Property rights should trump preservation at battlefield

A couple strolls through the Princeton Battlefield State Park. The Institute for Advanced Study is proposing to  build a new site beyond these trees.

A couple strolls through the Princeton Battlefield State Park. The Institute for Advanced Study is proposing to
build a new site beyond these trees.

By Kaygon Finakin
Bronx, N.Y. 

More than two centuries ago, when the roads of Princeton were still unpaved, the town was the scene of a small but important battle in the American Revolutionary War. But for the past 11 years, a different type of conflict has been playing out — one that should finally come to an end.

Like many long-running disputes, the details are complicated. In essence, the Institute for Advanced Study wants to build housing on a 22-acre plot of land that it owns near the Princeton Battlefield State Park. But the Princeton Battlefield Society (PBS) — an organization created in 1971 for the purpose of preserving the battlefield — opposes those plans, arguing that the land is sacred ground that should not be tainted by construction or development.

This disagreement has gone on long enough. The land belongs to the Institute, and the Institute should be able to develop that land as it sees fit.

The Institute has already made its share of concessions to preserve this historical location. In 1973, the Institute sold 32 acres to the State of New Jersey — land that has since been incorporated into the Princeton Battlefield State Park.

Then, in 2003, the Institute presented plans for building 15 housing facilities on its land east of the park. This construction plan is very important for the future of the Institute, which needs more residential space for the scientists and academics who work and study there.

PBS, however, has made this simple proposal into something much more complicated. Based on a study that it commissioned, PBS concluded that the 22-acre plot on which the Institute plans to build its new faculty housing was actually the central area of the Battle of Princeton and included a key road that ran through the heart of the battle.

The Institute, however, disputes both the study’s conclusions and the methods it used.

Nevertheless, the Institute has agreed to hire a team of archaeologists to search the land for artifacts before any building begins. If anything significant is found, it will be donated to a local museum.

Ultimately, it shouldn’t matter which side is correct. The important fact here is that the Institute owns this land, and its legal rights as a property owner are just as sacred as PBS’s desire to prevent the land from being developed.

Indeed, one of the important causes of the Revolutionary War — and a reason that the Battle of Princeton was fought — was American colonists’ desire to protect their right to own property without interference by the government.

After all, if every piece of land that was bathed in the blood of America’s heroes had to remain vacant and preserved, where would we all live today?

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