Institute for Advanced Study Presents Plans for New Housing

Representatives for the Institute for Advanced Study presented a controversial plan to the Regional Planning Board of Princeton Thursday night to build 15 units of permanent faculty housing on the campus.

At a standing-room-only meeting attended by more than 150 people, Institute representatives presented a proposal to build eight townhouses and seven single family homes on the campus about 350 feet from the Battlefield State Park, the site of the Battle of Princeton during the American Revolution.

The Institute has planned to build additional faculty housing since the early 1970s, and Princeton Battlefield preservationists have objected to such plans for just as long.

Peter Goddard, director of the Institute, said the Institute has had a shortage of housing for permanent faculty members that has gotten worse over time.

“Until 30 years ago,  as much as 60 percent of  our faculty have lived on or close to the Institute campus,” Goddard said. “But over the last three decades the percentage has dropped and it is only 28 percent at present. House prices in the highly desirable Institute neighborhood are well beyond the reach of academics, even senior ones, and many houses in the area have been improved and enlarged beyond the needs and means of the faculty.”

The townhouse lots on the northeast corner of the Institute property would range in size from about 3,900 square feet to 6,600 square feet. The single family home lots sizes would range from about 16,000 feet to just over 27,000 feet. Faculty members would buy the units, but they would be sold back to the Institute if the faculty member decides to move.

J. Robert Hillier, the architect for the townhouse project, said the project would be shielded from the Battlefield Park and not ruin the view there. More than 270 trees would be planted to conceal the housing from the park.

“The intention of the entire process has been to honor the fact that the battlefield is there, and to make sure the project in no way intrudes upon the view and vision one sees when on the battlefield,” Hillier said.

An archeologist will be at the site full time when the basements are being dug, Hillier said, and will determine how to handle any artifacts that are found.

More than a dozen area residents and The Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society have hired Princeton lawyer Bruce Afran to represent them in the planning board proceedings.

Public comment began just before the close of the meeting, with residents and academics expressing their views on the project, including several nearby residents who said the Institute is a good neighbor and should be given the go ahead for the plans.

Institute faculty member Helmut Hofer told the board how hard it is for faculty to find convenient housing close to the campus and how important it is for faculty to interact to advance their research.

“The area is promoted by real estate agents as a preferred area,” Hofer said. “You can not afford it as a scientist unless you are independently wealthy…The campus is a tight knit community of world leading faculty. It is not a 9 to 5 job. The level if the institute is a higher level. New ideas come from interactions with peers and the activity around you. Ideas don’t care about the time of the day. It could be at lunch, in the bathtub, at a planning board meeting.”

Others said while the Institute is a gem for Princeton, the housing should be built elsewhere on campus because of the Revolutionary War battle.

“They deserve housing on the many acres they have, but not here,” said resident Paul Loane. “This is a bad idea. One thing you haven’t heard much about is the history. Looking at this project and not talking about the history is like having an aquarium with no water.”

No decision was made on the proposal Thursday night because time ran out. The public hearing will be carried over to the planning board’s meeting next Thursday night, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. The planning board will hear public comment at the next meeting, and Afran will also raise objections to the plan for the Battlefield preservation group.