STATE — The NJ Sierra Club Executive Committee has passed a resolution opposing A2568/S1534, a bill that would exempt colleges and universities from the Municipal Land Use Law.
The NJ Sierra Club is part of a campaign to stop this bill as 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.
“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 of the 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.
“A college campus is like a small city. They have tremendous impacts on the community around them. Exempting they from public oversight, scrutiny, and protections for sensitive resources will undo decades of environmental planning and regulation,” said 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, according to NJ Sierra Club officials.
The bill is also 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 need the Legislature to hold 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.