June 27, 2012

Land Use Bill Prompts Comments From Durkee

Princeton University vice president and secretary Robert Durkee spoke about strains in town-gown relations at Monday evening’s Township Committee meeting.

The occasion was a Committee vote on proposed state legislation regarding private universities and the zoning process. If passed, Senate Bill 1534 and Assembly Bill A2586 would exempt private universities from land use law; Princeton University, Rider University, and other private educational institutions of higher learning would no longer require approvals from municipalities to launch development projects, enabling them to proceed more quickly with their plans.

Citing the University’s inability “to pull up stakes” like other developers and move elsewhere, Mr. Durkee described the University’s “good history” of working with the Princeton Planning Board. Suggesting that the bill originated in other areas of New Jersey, he noted that even if it becomes law, the University would continue to consult with the Planning Board about future growth.

Later that evening, Township Committee unanimously voted to oppose the legislation.

In his comments, Mr. Durkee thanked Committee members for the opportunity to speak; there had been no chance for public comment before Borough Council’s vote not to endorse the new legislation, he said.

Mr. Durkee referred to recent developments,” that have been “cause for serious concern.” He described the year-long struggle, largely with Borough Council, before the new Arts and Transportation neighborhood could even be proposed, and worried that, despite consolidation, some members of the new governing board will be current members of Borough Council who would continue “to politicize the planning process.”

While agreeing that the Township has enjoyed a positive professional relationship with the University and that the lines of communication should remain open, Mayor Chad Goerner responded to Mr. Durkee’s comments by citing the need for having “checks and balances in place.” Residents, who come to Princeton “for a reason,” don’t pull up stakes, either, he observed.

Area activist Kip Cherry spoke in support of Mr. Goerner’s comments, describing the bill as “a proposed declaration of war against land use planning.”

The Senate bill is sponsored by Senators Paul Sario (D-Passaic) and Robert Singer (R-Monmouth). In the Assembly, the bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Celeste Riley (D-Salem) and Assemblyman Thomas Giblin (D-Passaic). The bills could be voted on as early as the end of June.