Bill exempting private colleges from land use law opposed

West Long Branch, NJLM argue towns should have jurisdiction over plans


West Long Branch officials are opposing legislation that would exempt private colleges and universities from the provisions of local land use law.

The bill, S 1534 and A 2586, would grant private colleges and universities the same standing as public colleges, which are exempt from local zoning and planning regulations.

Mayor Janet Tucci and members of the Borough Council are opposing the bill, which, the mayor said, would mean Monmouth University would no longer be required to seek the borough’s approval for new development.

“The laws are there for a reason and in fairness to my residents, I have to support that [a private university] should be made to follow the same guidelines as any residence or business in town,” Tucci said in an interview on June 8.

“If a resident or business wanted to do something, they would have to go before the planning or the zoning boards, so why should a private college or university have special status?”

Tucci explained that the bill was brought to her attention during a N.J. League of Municipalities (NJLM) meeting on June 5, which prompted the discussion at the council meeting on June 6. According to Mike Cerra, legislative analyst with the NJLM, the legislation would impact 14 institutions of higher education within 16 state municipalities.

The League of Municipalities opposed S-1534 during a public hearing before the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee on June 7, testifying that the bill would allow private colleges and universities to bypass the municipal land use law and the public process in seeking expansion or additions to the campus.

According to the bill, which is co-sponsored by Sen. Robert Singer (R-30th District), a New Jersey Supreme Court Decision in 1972 made public universities exempt from local planning and zoning rules in recognition of “the critical public mission served by those institutions in educating the citizens of the state.”

The bill, which advanced to the floor of the state Senate, argues that private institutions serve the same purpose as public colleges and universities and should not be restricted by local land use laws.

These institutions are being penalized by having to go through an approval process, which is time-consuming and results in a delay of important educational programs and facilities for students, the bill states.

However, Cerra explained that these approvals are necessary because changes to a college campus would impact the entire community.

“The university is a part of the community and to have a good town relationship it should be an open-ended process between the town and the school,” Cerra said.

Tucci concurred, noting that requiring Monmouth University to go before the municipal zoning and planning boards for approval of new development ensures that the community has some input.

“The college tries to be a good neighbor and we try to work with them as much as possible,” she said, citing the approvals necessary for the university’s construction of a new facility.

Monmouth was required to apply for approval from the zoning board to build the Multipurpose Activity Center (MAC), a 153,200 square-foot building housing a 4,100-seat arena.

While the MAC application did eventually get approved, Tucci said the town was able provide limitations.

“The town was able to give input with how many events they could have, how many people they could have there,” she said.

“If not they could have an event every night with 5,000 people. Then we would have the police, the town and the residents impacted.”

She added that the law as it currently is written allows the town a measure of control .

Cerra added that private colleges are basing their support of the bill on a 40-yearold court case that exempts public institutions of higher learning from local land use law and there is no reason why public institutions deserve special status.

“I think we should take the position that the court decision should be reversed,” he said .

The bill would still require private institutions to consult with local authorities about development, but Cerra said that is not enough.

“Most public colleges and universities do offer a courtesy review, but at the end of the day they make the decisions, they act,” he said. “I would hope that in the case that this bill actually got through, that the private schools would act in the same way but it doesn’t assure that the process is going to be open.”

The League of Municipalities is also opposed to the legislation because it would set a precedent for nonprofit organizations, Cerra said.

“Not only are you opening it up to these institutions but other nonprofit institutions that serve a public purpose are going to get in line and say what about us,” he said.

“At that point, who shouldn’t be exempt from the process that you or I as a homeowner have to go through?”

While S-1534 has advanced to the Senate, A-2586 has not had a public hearing.

The 16 municipalities impacted by the bill are concerned, Cerra said.

“This bill will be a hindrance and in the long run the institutions that are pushing for this are going to regret it,” he said.