PRINCETON: Institute for Advanced Study to march ahead with housing project, despite $4.5 million offer for property

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
The Institute for Advanced Study said Wednesday that it would proceed with its 15-unit faculty housing project, despite a pending legal challenge and a $4.5 million offer to buy the disputed land where fighting occurred during the Revolutionary War.
“The Institute has received all necessary approvals and permissions from the relevant agencies,” the IAS said in a statement. “The project meets a critical need for the Institute, which has taken great care to address all reasonable concerns relative to preservation issues in consultation with historians James McPherson and David Hackett Fischer.”
The project area would take up some seven acres of what the IAS said is a 21-acre site on its campus. The other 14 acres would be preserved as open space, including a 200-foot buffer with Battlefield State Park.
But attorney Bruce I. Afran, the lawyer for the Princeton Battlefield Society, the group suing to block the project, said Wednesday that it would be “unconscionable” for the IAS to consider building before a state appeals court has ruled. His group is fighting to overturn the Planning Board approvals the project had received.
Mr. Afran said a nonprofit organization has stepped forward to offer $4.5 million to the IAS to acquire the entire parcel and then transfer it to the state to become part of the park.
Jim Campi, a spokesman for the Civil War Trust, said Wednesday that the Trust had been trying since June to meet with the IAS about acquiring the property and had made earlier offer of $3.3 million, representing the appraised value of the land. This latest offer of $4.5 million was made Tuesday by mail, he said.
The Trust said it had done so to preserve a critical piece of American history and a “New Jersey treasure.” The site is where fighting took place during the January 1777 battle of Princeton, a victory for American forces.
“It was on this property where George Washington launched the charge that won the battle and, arguably, saved the Revolution,” Mr. Campi said. “Where they want to put their development is where the most critical action occurred. There has to be an alternative to destroying the most historically significant part of a historic property.”
His organization also has launched a letter-writing and petition- signing campaign to urge people to contact Gov. Chris Christie to have the state weigh in to help preserve this property. Asked if the state should use its power of eminent domain, Mr. Campi said he did not think that was necessary.
“We have never supported use of eminent domain in situations like this,” said Mr. Campi.
The Civil War Trust, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that was formed in 1989 to preserve Civil War battlefields, last year came to Princeton to announce it was launching “Campaign 1776” to save Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields.
“The Institute made extensive changes to the site plans, including moving the project further away from the Park, adjusting the profiles and materials of the housing units, and enhancing the landscaped screen between the site and the Park,” the IAS statement read. “Archaeological surveys have been conducted on the project site to recover any remaining artifacts, and to meet commitments made to the Princeton Planning Board in the course of its approval of the project.”