Petition Started in Opposition to Legislation Allowing Private NJ Universities to Bypass Local Zoning Laws

Princeton residents and officials are circulating a petition calling on the state Assembly to vote down legislation that would allow private schools like Princeton University to bypass local zoning regulations.

“This legislation would effectively eliminate the checks and balances that our town has with the Princeton University when it comes to land use issues.  It must be defeated, I can’t stress that enough,” Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner said. “I encourage our residents to sign the petition and I will be working to lobby for its defeat.  It will be a disaster for Princeton and a disaster for the state of New Jersey if this legislation passes.”

The League of Municipalities opposes the legislation, which passed in the state Senate last month, to the shock of many mayors around the state.

At the Princeton Borough Council meeting Tuesday night, Borough Mayor Yina Moore called on residents to voice their opposition to the legislation by signing the online petition. The petition was started by the New Jersey chapter of the American Planning Association, and has received almost 500 signatures so far. Both Princeton Borough and Princeton Township plan to post links to the petition on their websites.

“We need to oppose this bill and assure that our community has a balance and diversity,” Moore said.

“We have three private institutions in the Borough.” Borough Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said. “”We are particularly affected by this bill here in Princeton. We hope all Princeton residents will sign the petition.”

The League of Municipalities representatives has argued that the local approval process promotes comprehensive planning and results in a better product, and that input from municipalities and public participation in planning and zoning results in public confidence in the process.

Currently, private universities and colleges in the state must receive planning and zoning approvals from the municipalities in which their projects are built. But as a result of a lawsuit many years ago, public institutions do not need to receive local approvals. They can go to local municipalities for a courtesy review that is non-binding. Many officials argue the proposed legislation is swinging the pendulum the wrong way, and could set a bad precedent.

“I don’t see any New Jersey state university sitting on an endowment of 17 billion dollars like Princeton University is, ” Goerner said. “With assets like that, you are creating a land gobbling juggernaut with no real power to stop them.  This legislation would bypass what I believe are basic, fundamental community land use rights and it needs to be stopped.”

Goerner and others have sent resolutions to other area mayors asking them to voice their opposition to the legislation.

The Senate bill that passed in June was 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 bill will be considered by the Assembly this fall.