Opinion: Keep Local Control Over Zoning for Private Colleges

An op-ed by Assemblyman John F. McKeon and Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey

Dear Editor:

We write to express our serious concern with a measure being rushed through the Legislature that would limit municipal control over land use decisions. Assembly Bill A-2586 would exempt private institutions of higher education from local zoning jurisdiction and only require them to consult with local authorities concerning their institutional development plans. This is the wrong policy for the towns of the 27th Legislative District - home to five private colleges and universities.  

A-2586 is a solution in search of a problem. Our communities appreciate the opportunities for enrichment that our private colleges and universities make available. The municipal governments employ cooperative relationships with the administrations of Caldwell, Drew, Fairleigh Dickinson, Seton Hall and St. Elizabeth’s to ensure that growth and expansion benefits both the student population and the host community.

With good reason, we strongly support our private colleges and universities. They help maintain New Jersey’s well-educated work force – one of our most critical assets. They also provide local economic benefits, unique cultural exchanges and outstanding educational programs. While giving due recognition to the benefits these institutions bring to our towns, we must also give fair and honest recognition to the fact that hosting them is not without its disadvantages for local residents.

It is no secret that a student population produces additional vehicular traffic and markedly increases demands upon public safety and emergency services which are borne by local taxpayers. The institutions enjoy exemption from local property taxes by virtue of their non-profit status and have the advantage of being considered as an inherently beneficial use when they make an application before the local zoning board. We do not think it unreasonable to insist that they follow the same zoning rules as all other private non-profit organizations that contribute to similar public policy goals.

In the 27th Legislative District, these institutions are not surrounded by open space. They are quite literally our neighbors. The property they acquire is often next door to us or across the street from our homes. We believe the final say on their land use applications should be made by zoning and planning boards that are accountable to resident taxpayers.

For these reasons, we have been actively engaging the mayors of the hosting communities on this issue. We recently held a meeting in Trenton in which local officials educated the bill sponsor concerning the potential harm A-2586 could bring to our towns if adopted. You can be assured that we will continue to vigorously oppose this bill in the General Assembly.

Very truly yours,

Assemblyman John F. McKeon                          Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey

Kathy Leventhal October 12, 2012 at 11:35 AM
Maplewood passed a Resolution against this bill and its Senate counterpart. Kathy Leventhal, Deputy Mayor, Township of Maplewood.
Seton Hall Alum October 12, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Assemblywoman Mila M. Jasey needs to stop flip-flopping; she was initially a sponsor of this bill. The private colleges and universities in this state need this bill so they can focus on their students and their missions instead of having to jump through hoops and spend countless dollars begging their towns to allow them to do what is necessary to succeed and advance their schools.


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