Camden councilman wants to block eminent domain: Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, 4/11/06

By Dwight Ott

A Camden city councilman plans to introduce an ordinance Thursday calling for a two-year moratorium on the use of eminent domain - a move that could stall the city's multimillion-dollar recovery effort.

Councilman Gilbert "Whip" Wilson's proposed measure was discussed during last week's Council caucus. President Angel Fuentes reportedly read a letter from Melvin R. "Randy" Primas Jr., the city's state-appointed chief operating officer, opposing the moratorium.

"We had a heated discussion," Fuentes said. Wilson, he said, "is not going to have support of the majority of my colleagues. A moratorium for the next two years is going backwards. We're experiencing a renaissance in the city. A moratorium would just hurt the city. ... It's not going to pass."

Primas said he would veto the ordinance if it did. As the city's financial czar under the five-year, state-funded Recovery Act, Primas has been given that power by the state.

"To keep throwing roadblocks at Camden's redevelopment doesn't make sense," he said.

Several lawsuits have already tied up massive projects that called for the use of eminent domain in the Cramer Hill and Bergen Square neighborhoods.

Camden has been one of the nation's most aggressive users of eminent domain, with thousands of families facing an uncertain future.

Primas said eminent domain was the power of government to take and redevelop private property for the "greater good." Detractors call it a "land grab."

Mayor Gwendolyn Faison said Camden officials trying to stop eminent domain should make sure of their facts.

"Eminent domain is not all wrong if used the right way," she said.

Wilson's ordinance would block the acquisition of about 2,200 occupied homes and 160 occupied businesses.

He said he did not oppose redevelopment, but had questions.

"Camden is in the process of adopting redevelopment plans covering the entire city, potentially subjecting every family business in the city to displacement via eminent domain," his ordinance states.

"We're being asked to go out here on a leap of faith," Wilson said. "I have a lot of faith. But I'm not leaping until I can see the plans."

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