Opinion: Bill Exempting Private Colleges from Local Zoning Would Pave Over NJ

Exempting private colleges from our land use laws would lead to more traffic, pollution, and sprawl.

The Legislature is currently considering a bill that would exempt private colleges and universities from the Municipal Land Use Law.  We (NJ Sierra Club) oppose this bill because it would allow those institutions to evade site plan reviews, zoning laws, and other regulations on development. Colleges and universities are a place for learning, not a place to learn how to get around environmental laws and zoning.

This bill takes away the rights of citizens and neighbors to have any say in what happens to their community.  This bill attacks the rights of due process every citizen has to comment on projects that impact their community.  It undermines good planning and proper review.  We believe it could lead to some serious traffic and environmental problems. 

There have been problems with private colleges 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 or dormitories or high rise office buildings close to a quiet residential area.  These facilities would also block views and add to traffic.  In the past colleges have built on historic sites such as a battle field.  Construction could impact important forested areas for threatened and endangered species.  Developments on college campuses can have a big impact on the environment and water quality and destroy open spaces.  How a college or university grows is not only important to the neighbors but to the whole state.

Colleges can also do large scale private developments, that have nothing to do with educational or student life facilities, where they generate profit.  For example, Princeton University is the developer behind the Forrestal Village shopping mall complex and has pushed for road projects that would lead to more sprawl and traffic such as Route 92 and the Millstone bypass.  The Millstone Bypass would have opened up lands owned by the University for more commercial and office park development.  A college could build high rise luxury apartments or office space in Hoboken.  Many universities are in the economic development business as well as education. 

These private developments by private colleges and universities that have nothing to do with education and could result in significant sprawl development that would have a tremendous impact on the local community.  The proposed bill would take away the rights of the community to have input in these types of proposals for private development on lands owned by the college.

This could be used as a loop-hole big enough to drive bulldozers through.  If a developer wants to evade the law they can just partner with a college or a college can just take more and more land in a community and turn it over to private developers.

Following the Municipal Land Use Law and having proper oversight, review and zoning in place actually helps the community and university.  The review looks at impacts to infrastructure and roads, flooding, and if there is enough water and wastewater capacity to serve the development.  The purpose of the review is to prevent nuisance and pollution and minimize the impact to the community around the college. 

Colleges are a place where we teach students no one is above the law and colleges themselves should not be above the law either.  We urge the Legislature to oppose this bill because the purpose of a university is to enrich people’s lives through education, not to pave over farm fields, battle fields and forests for office parks luxury condos or box stores. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.


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