Princeton Battlefield Society Appeals Planning Board Decision

Walter Gallas, director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Northeast Field Office, announced last month that the Princeton Battlefield has been named one of the country’s most endangered historic places.

The Princeton Battlefield Society has filed an appeal in Mercer County Superior Court challenging the Princeton Regional Planning Board’s approval of the Institute for Advanced Study’s planned faculty housing development.

Battlefield Society members and some historians believe the site is the center of the historic winning counterattack at the Battle of Princeton during the Revolutionary War.  The Princeton Battlefield, including the future housing site, was designated last month as one of America’s 11 most endangered historic places for 2012 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“The planning board failed numerous times to properly support its decision with proper findings of fact,” said Princeton lawyer Bruce Afran, who is representing the Battlefield Society. “We vigorously disagree with the planning board’s decision to allow this 15-unit development to move forward.”

The appeal asserts that the planning board approval violates zoning limitations defined in the 1992 settlement between Princeton Township and the Institute. Afran contends that the settlement does not permit cluster housing, and that the planning board’s findings violated municipal ordinance ‘s requirements for cluster housing. The appeal also asserts that the planning board failed to consider unrefuted evidence of the presence of wetlands on the site. Afran characterized the planning board’s conclusion that the proposed development will not impact wetlands as “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”

The appeal also disputes the planning board’s acceptance that the historic and archaeological features of the site will be protected if the project moves forward. The Battlefield Society’s appeal includes 12 counts that challenge the planning board’s decision.

Following the Planning Board’s initial decision to allow the project to move forward in April, Afran filed a complaint on behalf of the Princeton Battlefield Society in Chancery Court, asking for a judge to weigh in on various site limitations created by the 1992 agreement. The agreement came out of a lawsuit that the Institute for Advanced Study brought against Princeton Township regarding a housing development at another location on the east side of the park.

“The Institute is still claiming that the site did not play a significant role in the Battle of Princeton,” said Jerald Hurwitz, president of the Princeton Battlefield Society. “Governor Edge, as far back as 1944, recognized that this site was critical to understanding the counterattack, and his map showing the properties that were to be acquired to become part of the park, included this parcel as an essential part of the park.“

The Institute for Advanced Study’s plans for eight townhouses and seven single-family homes on a seven-acre portion of the campus were unanimously approved by the planning board. Institute representatives have argued that the housing plan preserves the natural surroundings and respects the historic setting without adversely affecting the Institute Woods, preserved farmland, and the Institute’s campus. The housing plan provides for a 200-foot buffer zone alongside the Battlefield Park that will be permanently preserved as open space. The Institute has also promised to enhance the interpretive materials provided for visitors to the Battlefield Park when the project moves forward.