The Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission (DRCC) yesterday rejected the Institute for Advanced Study’s controversial plan for faculty housing for the second time in a year.
The plan called for eight townhouses and seven single-family homes to be built on a 7-acre piece of Institute land adjacent to a DRCC stream corridor buffer.
Four yes votes are required for a plan to be approved. The Institute received only three yes votes. Two commission members voted against the plan and one abstained.
The commission, established in 1974 by Governor Brendan Byrne, reviews development in the D&R Canal State Park and administers a land use regulatory program with the goal of protecting the park from the harmful impacts of new development in central New Jersey.
“The commission rejected the plan again for the same reasons it did the last time,” said Bruce Afran, the lawyer for the Princeton Battlefield Area Preservation Society, which opposes the housing project. “The housing project would cut off all the water supply to the wetlands that the DRCC is supposed to protect. Environmentally it would be very damaging. The project would kill the wetlands on the site.”
“The project is dead again,” Afran said. “The commission rejected the plan. The Institute could file an appeal, but it would be hard to win because the state appellate courts give deference to expert agencies. Or the Institute could redesign the plan and try again by starting over with the planning process.”
But the Institute for Advanced Study issued a statement saying school officials are still confident the plan will be approved by the commission.
“At yesterday’s meeting of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission, the Commission did not approve the Institute’s Faculty Housing project, although, in the vote taken, more commissioners voted for the project than against it,” reads the Institute statement. “We do expect to continue to discuss the project with the Canal Commission, and we are confident of success in gaining the remaining approvals required for our project.”
Afran said the Institute can’t go back to the DRCC and ask them to reconsider the same plan. The commission’s approval was a condition of the Princeton Planning Board’s approval of the project, and the approval is now void because of the denial, Afran said.
In January of 2014, the DRCC rejected the original housing plan that was approved by the planning board, and the Institute then revised its plans and submitted them to the board for approval. The Princeton Planning Board approved the new plans in the fall.
Afran said if the Battlefield Society is prepared to continue the fight if need be. The group opposes the plan because part of the Battle of Princeton was fought on the land and the group wants it preserved.
“My client’s bayonets are fixed and their muskets are primed,” he said.