Pending legislature would exempt private universities and colleges from land use law, permitting those schools to develop without zoning constraints or review by local planning boards.
Such a bill may not have a major impact on New Brunswick, according to the city's Planning Director, Glenn Patterson.
According to Patterson, the only existing private college in New Brunswick is the New Brunswick Theological Seminary.
The pending legislation would permit private colleges and schools the same permissions as public ones, like Rutgers University.
Patterson said that the seminary has sold a portion of its property to the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) to be redeveloped with buildings for use by Rutgers. DEVCO, a private developer, would not be exempt under this law, he said.
Additional renovations on the seminary property have already gained zoning approval, Patterson said.
"As the Seminary site is going through a major redevelopment now and site plan approval has already been obtained for the new seminary buildings, it is not likely that they will have significant other new development for some time on this site," he said.
Princeton officials are voicing their opposition of the bill, claiming that such a bill could open a door to zoning exemption by other nonprofit entities, such as hospitals, private schools and churches.
On Tuesday, Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore and members of Borough Council hosted a public forum to discuss A2586, what they consider to be a “slippery slope” that could eventually decimate local zoning in the name of institutions serving the public good.
Both Princeton Township and Princeton Borough have passed resolutions opposing the Assembly bill.
Together, those four institutions own 60 percent of Princeton Borough property, Moore said.
Currently, public colleges must provide a review of projects to local planning officials, as per land use law, but the recommendations that come from it are non-binding, Patterson said.
"The review and recommendations by a planning board to a public entity are non-binding. I believe their may be some case law restricting whether a public entity can arbitrarily ignore any recommendations from the board, but the recommendations are just that: recommendations," Patterson said.
Patterson said that potential problems would arise if a college was looking to build in an area that is not zoned for it, or in a greater volume that is permitted by zoning regulations.
"In these cases, it can be a good thing to have the public hearing process of a site plan and variance review by the planning or zoning board to allow for a full airing about the future of the community and its character," he said.
Princeton officials want citizens to get involved by contacting legislators and friends, or by signing an online petition opposing the Assembly bill.
The Assembly Higher Education Committee is expected to discuss the bill in November.