APP Editorial: Don't let private schools bypass land-use laws
Aug 10, 2012
A bill that would exempt private colleges and universities from local planning and zoning regulations has the mayors of most of the towns that host them up in arms( not Lakewood). The reasons for the opposition to the bill, which was recently approved by the state Senate and awaits Assembly action in the fall, are clear enough. Giving colleges carte blanche to build sports arenas, dormitories and other facilities without review by municipal officials and without opportunities for public input is inimical to representative government and to good planning principles. Many projects have a major impact on parking, traffic flow and quality of life issues. And they frequently require additional public services. Mayors also rightfully fear that allowing tax-exempt colleges to expand will remove even more taxable properties from the tax rolls. Look no farther than the love-hate relationship that exists between communities and the public colleges in their midst that already enjoy such land-use exemptions — Piscataway and Rutgers come immediately to mind — to understand the legitimacy of mayors’ concerns. Municipal leaders often pay public homage to their associations with the schools while privately bemoaning the burdens on local services and the loss of tax revenue. For sure, attempts by some colleges to expand facilities or the footprint of the campus itself have been slowed, and in some cases stopped, by reticent planning and zoning boards. That has been the case in recent days at Monmouth University in West Long Branch and at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, helping prompt this legislation. In the Senate, the bill was cosponsored by former Lakewood mayor and state Sen. Bob Singer, R-Ocean, who is interested, no doubt, in greasing the skids for Georgian Court, where he is a member of the Board of Trustees, and the Beth Medrash Govoha yeshiva, which some familiar with the legislation believe would be eligible for exemption from land use regulations as well. In the Assembly, one of the cosponsors is Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, whose district includes Monmouth University’s host town. Proposed expansions at that campus, including the most recent attempt to add a dormitory, have met strong — and often reasonable — resistance from its residential neighbors. But allowing unfettered, unregulated growth is not in the best interest of the host communities. And it could well be argued that the local review process often results in plans that, in the long run, best serve both the community and the college. As if the lack of local land use review weren’t bad enough, the legislation not only allows construction of new facilities on the current footprint of the campus, but would allow expansion of the footprint. And, under terms of the bill, it could allow the university to purchase property in areas not contiguous to the campus, and still not be subject to land use review.
Towns generally recognize the value to the community of hosting a college. And most try to accommodate its needs. Giving universities complete control over how they expand could not only result in unwelcome consequences but cause irreconcilable damage to the town-gown relationship. We’ve seen that at times with our public universities. Why expand the pain, especially at schools over which the public has no other control?
This is a bad bill — one that should die in the Assembly.