Princeton Borough Council Opposes Legislation Exempting Private Universities from Following Local Land Use Laws

The Borough Council passed a resolution this week voicing its opposition to proposed legislation that would exempt private universities and colleges from following local zoning rules.

Council members voted unanimously to oppose two bills moving through the state Senate and Assembly. Councilwoman Heather Howard abstained because she works for Princeton University, which would be affected by the legislation. If the legislation passes, the school would no longer need approvals from the town for projects like its $300 million arts neighborhood.

“The legislation would exempt the university from following municipal land use laws,” Borough Councilman Roger Martindell said. “Given the size of developments, to exempt the University would really put neighborhoods at risk, and the entire community at risk. It would cut out the community’s input .”

“Princeton University owns somewhere in the range of 40 percent of the land in the Borough,” Martindell said. “Add the three institutions of higher education in Princeton together, and this would be a total company town.”

Martindell said the passage of the legislation would be a disaster for Princeton.

“The schools could basically ignore us,” he said. “Would they do so? I don’t know. but could they do so? Yes.”

The state League of Municipalities also opposes the legislation and has argued that local input results in better planning. Leaders from the League also say the legislation would set a bad precedent, leading other nonprofits that serve some public purpose to seek the same waivers.

The Senate bill  is sponsored by Senators Paul Sarlo (D-Passaic) and Robert Singer (R-Monmouth). The companion bill in the Assembly is sponsored by Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-Salem)  and Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Passaic). The Assembly’s higher education committee is slated to review the bill next week. The bills could be voted on as early as the end of the month.