Redevelopment helps: Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, 5/12/06

Letter to the Editor

By Angel Fuentes

Eminent domain is a frightening term. In fact, it is only one tool available to a community striving to achieve redevelopment goals that bring widespread and long-lasting benefits. In Camden, it is absolutely the last resort.

As president of Camden City Council, I have grappled with redevelopment questions regularly for more than three years.

Our city needs a stronger tax base. Our housing stock is generally older than 50 years and needs rehabilitation. Long-term economic dependency on the state is not feasible.

If we turn our back on redevelopment, we will lead our citizens further down a destructive path. This is our opportunity to set Camden in a positive direction.

Our tax base has practically vanished. Industry once concentrated in Camden is either defunct or spread throughout the region. Our schools are troubled. Our crime rate, while declining, is the subject of national news. Houses are abandoned or falling down in just about every neighborhood.

But all is not lost. Redevelopment - in which the city's business, industrial, governmental, medical and educational base works in concert with its strong and diverse communities - will lift the city from its dire circumstances.

Redeveloped neighborhoods can bring about economically and ethnically integrated communities that build our tax base. Job opportunities will increase at our hospitals, universities and industrial centers.

A stronger tax base translates into improved schools, city services and police protection.

Redevelopment projects require lots of adjoining land to be successful. Blocks rather than individual properties must be addressed.

Eminent domain - a hot-button issue nationwide - refers to the forced purchase of property from an owner to redevelop the land. Before this tool is used, the city negotiates purchase and relocation options with the owner, including:

Fair market value for the property, based on an independent appraisal.

For homeowner occupants, a brand-new replacement house of a size similar with the same mortgage.

Expenses to move anywhere they choose in Camden or within 50 miles.

If none of these options is satisfactory to the owner, and the city still needs the property for redevelopment, the use of eminent domain can become a reality. Indeed, we have gone beyond redevelopment laws to ensure choices and opportunities for residents.

The words eminent domain instill fear in our citizens because they are tossed around as a weapon by the uninformed, who wish only to keep Camden's residents in a lower quality of life.

Citywide redevelopment will create a better quality of life for all citizens, those who may be relocated, newcomers, and our longtime residents.

Philadelphia Inquirer: www.philly.com

Angel Fuentes is President of the Camden NJ City Council