Opponents of proposed legislation that would give private universities unrestricted development rights have shifted their campaign into high gear, and several additional towns have joined the opposition.
A radio spot now airing cautions residents that a bill is moving swiftly through the New Jersey Legislature that would threaten neighborhoods, destroy property values, increase taxes and take away residents’ voices when it comes to development in their towns. A glossy flyer was also mailed to Princeton households this week by a group called Coalition for Safe Neighborhoods. The flyer calls on residents to contact their state Assembly representatives and tell them to vote no on A-2586, a bill that would give private colleges and universities like Princeton University the right to develop whatever the institutions want on any property they own without seeking any kind of planning or zoning approvals from their towns.
“Many communities are standing together in opposition to the bill, passing resolutions and writing letters to the editor,” Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore told the Borough Council Tuesday night. “The League of Municipalities is certainly working hard to oppose it.”
Princeton Borough will host a public forum on the bill at the Borough Council’s Oct. 9 meeting at 7 p.m., Moore said. West Windsor has joined in the fight to oppose the legislation.
“If the legislation passes, it would mean any private institution could build anything any way it wants,wherever it wants without any review, regardless of the possible negative consequences to the community in terms of public health, safety, economics, transportation and the environment,” Borough Councilman Roger Martindell said. “It would certainly have an indisputable effect on is the potential increase in growth. A school could build 25-story buildings in residential areas and there is nothing anyone could do about it. They could build to the sky. And there are serious tax consequences to all the residents of Princeton. While institutions may or may not contribute taxes, who pays to service the people in those buildings? The rest of us. It could have a devastating effect on the tax base.”
Officials from private universities and colleges like Princeton have argued that the legislation would give them equal standing with public colleges and universities in the state. But some public officials say the comparison is not fair, because public schools have oversight from public agencies.
Borough Officials also responded to claims made in a recent letter from Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman that the council discussed this spring how to exercise greater control over the planning board. Martindell said the Borough Council never threatened to try to control the planning board. He said the council wanted greater communication between the planning board and the governing body.
“In no way were we trying to exert control over the planning board,” said Councilwoman Jo Butler, who called the suggestion absurd and echo Martindell’s concerns “about the dangers of unfettered development in town.”