CAMDEN, NJ — City Council tabled an ordinance that would have authorized the use of the city's eminent domain powers to acquire land on behalf of a charter school system seeking expansion.
The decision at Tuesday night’s meeting came after objections from Cramer Hill residents and concerns raised from a councilmember about the Camden’s Promise Charter School plan for the construction of an early childhood development center.
Camden’s Promise, which operates four schools in East Camden serving students pre-K through 12th grade, is trying to obtain a group of properties across from its 879 Beideman Ave. main campus. The charter network has, over the years, secured all but four lots of the site proposed for the new school, a block where Lois and Hayes avenues meet in the Biedman neighborhood.
Efforts were reportedly made by the network to first contact the property owners but these owners did not return a response, according to Jim Lex, CEO of the Camden County Improvement Authority, who spoke on behalf of the project at last week's council caucus meeting.
At the follow-up meeting Tuesday, residents pleaded for a vote against the measure they said will further trample over longtime members of the surrounding community, covering Cramer Hill, Biedman, and Ablett Village.
Mary Cortes, president of Cramer Hill Residents Association and Camden United Inc., presented a petition from residents and business owners of the neighborhood rejecting the proposal to build another school. The letter listed seven points outlining why the group opposed the plan, which Cortes read aloud during a public comment portion on the ordinance.
Among the issues, the group said the charter-style school will not provide tax revenue to Camden, will bankrupt seven daycare businesses in the area, and make worse traffic issues that already pose problems.
They also argued that parents of the students enrolled in the new early childhood center — coming from municipalities other than just Camden — would "have no respect for the parking and peacefulness of the community."
"We will seek an injunction if we need to do so, we've done it before," Cortes said. "We knew nothing of this proposal. This proposal would have been brought before the Cramer Hill Residents Association.
"Please, say no to this proposal. No more schools, no more traffic. And consider the 'ma and pa' businesses of the city," she continued. "No more eminent domain please."
Councilmember Felisha Reyes-Morton, of Ward 4, asked members of administration if residents adjacent to the project site, specifically two single-family homes, had been notified of the proposed expansion and work that might affect them.
A week earlier at the caucus meeting, Lex said the charter network would make the effort to notify the individuals.
But officials Tuesday night could not confirm that this action had been taken. This led Reyes-Morton to call for the tabling of the measure, though a motion to push it forward was already brought.
"I think (the notification) is very important, for me, that's very important," she said.
After some murmuring among councilmembers and shouts from the crowd, the council then voted instead, unanimously, to table the ordinance.