CAMDEN, NJ — The line for public comment stretched from the podium at the center of the room to the back wall. The hearing before the zoning board lasted nearly four hours.
And by the end, those that spoke up in support of a long-awaited plan to reinvigorate the Parkside section of Camden got the response they were hoping for.
Late into the night on Aug. 5, Parkside Redevelopment, LLC received a use variance and preliminary site plan approval from the Camden City Zoning Board, moving forward its proposal to transform vacant structures and land on Haddon Avenue and Princess Avenue into two mixed-use apartment properties and a parking lot.
The project is set to bookend Haddon Avenue between Atlantic and Euclid avenues in the Parkside.
The project includes a four-story property on the site of the former Haddon Medical Arts building — from 1484-1942 Haddon Ave. bordering Euclid Avenue — that would house 24 residential units and 12 offices over ground-floor retail. The structure is actually planned as two buildings linked by a lobby entrance near the center. The building on the right features offices and retail with a roof deck and garden. The adjacent building, or residential side, would have a full green roof.
A 20-space parking lot is planned behind the left end of the structure, replacing overgrown blocks on Princess Avenue. An additional smaller concealed lot, hidden by the office and retail building, would be accessible from Euclid Avenue.
At the opposite end of Haddon, the project calls for a three-story property with eight apartments over first-floor retail. This building, spanning 1410-1416 Haddon Ave., would face out to the Atlantic Avenue intersection.
The new one and two-bedroom units would be for those with low to moderate income. Elevators would be features of both residential properties.
The project supports the goals and objectives of the Parkside redevelopment plan, the applicant team said.
Numerous Parkside residents at the zoning meeting applauded as remarks from the board members indicated support for the project, and cheered loudly once the 5-0 approval vote was made.
Leading up to the pivotal decision, one resident after another offered passionate arguments to the board about why the potential project should go forward, and in a handful of cases, why it shouldn’t. A public-comment portion was first held on the use variance for approval of the parking lot. Once the board heard those thoughts, the applicant team could proceed with an overview of the entire scope of the project, and then allow the public to react again.
“I came here because I wanted to, because this is my home, and I wanted to invest here. I’m not here because I have to be, I’m here because I love it,” said resident Ltanya Brooks, who argued that there isn’t much moderate-income housing available. “We deserve (this plan) for our people! This is a wonderful opportunity, let’s open the door.”
Corinne Bradley-Powers, owner of Haddon Avenue-staple Corinne’s Place, said that anything intended to improve Haddon Avenue should be supported. In business for the last 30 years, she’s seen how the corridor has changed and backed efforts to restore it.
“We’re trying to bring Parkside back,” she said.
The project even got an endorsement from Assemblyman Bill Spearman (NJ-5), who grew up and still lives in Camden. Before sharing his support, he also commended the board members for listening to the residents no matter how long it took.
“(The plan) is bringing new units, affordable units, units that people who live in Camden can afford to live in,” Spearman said. “You’re hearing a project that’s been developed with the input of the community, many hours over many months and years. This is a good project.”
Bridget Phifer, executive director of Parkside Business and Community in Partnership, said a special neighborhood meeting was held on July 31 to discuss the project with residents who would be affected by the development. The team hoped to obtain feedback and address concerns in the days leading up to the hearing.
Just over a year ago, an initial project for the first phase of redevelopment for the neighborhood failed to get off the ground. The zoning board denied an application that called for housing along Haddon Avenue after residents from the nearby Gateway and Whitman Park neighborhoods -- areas where some of the residential units would overlap -- objected to the proposal.
Phifer said the current project is part of the larger neighborhood redevelopment plan completed in 2018 that included 700 stakeholders and residents. The entire Parkside community was invited to participate in the planning.
“So this project is directly a result of that neighborhood planning process,” Phifer said during public comment at last week’s zoning board meeting.
But there were still a number of residents active at that meeting that took issue with the project.
These residents worried the ability to park on Haddon Avenue, which they say is already challenging and would only worsen with the congestion of additional residents and daily visitors to the corridor. Another point raised was that the spaces planned for the parking lot (20) do not meet the needs of the apartments (24) in the building it serves.
The board members shared these concerns.
As presented at the meeting, the preliminary plan currently relies on Haddon Avenue street parking to support some of the residential units and potential retail components.
Supporters of the project, who argued that progress has to start somewhere, did acknowledge that challenges will likely occur with parking. They posed a question in response: what neighborhood in a city doesn’t have that problem?
After the hearing wrapped up and much of the council chambers cleared out, Phifer told TAPinto Camden that parking concerns will be addressed. Now that the plan is through early approval, she said, the project team has time to research further.
“I heard folks very loud and clear, so we need to go back and figure out if there are some additional lots or some other land that we might be able to acquire that would help address those issues,” she said.
The project team will push ahead with an application for low income housing tax credits in September and await a response, which would come by December. Expecting approval of an award, Phifer said groundbreaking at the project site could be possible in summer or fall 2020.
“There’s still a lot of work that needs to happen to get us there,” she said.
That agenda includes ensuring funding and then appearing again before the zoning board, likely in January or February, for final site plan approval.