January 11, 2017

Surprise Accord Ended Battlefield Strife, Win-Win for IAS and Preservationists

Institute for Advanced Study

Throughout the fall the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) continued to assert its right to proceed with its faculty housing project adjacent to the Princeton Battlefield. Despite ongoing objections from the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS) and others, site preparation moved forward and construction seemed imminent. 

Having pointed out that the project had “all the necessary regulatory approvals to proceed,” and that the Institute had already incorporated extensive changes to their plans in response to concerns of the public, IAS claimed that the PBS and other organizations that had formed a coalition to “Save Princeton” were waging a campaign to promote misstatements that had already been rejected by the courts.

Meanwhile the Civil War Trust (CWT), which had made a $4.5 million offer to buy the land under dispute, had apparently been rebuffed, with IAS refusing, publicly at least, to meet. The PBS, despite setbacks, continued to try to stop the project through a law suit filed under the Clean Water Act and an appeal of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission’s approval of the planned construction.

Suddenly on Monday, December 12, a joint announcement by the IAS and the Trust, through its Campaign 1776 initiative to protect Revolutionary War battlefields, ended the dispute after more than 13 years of wrangling, and, even more surprising, all sides were happy with the results.

“After extensive confidential negotiations,” CWT President Jim Lighthizer stated, “we and the Institute came to terms on a mutually acceptable agreement in which they agreed not only to limit the size and scope of their development. They agreed to sell us the most historically significant portion of Maxwell’s Field, plus a critical one-acre tract that was not even on the table previously.”

The Institute agreed to sell 14.85 acres to the Trust for $4 million, with the land eventually to be transferred to the State of New Jersey and incorporated in the Battlefield Park. The agreement required the IAS to condense and reconfigure its faculty housing project, with eight town houses replacing seven single-family homes, for a total of 16 new residences. The official transfer of property to the Trust is scheduled for the end of June, with the agreement going into effect after all necessary project approvals have been received.

A joint statement from IAS director Robbert Dijkgraaf and Mr. Lighthizer stated, “We are delighted to reach this agreement, which both meets the needs of the Institute and ensures the preservation of this site through an enlarged and revitalized Princeton Battlefield State Park.”

Mr.Dijkgraaf emphasized the Institute’s concern for historic and preservation issues: “As part of our original faculty housing plan, the Institute expressed commitment to working with stakeholders in the preservation and commemoration of the Battle of Princeton and its role in the American Revolution. We are confident that this new plan and partnership will enhance the experience of the park for all who visit.”

Noting that discussions between IAS and CWT began in earnest last September, Institute Communications Director Christine Ferrara pointed out that “we had a mutual interest in collaborating on finding the best possible way forward. We’re really happy that this came together as it did and that we could provide the land for the enhancement of the battlefield.” She added that the reduced-size plan still meets the Institute’s housing needs.

“This agreement is the very definition of a mutually beneficial solution,” stated CWT Communications Manager Meg Martin. The new project plan protects 15 acres of battlefield land, but still enables the Institute to meet its faculty housing needs. The Institute will be able to maintain the sense of community that helps foster academic advancement, and the defining land of the Battle of Princeton will be preserved.”

PBS, which reviewed the final agreement, was pleased that the compromise would preserve most of Maxwell’s Field, along with an additional parcel of more than an acre within the core of the battlefield. PBS lawyer Bruce Afran stated that he had suggested to Institute lawyers early in 2016 the idea of limiting the project to townhouses at the margin of the site in order to free up and preserve the major part. “I think it is clear,” he said, “that both sides felt that the conflict had gone on long enough and both felt it was time to find a solution that would allow some housing while preserving the bulk of the site. So the townhouses emerged as a smaller, well screened project that would leave the bulk for preservation and future public access.”

Contending that the PBS “was the driving force that led to this agreement,” Mr. Afran added, “The PBS stuck with it and continued the litigation. We litigated and came to a fair compromise. Litigation can yield good results.”

Ms. Martin noted that the Trust’s current fundraising campaign for the property includes money for restoration and that they would be relying as much as possible on primary sources, archaeological resources, and wartime records. She further pointed out that involvement of PBS and the State Park would be crucial in working to restore the landscape to its wartime appearance, integrate it into the park and plan for its interpretation.

In a letter urging support for the ongoing Princeton Battlefield project and the “miraculous opportunity at Princeton,” Mr. Lighthizer stated, “This is one of, if not ‘the’ most momentous, historic,and — dare I say — ‘revolutionary’ victories in the history of battlefield preservation!”