Today is the 239th anniversary of Washington’s victory at the Battle of Princeton. Unfortunately, it’s also a day in which Princeton Battlefield is under threat. Despite concerns from preservationists, historians, hydrologists, and now state lawmakers, the Institute for Advanced Study shows no signs of slowing down in its effort to build faculty housing at the site.
Why not commemorate the battle’s anniversary by taking a few minutes of your time to help protect the place where it happened? Here are a few easy things you can do.
James Peale’s depiction of the battle. From the collections of the Princeton University Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons
Here’s the latest news in the ongoing effort to preserve Princeton Battlefield. Looks like the Institute for Advanced Study might have ignored some important environmental restrictions, which could impact the construction that threatens the battleground:
Members of a Senate committee said they want to get to the bottom of whether wetlands are on a site where the IAS is preparing to build 15 units of faculty housing on about six acres of its land adjacent to Battlefield State Park.
Sens. Bob Smith (D-17), Linda R. Greenstein (D-14) and Kip Bateman (R-16), all members of the senate Environment and Energy committee, sent a letter to DEP commissioner Bob Martin asking him to put a hold on the project until the committee hears from the DEP on the wetlands issue. For its part, the DEP said it does not issue stays, something that was up to a judge to do.
The letter went out the same day that Bruce I. Afran, the lawyer for the Princeton Battlefield Society, and other advocates went before the committee arguing that there are wetlands on the development site, an area they say is of historic value given that fighting took place during the battle of Princeton in January 1777.
In his remarks before the committee, Mr. Afran said that Amy S. Greene, a hydrologist, was retained by the IAS to do a wetlands survey in 1990, a report that found wetlands in the middle of where the IAS is planning to build. A subsequent survey in 1999, by another firm for the IAS, found no wetlands in the same area.
Mr. Afran contended that the IAS did not disclose to the DEP the original 1990 survey indicating the presence of those wetlands when it sought clearance from the agency for its housing project.
To him, that represented “a pattern of deception” to conceal the information from the DEP, which, in 2000, granted the IAS a “letter of interpretation” saying there are no wetlands in the construction area.
Mr. Afran said that in 2011, the Battlefield Society had hired Ms. Greene to contest the IAS application before the then-regional Princeton Planning Board. Her survey found the same wetlands that she originally had identified in 1990. Ms. Greene also testified at Monday’s hearing to support her findings.
He also said that a 2012 soil report by the IAS engineer also found wetlands but that the IAS did not turn over the information to DEP.
For his part, Sen. Bateman said the DEP revisited the site a few weeks ago and claim it sticks to its original interpretation.
“This issue, I would think, would be either black or white,” he said. “Either the wetlands are there or they’re not.”
Yeah, you’d assume this would be a pretty straightforward question. Then again, you’d also assume people would have enough decency not to build faculty housing on an important Rev War battleground.
Those disappearing wetlands aren’t the only thing shady about this whole affair:
The Battlefield Society came close to defeating the project when it went before the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission in January. A commissioner, Mark Texel, director of the state Park Service who is Mr. Martin’s representative on the board, initially abstained from the vote, which led to the development failing.
He changed his mind a month later, moved to have the DRCC reopen the matter and then voted for it. At Monday’s hearing, Mr. Afran claimed that Mr. Texel did so based on “political pressure.”
Mr. Afran claimed that in September Mr. Texel, in the presence of Mr. Afran and two other people, said he was sorry for the revote that he had asked for but explained that he had gotten a call from Mr. Martin’s office.
“He made it clear to us that he was pressured into that revote decision by the commissioner’s office,” Mr. Afran told reporters after the hearing.
“We’re disputing that characterization of the conversation, and it’s just hearsay,” said DEP spokesman Larry Hanja.
Note also that the IAS turned down a $4.5 million offer from the Civil War Trust to secure the land in question. These guys are serious. Good thing the Princeton Battlefield Society is showing just as much tenacity as the people who are out to churn up priceless historic ground.
Here’s the latest news in the long, drawn-out dispute over proposed faculty housing at the Rev War battlefield. Unfortunately, it’s not the good kind of news, but the Princeton Battlefield Society is going to keep fighting the good fight.
Judge Jacobson’s decision upheld the approval that Princeton’s Planning Board gave the Institute last year for an amended version of the project, which had first been approved in 2012. The IAS wants to build 15 units, clustering eight townhouses and seven single-family dwellings on a seven-acre parcel. The Battlefield Society says the houses would be on land where American and British soldiers fought during the Revolutionary War in 1777.
The Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission blocked the project in 2012 because of its encroachment on a stream corridor, and the IAS tweaked the plans to slightly shrink the footprint. It was that amended application that the Planning Board approved last year. The Battlefield Society said that because of the amendments, the project is essentially new and the IAS should have to start over. The Planning Board did not agree, and Judge Jacobson concurred.
As part of the ruling, Judge Jacobson issued a temporary delay on any start of construction to allow time for the Battlefield Society to appeal.
“We respect Judge Jacobson’s opinion, but we do not believe she’s correct,” Mr. Afran said. “And we believe there are serious failings in what the Planning Board did three years ago and again [in 2010]. They refused to hear relevant evidence. This decision is an error and it ignores all of the duties of the Planning Board to protect historical sites.”
I wish the PBS good luck in the appeal process, and a tip of the hat for their effort to keep this battleground intact.
Here’s an update on the ongoing preservation issue at Princeton. You might recall that the Institute for Advanced Study’s initial plan to build faculty housing on land adjacent to the battlefield got shot down because it encroached on a local drainage.
The institute later received approval for a revised building plan, but preservationists claim the planned construction still threatens land involved in the battle.
Now comes news that an archaeological survey on the site found artifacts associated with the battle, supporting the preservatonists’ argument that the land in question is historically significant.
The fact that archaeologists hired by the institute itself have noted the historical importance of the ground ought to indicate that putting buildings there is a bad idea. But it looks like the institute is moving forward anyway.
If you’ve been to Guilford Courthouse, you’ve seen the impact that encroaching development can have on a Rev War battlefield, and how much harder it is to understand and interpret sites that are suffocated by buildings. Americans deserve to have the places where their country was born kept whole.
It’ll be at the Museum of Early Trades & Crafts in Madison starting Feb. 25, and it’s about the war’s impact on NJ civilians. Too bad I’m not within driving distance; I’d really like to see it.