Princeton Borough Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday, October 9 will be dominated by one issue: Concern about a bill pending in the State Assembly that would exempt private universities from municipal land use law. Mayor Yina Moore, who along with Township Mayor Chad Goerner has been active in a statewide effort to prevent the bill known as A2586 from passing, said that a special town forum on the subject is being held to help inform the public about how they can help defeat the measure.
“We’re inviting mayors from other towns who share our circumstance of having land owned by a private college or university,” she said. “During the council meeting, we’ll have [representatives from] the New Jersey League of Municipalities, the American Planning Association’s New Jersey Chapter, who wrote the petition and extensive paper on the problem; legislators, and other organizations who have opposed the bill and therefore support our position that it is not fair to municipalities or citizens.”
The mayors invited to the forum are among 17 municipalities in New Jersey that contain property owned by private universities. Invited speakers include Michael Cerra, senior legislative analyst; and Charles Latini Jr., president of the American Planning Association’s New Jersey Chapter.
The Senate version of the bill passed 26-8-6 last June. The Assembly version has been referred to the Assembly Higher Education Committee. The bill would exempt private colleges and universities from complying with local zoning codes under the Municipal Land Use Law. As of Tuesday, October 2, 956 people had signed a petition on the American Planning Association New Jersey Chapter’s website opposing the measure. A group called Coalition for Safe Neighborhoods has created a flyer that was mailed to local residents, and is currently airing a radio spot expressing opposition to the bill.
While local officials are opposed to the bill, representatives of private colleges and universities have said that it would put them on equal footing with public institutions in the state. Last month, Mayor Moore sent a letter to Princeton University President Shirley M. Tilghman asking that the University issue a written statement opposing the bill.
“Princeton Borough strongly believes that no developer in Princeton should be exempt from the salutary controls established by the State Legislature in the Municipal Land Use Law,” she wrote. “Those controls include land use planning procedures and law designed to protect communities from a wide variety of threats, including to public safety and health, to the local economy and quality of life, and to the environment. Exempting institutions from those controls could seriously damage the interests of Borough residents in neighborhoods adjacent to a proposed developer as well as the interests of Borough residents as a whole.”
Ms. Tilghman responded in a letter: “Given Princeton University’s 250-year history of being both a responsible developer and a very good community citizen, I was astonished by the belief of Princeton Borough that the adoption of Assembly Bill No. 2586 could subject the community to ‘a wide variety of threats, including to public safety and health, to the local economy and quality of life, and to the environment.’ Princeton is our home and will always be our home, so whether this legislation is adopted or not, we would never jeopardize the well-being of our community. If the legislation is adopted, we would continue to consult with local officials and residents before proceeding with any major project, and would continue to try to address community needs as well as university needs as fully as we can.”
The October 9 forum will be divided into four segments: Short, prepared remarks by speakers, statements by a panel of representatives from impacted communities, and questions from the audience concluding with drafting of an action plan “to more vigorously oppose the legislation,” according to a press release issued by the Borough this week.
Ms. Moore hopes members of the public will attend to ask questions and offer comments. “We have a core contingent,” she said. “We hope to get a good showing, and we want to hear from the public. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get a couple of mayors or representatives from towns that already have public colleges and universities, so we can understand what that experience is about.”
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