Princeton Battlefield Society appeals planning board’s decision

On July 20, the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS) filed an appeal of the Princeton Regional Planning Board’s decision in favor of the Institute for Advanced Study’s planned Faculty Housing Development.  This property is believed to be the center of the winning Counterattack at the Battle of Princeton. Princeton Battlefield, specifically including this site, was designated last month by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2012.

This appeal of the Planning Board’s decision, focuses on issues of land use law.  According to PBS’s Attorney, Bruce Afran, “the appeal asserts that the Planning Board approval violates the E-2 Zoning limitations defined in the 1992 Settlement between the Township and the IAS, which does not permit cluster housing, and in any event, the Planning Board’s findings violated the Municipal Ordinance ‘s requirements for cluster housing by not meeting the requirements for an “As of Right Plan.” An As of Right Plan is a conceptual site layout that must meet zoning requirements, in this case 1 acre lots that are not encumbered by buffers or setbacks or other lot use limitations.  Further, the appeal also asserts that the Planning Board failed to make findings of fact as to unrefuted evidence of the presence of wetlands on the site and that its conclusion that the proposed development will not impact wetlands is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable. The appeal also disagrees with the Planning Board’s acceptance that the historic and archaeological features of the site would be protected.”  In all, the Princeton Battlefield Society’s appeal includes 12 counts that challenge the Planning Board’s decision.

According to the Battlefield Society’s Attorney, Bruce Afran, “the Planning Board failed numerous times to properly support its decision with proper findings of fact.” “We vigorously disagree with the Planning Board’s decision to allow this 15-unit development to move forward.”

In April, following the Planning Board’s initial decision to allow the project to move forward.  Mr. Afran filed on behalf of the Princeton Battlefield Society a complaint in the Chancery Court asking for a judicial determination on various site limitations created by the 1992 Agreement. This Agreement came out of a lawsuit that the IAS brought against Princeton Township regarding a housing development at another location on the East side of the Park.

Jerald Hurwitz, President of the Princeton Battlefield Society, noted “that the IAS is still claiming that the site did not play a significant role in the Battle of Princeton.” “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.“

According to Kip Cherry, 1st Vice President of PBS “this designation [as one of American’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2012] not only recognizes that the Princeton Battlefield is the site of a seminal Revolutionary War battle, but it recognizes that, in fact, the heart of that battle was on property next to Battlefield Park that the IAS intends to develop for faculty housing.”

In 2010 the federally financed Milner Study, prepared by John Milner Associates, in association with Dr. Robert Selig, a historian experienced in American Revolution research, began its work by focusing on the Federally-designated core area, which included Maxwell Field.  In this study, data revealed by 180 American and British original accounts was carefully evaluated and mapped using the Geographical Information System (GIS) and the Global Positioning System (GPS). The result was a series of detailed maps showing the initial stages of the Battle, the winning counterattack, and troop movements after the main part of the Battle. According to Mr. Hurwitz, “the National Park Service accepted the study as having satisfied the high standards of scholarship, technique and analysis necessary to meet the exacting requirements of the program.”

In 2009, Preservation New Jersey, citing the threat posed by the IAS’ housing project, named Princeton Battlefield one of the Ten Most Endangered sites in New Jersey.

In 2008, the National Park Service named the Princeton Battlefield a ‘Priority I Principal Site’ in a Report to Congress stating that “Priority I Principal Sites are the most historically significant and the most endangered. They require immediate preservation action before they are destroyed or damaged.”

In 2007 a report was published by the Louis Berger Group, Inc. containing the data from an archaeological investigation by Hunter Research, Inc., showing a large concentration of American Revolution military artifacts at the proposed faculty housing site, including a broken bayonet and impacted musket balls.

In 2006 and 2007 the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Officer, Dorothy Guzzo, made an official determination that the site of the planned Faculty Housing development was eligible for listing on the National Register to Historic Places.

In another action, PBS is objecting to the construction of one and possibly two force mains across the site of the counterattack. According to Ms. Cherry: “our most immediate concern right now is that important artifacts will be destroyed during the process of this construction.” “I can’t imagine that any archaeologist would say that the monitoring plan that the IAS is using is the same as a full archaeological investigation.”