September 24, 2014

Planners Postpone Vote On Revised Institute Plan For Faculty Housing

After three hours of often contentious discussion, much of it between the lawyers for the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) and the Princeton Battlefield Society, Princeton’s Planning Board last Thursday postponed its vote on whether to approve a revised proposal by the Institute for faculty housing.

The vote is now scheduled for the Planning Board’s October 16 meeting. In March 2012, the planners unanimously approved the project, which would build eight townhouses and seven single-family homes on a seven-acre parcel of the campus. But after the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission later voted against the proposal because of its encroachment on the stream corridor, the development, now slightly scaled down, came back before the Board for a new vote.

The new plan presented to the Board is modified to include smaller lots, a third of an acre further away from the stream. Though the Board opted early in the meeting to limit testimony to the subject of adjusted lot lines on the previous plan, Bruce Afran, the lawyer for the Battlefield Society, argued repeatedly that it was inappropriate to bar testimony not on that subject.

Battlefield Society members have opposed the development from its inception more than a decade ago because of its proximity to the Princeton Battlefield State Park, where key battles of the American Revolution took place. Testifying Thursday night were witnesses for both sides of the issue, as well as members of the public, some of whom repeated testimony they had given at past hearings. Nearly every seat in Witherspoon Hall was filled with people sporting “I support IAS” buttons on one side; and “Save the Princeton Battlefield” on the other.

A representative of the Civil War Trust told the Board that preserved battlefields serve as outdoor classrooms. “Every acre of this hallowed ground that is lost now will be lost forever,” he said. Former Princeton Borough Councilman Roger Martindell said that while he supports the Institute, he wonders why the development can’t be moved to a different location on the IAS grounds. “Is this particular site the only site?,” he asked. “I haven’t had an answer to that to my satisfaction, and I urge you to vote no.”

Another member of the public proposed that the IAS approach homeowners on Battle Road, which is adjacent to the campus, about putting the development there. David Shure, who lives on Stockton Street, spoke in opposition to the development. “No change has happened on this site in more than 225 years,” he said. “It is of national significance. Once we allow building to happen, we’ve lost it. That’s not coming back. Do you want to be the Board responsible for destroying the integrity of a nationally significant site that has stood undeveloped for 225 years?”

Former Princeton Township Mayor Phyllis Marchand spoke in support of the development. “I think it’s appalling that it’s almost 2015 and we’re still debating this,” she said. “This is not on the historic battlefield. This is on land owned by the Institute.” Ms. Marchand encouraged the Board not to be threatened by Mr. Afran’s promise of additional lawsuits. “I urge you to end this Battle of Princeton tonight and vote for this application,” she said.