The New Jersey Senate has passed a bill and the Assembly is considering the bill to exempt private universities, such as Seton Hall, from complying with municipal zoning. South Orange residents should immediately call on their Assembly Members to work to reject this misguided legislation.
Based on a 1972 case (Rutgers v. Peluso, 60 N.J. 142) that held that Rutgers, because it is a state facility, is immune from local ordinances, the bill would grant Seton Hall a similar status, so that South Orange would have virtually no ability to constrain the university's building and its expansion into any neighborhood it chose.
The bill is especially dangerous for South Orange residents. That is not only because a private entity's interests are quite different from a governmental entity's interests, but because New Brunswick, the municipality involved in Rutgers v Peluso, is a far different type of municipality than South Orange. The impact of an almost unfettered ability to use, to build, to expand without regard to our carefully considered Zoning Ordinance, Master Plan, and Smart Growth Plan, which were crafted after the input not only of retained experts, but of members of the public and municipal boards familiar with South Orange, is incalculable.
Of perhaps greater importance is that although the court in Rutgers v Peluso was dealing with construction on the university's campus, the proposed statute is not so limited; a university could build almost anywhere; it could create uses in zones where such uses are prohibited, and buildings with physical characteristics not permitted by the ordinance, provided only that what it did was not deemed "arbitrary or unreasonable." Even though South Orange has established a University Zone for Seton Hall, by this legislation all of South Orange might, in effect, become a university zone.
Universities such as Seton Hall already have a favored status under the Land Use Law. In applying to a Zoning Board of Adjustment for variances, universities do not even have to establish the "Positive Criteria"—that what they are proposing would benefit the public—proof that is otherwise required of an applicant for a variance. That significant advantage should be enough of an advantage, especially when measured against the legitimate interests of the residents of a municipality.
The language of the decision in Rutgers v Peluso demonstrates that the court was cognizant of the dramatic financial burden on municipalities such as South Orange that large tax-exempt installations create. The court said, of course, that relief on that score can only come from the legislature. Here, the legislature would be acting not to ease the financial burden on towns like ours, but to increase it by allowing private universities to build and expand, without significant oversight by the municipality, taking more and more property off the tax rolls.
Just as there are state hospitals that would be immune under Rutgers v Pelosi from local ordinances, private hospitals and other institutional uses could be the next ones to be granted such immunity.
Urge your Assembly Members work against this proposed law:
Mila M. Jasey, 15 Valley Street, Maplewood New Jersey 07079, Telephone: (973) 762-1886, and
John F. McKeon, Jr. 4 Sloan Street, Suite D & Suite E, South Orange, New Jersey 07079, Telephone: (973) 275-1113.
You can also contact them through http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/SelectRep.asp.