The deal that was announced yesterday between the Institute of Advanced Study and local preservationists apparently aims to achieve 2 things: allow the Institute to build faculty housing (as it has been trying to do since 2003) and at the same time preserve a field that preservationists believe was the site of a pivotal moment in the Battle of Princeton in 1777. The agreement would suspend a court case filed by opponents of the plan, and create an opportunity to extend the Battlefield State Park through a sale of some of the land by the Institute.
Potentially this is a great compromise. The Institute would still build housing for its scholars that would be walkable to campus. In fact the total number of homes would increase, from 15 to 16. In the original plan, single family homes were to be built on one side of a new road, ‘Gödel Lane’ (named after a famous mathematician who studied at the Institute), and townhouses would be built on the other side. In the new plan, there would be no single-family homes, just townhouses, and they would all be on the same side of ‘Gödel Lane’.
But there are a couple of issues. First, the parties who have opposed the housing plan have to raise $4 million to buy the land, or else the deal is off. They will say that it is a good deal for 15 acres of land, although 14 acres of it would have been preserved anyway under the original plan, at no cost.
More pressingly, the Institute will have to go back through the process of getting all necessary approvals for the revised plan. The Princeton Planning Board may sign off on it- after all, they already approved the concept of housing at this site in 2012 and then again in 2014. But the plan also has to get approval from the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission (DRCC), which enforces NJ state legislation intended to protect streams and wetlands. The DRCC already rejected an earlier version of the Institute housing, because it encroached ever so slightly on what was deemed to be a ‘stream buffer’. The Institute was able to get around this by revising the plan slightly, but the latest version seems to place eight townhouses right on this stream buffer, which caused the problem before.
It’s possible that the Institute has figured out how to deal with this potential problem. Contacted earlier, a spokesperson just said “the Institute, together with the Civil War Trust, plan to work with the DRCC to obtain its approval of the plans.” But it’s hard to imagine that the DRCC will allow development on the stream buffer now, when they were adamant about preventing construction there before. It will be interesting to see what happens. It is possible that the former opponents of the plan, who used wetlands preservation legislation to attempt to stop construction, will now petition the DRCC to allow construction on protected wetlands, so that the housing agreement can go through. We’ll have to see, when the full site plan is unveiled, presumably some time in 2017. This project, already years in planning could still be some way from resolution.