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Bill Held that would Exempt Private Colleges from Land Use Laws

Date : Mon, 17 Jun 2013 12:32:52 -0400

For Immediate Release

June 17, 2013

Contact Jeff Tittel, 609-558-9100

Bill Held that would Exempt Private Colleges from Land Use Laws

Today the Assembly Budget Committee held A2568/S1534, a bill that would exempt colleges and universities from the Municipal Land Use Law. The NJ Sierra Club opposes this legislation since the Club and its volunteers have a long history of advocating for good planning and land use at the local level and this bill would exclude the public from that process. Local land use review is critical to identifying the environmental impacts of development and private colleges and universities should not be exempt from this local review. Under this bill private institutions would be able to evade local site plan reviews, zoning laws, and other regulations on development.

"We are glad the Committee held this legislation since this bill is an attack on good planning and the rights of communities and neighbors to have a say on developments that could directly impact them. Colleges and universities are a place for learning, not a place to learn how to get around environmental laws and zoning," said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club.

Improvements and new facilities at public colleges and universities are still subject to public review. State universities are subject to regulation and oversight through the legislative budgetary process. County colleges are similarly regulated by the county budgeting process. Each request for public funds for capital improvements by public institutions is subjected to public comment, record disclosures and court review, as well as review and adoption by a public body. Private institutions do not go through these reviews.

"Under the claim of creating ‘parity' between public and private universities in oversight of their development, this bill would inappropriately give private universities and colleges a free pass to develop what and where they want, without regulation or review by the local community in which they are situated. This is wrong for our local communities and will lead to more traffic, pollution, and sprawl," said Kip Cherry, Central Group Executive Committee, NJ Sierra Club.

Colleges are not infallible when it comes to land use. We are concerned that without review or oversight you could end up creating problems in the surrounding community. Colleges could err by building a research facility that creates noise and pollution close to a residential area or building on historic sites such as a battle field. Many historic sites are protected by local ordinances and those safeguards would be lost if universities are exempt. Construction could impact important forested areas for threatened and endangered species. The college could put dormitories or high rise office buildings in quite residential areas, blocking views and creating traffic and noise. Home owners will have no protection from the encroachment of campus development.

By exempting them from the MLUL, it will eliminate municipal environmental ordinances on development, including steep slopes, disturbance limits, lot clearance, buffer requirements, tree clearing limits, and wastewater capacity. There are also ordinances that protect the quality of special areas in the community that the colleges would be exempt from.

"A college campus is like a small city. They have tremendous impacts on the community around them. Exempting them from public oversight, scrutiny, and protections for sensitive resources will undo decades of environmental planning and regulation," said Jeff Tittel.

Without the local review the colleges would not be subject to wastewater, stormwater, or traffic capacity review and could use rest of the town's capacity, forcing the town to implement costly improvements to infrastructure.

Colleges can also do large scale private developments where they generate profit. For instance Princeton University is the developer behind Forrestal Village and have pushed for bad road projects such as Route 92 and the Millstone bypass, which would have opened up lands owned by the University for more commercial and office park development. A college could build high rise luxury apartments in Hoboken. Many universities are in the economic development business as well as education.

 By having proper oversight, review and zoning in place you will actually do a better job for the community and the university. The review looks at impacts to infrastructure and roads, if there is enough water and wastewater capacity to serve the development, and its impacts to flooding. The purpose of the review is to prevent nuisance, pollution, and impact to the community around the college.

The bill is being opposed by local and county governments. Princeton Township, Princeton Borough, and the Mercer Board of Freeholders have all passed strong resolutions opposing it. Sierra Club is part of a broad coalition of groups opposing this bill along with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, the American Planning Association – New Jersey Chapter, Preservation New Jersey, NJ League of Women Voters, the Land Use Section of the Bar Association, and New Jersey History Advocates.

"Developments on college campuses can have a big impact on the environment and water quality and could destroy open spaces. How a college or university grows is not only important to the neighbors but to the whole state and communities deserve to participate in that process. We applaud the Committee for holding this bill to ensure citizens will continue to have a say in how their communities are developed when they neighbor private colleges," said Terry Stimpfel, Central Group Chair, NJ Sierra Club

Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator
New Jersey Sierra Club
145 W. Hanover Street
Trenton, NJ 08618
Received on 2013-06-17 09:32:52

New Jersey Sierra Club, 145 West Hanover St., Trenton, NJ 08618, USA
tel: 609 656 7612, fax 609 656 7618
or email Nicole Dallara, Outreach Coordinator, at nicole.dallara@sierraclub.org

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