the adjacent Institute Woods. For more information, call (609) 921-0074.