Developing in Camden: What's "abuse"?

abandoned-building.jpgCamden’s Lanning Square neighborhood is in need of a lot of help. There are vacant houses and the crime rate is not good. City officials know it and so do residents. On Thursday night, Camden’s planning board voted to draft a resolution designating the neighborhood in need of redevelopment. A vote on the actual resolution won’t happen until June 12.

Although planning board members seem to be sympathetic to residents’ concerns, eminent domain will be on the table. The yet-to-be-approved plan calls for the acquisition of 350 buildings. Out of those 350, there are 65 that are occupied. Residents would like to see the city do its job first before it starts to take property, while officials are claiming they won’t be abusive:

“I’d be for everything. There are all kinds of services needed,” said Cammee Donaldson, a six-decade neighborhood resident. “But I’m not in favor of eminent domain and taking my home whenever you want to.”

Keith Stewart, a 43-year Lanning Square resident, said change is needed, but the city can do it without taking any properties.

“If the city would do their job, they wouldn’t need to do this,” said Stewart, who demanded police and public works officials clean up the neighborhood.

But after numerous complaints about the possibility of relocation, board members countered.

“It’s not the intention of the administration to use it in an abusive way,” said board member Robin Johnson. “I’m insulted and offended by the contention that we have some secret plan to pass this study, to implement this plan and then take your property.”

Indeed, there is no secret plan, but it seems the plan being debated (publicly, no less) seems like it would allow for the acquisition of private property to be handed over to another private party for economic development. That would be eminent domain abuse, which–I know it’s silly to say–is by definition abusive.

From what residents told the board, it seems Camden has failed in its duty to provide services for the people of Lanning Square and now, like many other cities, instead of addressing the problem, will pulverize what’s there and cover it over with a new neighborhood. So far, Camden hasn’t had much success with its redevelopment projects, so it’s entirely likely that a decade from now the dreams of the planners will have disappeared and the neighborhood will still be as it is now. Or city officials might listen to residents and work together with them to improve the neighborhood instead of punishing residents for the city’s own negligence.