June 21, 2013

Land Use Bill Tabled by State Assembly

A bill that would allow private colleges and universities to pursue development opportunities without the scrutiny of municipal land use laws was tabled by the New Jersey State Assembly Budget Committee on Tuesday. A group of local officials and concerned Princeton residents who had gathered at Trenton’s State House Annex to testify against the bill were pleased to hear that the measures had been put to rest during the current legislative session.

But Bill A2586 could be brought up again at a future date. The legislation remains alive until the end of the current year.

A group that included Mayor Liz Lempert, former Borough Mayor Yina Moore, Council members Jo Butler, Jenny Crumiller and Patrick Simon, Princeton Future co-founder Sheldon Sturges, and local activist Kip Cherry waited for nearly two hours while the Budget Committee, behind the scenes, took a poll on which legislation on their agenda had enough votes to move bills out of committee, according to an email sent Tuesday morning by Ms. Cherry. “Due to the considerable opposition expressed on A2586 and a lack of consensus on a compromise, the bill was pulled,” she wrote. “So there was no hearing and no vote.”

The bill was in the hands of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee last year, so officials were surprised to learn last week that it had been moved to the budget committee, Ms. Lempert said while waiting for a final decision on whether a vote would be taken.

Last year, the Princeton Borough Council and Township Committee passed resolutions opposing Bill 2586. Those in favor of the measure say it would provide parity between public and private colleges. While private colleges and universities must currently obey local land use laws, public institutions only have to provide courtesy reviews.

“They call it a parity bill. We call it a disparity bill,” Michael Cerra of the New Jersey League of Municipalities said during a Borough Council forum on the bill last fall. “We don’t accept the argument that it is a parity bill. It creates an unequal playing field. It puts local governments at a disadvantage.”

Princeton University officials have expressed support for the bill, saying the University would continue to consult with the local Planning Board on development projects. The University is among four institutions in town that would fall under the legislation. The others are Princeton Theological Seminary, Westminster Choir College of Rider University, and the Institute for Advanced Study.