Battlefield Society Appeals Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission Decision

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

The Princeton Battlefield Society has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court challenging the outcome of a Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission hearing that lacked a quorum.

The Institute for Advanced Study was required to seek approvals from the canal commission for its proposed faculty housing project because the project is partially located within stream corridors that are under the commission’s jurisdiction.

At the canal commission’s Aug. 15 hearing on the issue, Princeton Battlefield Society members called on a commission member to recuse himself because of a conflict of interest. The commission member did recuse himself, leaving the commission with only four voting members — one short of a quorum.

“The problem is that the commission has several vacancies and there have been no recent new appointments by the Governor.” Battlefield Society President Jerald Hurwitz said.

Under the canal commission’s rules, if an application is not approved within 45 days of being submitted, it is automatically approved. The canal commission could not come up with a quorum for either the  Aug. 15 or Sept. 2 meetings, and the 45 days passed, thus the Institute’s application was automatically approved.

Bruce Afran, the lawyer for the Battlefield Society, said no written decision was issued by the commission, and no opportunity was afforded for the Institute or the Battlefield Society to present their cases for or against the waivers that would allow the Institute to build in the stream corridor.

“By allowing for automatic approval, the Princeton Battlefield Society was unable to present its concerns about wetlands that are located on the property, but were not reported to the Department of Environmental Protection,” Afran said.

The Battlefield Society has appealed the Regional Planning Board of Princeton’s unanimous decision earlier this year to approve the Institute’s plan to build faculty housing. The Battlefield Society also filed a complaint in Chancery Court regarding a 1992 agreement between the Institute and Princeton Township.

Battlefield Society members oppose the housing development because they and some historians believe the property is the center of the winning counterattack of the Battle of Princeton that helped change the course of the American Revolution. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has designated the Princeton Battlefield as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2012.