NJ Senate passes bill exempting Stevens from local zoning oversight

June 17, 2013 Update: Since approved by the State Senate a year ago, the companion Assembly bill A2586 has been tied up in the Assembly Committee on Higher Education. In an unusual move, A2586 was pulled out of the Committee on Higher Education and put on the June 17, 2013 agenda for the Assembly Budget Committee. Representatives from Stevens Institute of Technology attended the June 17 Committee hearing prepared to push for the bill to be voted out of Committee and onto the Assembly floor for a vote but to no avail as the bill was pulled from the Committee agenda.

(June 28, 2012)

Twelve-story undergrad dormitories lining historic Hudson Street. A fifty story tower on the waterfront just north of Sinatra Park. On June 28, 2012, the New Jersey State Senate in a 26 to 8 vote passed S-1534 that would allow all of that and more. This legislation exempts nonprofit colleges from local zoning and planning regulations.

The Senate passed this bill despite vocal opposition from mayors across the state and strenuous objections from the New Jersey League of Municipalities and the New Jersey Chapter of the American Planning Association (NJAPA). In a June 27 letter, the NJAPA writes, “We understand that the bill would affect 14 institutions with campuses in 16 municipalities—a textbook example of special interest legislation” and “local planning and zoning boards are the only public safeguards that can protect existing neighborhoods from poorly planned institutional encroachments.”

The proposed legislation now moves on to the New Jersey State Assembly as bill A-2586. A-2586 has been referred to the Assembly Higher Education Committee but no public hearing has yet been scheduled. If approved by this Committee, the Assembly will take a vote. Final approval will be up to Governor Christie.

If this bill becomes legislation, other nonprofit institutions could similarly seek exemptions from the state’s Municipal Land Use Law and local zoning controls. Past proposals by Stevens Institute of Technology have been hotly debated. The Fund for a Better Waterfront has challenged Stevens proposals for a massive parking garage along Sinatra Drive directly across from Sinatra Park. After years of controversy and litigation, Stevens modified the garage plans so that the parking, reduced in size, would be enclosed behind academic facilities. A-2586/S-1534 would effectively end the debate, public input and municipal authority. Stevens would be able to do as they pleased, no matter how extreme or offensive the development plan.

How high can Stevens build on waterfront property? NJ Senate says sky is the limit.

Eleven New Jersey Mayors sent a letter to the State Senate opposing S-1534. Jersey City Mayor Jeremiah Healey and Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer both signed this letter. On June 27, Mayor Zimmer also wrote to State Senator Brian Stack asking him to vote against the measure. The following day, Senator Stack and Senator Sandra Cunningham provided two of the eight votes opposing the bill.

Related links

NJ Assembly bill number 2586
NJ American Planning Association letter to State Senate
Mayors open letter to State Senate
On April 14, City Council will hear FBW appeal of 19 variances granted by Zoning Board
Stevens proposes its ‘little plan’ for waterfront