CAMDEN, NJ—A recent City of Camden Zoning Board meeting devolved into shouting and gavel slamming multiple times during a hearing to build affordable housing in the Parkside neighborhood.
Parkside Redevelopment, LLC was seeking use variances and preliminary site plan approval form the zoning board to build multi-family, mixed-income housing in the Parkside section of the City of Camden.
However, after residents and community groups from the nearby Gateway and Whitman Park neighborhoods objected to the project — at times shouting from the audience — claiming they weren’t made aware of the projects details until recent weeks or at all, the zoning board unanimously voted to deny the application.
According to Parkside Business and Community in Partnership’s Executive Director Bridget Phifer, the PBCIP is now planning on reaching out to those community groups to set up meetings.
“I think that’s the only approach that we can take at this point. In order for us to move any real change to the Haddon Avenue landscape forward, we have to make sure that all parties engaged,” Phifer said.
The mixed-income housing is the first phase of the PBCIP’s project to redevelop the Parkside neighborhood that includes new retail, office and civic spaces as well. Proposed was the construction of 44 new mixed-income, mutli-family units by either new construction on vacant lots or through the rehabilitation of blighted single-family homes.
Twenty-nine units were to be included in one structure along Haddon Avenue near Euclid Avenue, with rest scattered across the neighborhood along Kenwood, Princess and Haddon avenues. Two three-bedroom units were to be constructed on the corner of Whitman Avenue and Haddon Avenue in the Whitman Park neighborhood.
However, Whitman Park residents, along with residents from the Gateway neighborhood, said they were unaware of the plan until recently, and disapproved of the proposal.
Rev. Willie Anderson, pastor at the Sword of the Spirit Church in Camden, said he had just received the project’s plans “two or three” weeks ago and believed the project would affect the Gateway residents. A representative from the United Neighbors of Whitman Park also objected to the project, saying Whitman Park residents would prefer more opportunities for home ownership rather rentals.
Zoning board member Henrietta Washington, a Whitman Park resident, said she had never heard of the project until last wee's Monday night meeting.
The project was not without support, however, with many Parkside residents in attendance, including some who spoke for the project during the meeting’s public comment session.
“It's always good to have something than nothing,” said Oscar Spencer, a longtime Haddon Avenue resident.
“None of us want to put our children in jeopardy, but those vacant properties out our children in jeopardy,” said Lorie Smith. “We need to figure how to work together in this city.”
Now, Parkside Redevelopment, LLC — a partnership that includes the PBCIP and Cornerstone Community Partners — will have to submit a new application to the zoning board and appear once more for a hearing.
“But you know what, whatever it takes. We’re not some large developer that’s swooping down to the community trying to bring in some development project that’s only meaningful to our bottom line,” said Phifer. “We have a longstanding history in this community, we have done quite a few good things in this neighborhood and we just want to be able to continue that.”