The governing body of Princeton Borough will host a forum at 7 p.m. tonight at Borough Hall regarding proposed legislation that would give private universities and colleges in New Jersey like Princeton and Rider universities the ability to build anything they want without any kind of approvals by the planning boards in their towns.
Princeton Borough and Princeton Township officials have expressed strong opposition to the legislation, and both mayoral candidates for the consolidated Princeton have come out opposing the bill. The state League of Municipalities opposes the bill, and many residents have signed an online petition voicing their opposition to the legislation.
Several towns with private colleges in them have joined the opposition, including West Windsor, where Princeton University also owns property. A group called Coalition for Safe Neighborhoods has made radio ads and sent out postcards to residents in the ongoing battle against the bill.
“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 at a recent council meeting. “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.
The bill already breezed through the state Senate this June. Construction union leaders are backing the private universities, and lobbying for the bill to be passed, arguing a lack of restrictions would mean more construction and more jobs. State Sen. Shirley Turner, who works for Rider University, voted for the bill. So did Stat Sen. Kip Bateman, who represents the 16th District that Princeton is now part of.
Borough Officials recently asked outgoing Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman to stand with the community and oppose the bill. Tilghman responded by writing a letter refusing to oppose the legislation. She cited difficulties dealing with Borough officials in the past, in particular regarding the university’s proposed arts and transit neighborhood and the lengthy debate about the project.
Local officials have pointed out since the letter was sent that the university has received approvals from the Princeton Regional Planning Board for every other project the school has ever proposed, and that the Borough Council did approve the zoning changes for the arts and transit neighborhood. The arts and transit project will be reviewed at a planning board meeting later this month.
Representatives from the League of Municipalities have argued that the current approval process promotes comprehensive planning and results in a better product because of input from municipalities and the public. If the bill becomes law, other nonprofits might ask why they shouldn’t be exempt from approvals too, opponents of the bill say.
Previous Planet Princeton stories on the proposed legislation: