REAL ESTATE DESK
In the Region/New Jersey; A Plan to Revitalize a Historic Enclave in Camden
By RACHELLE GARBARINE (NYT) 1494 words
BY the standards of Camden, the state's poorest
city, the historic neighborhood of Fairview has held up fairly well, but
holes are now poking through the armor of this area.
About 200 of its 2,400 homes are boarded up, reminders
of the families, some of whom had been in the neighborhood for
generations, that in the last decade have fled from high taxes and meager services. Worries about safety have increased with
the rise in the number of empty buildings that overlook the area's central green, where drug deals go down as day turns to
Fairview -- a World War I era planned community
of American Federal style homes built for shipyard workers by the
federal government -- may seem to be sliding, but it is still one of Camden's last viable neighborhoods. Now there is a $40
million plan in place aimed at stabilizing and ensuring the long-term health of the 225-acre enclave at the city's southernmost tip and surrounded on three sides by Newton Creek.
The plan calls for 320 new and renovated rental
and for-sale housing units for people with a mix of incomes, as well as
hiring of a manager to coordinate efforts to bring back businesses to the central square, which will be cleaned and secured.
The plan also includes the creation of a 3,000-square-foot community center and a recreational area as well as the
introduction of programs for youngsters in the neighborhood, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in
''It's a holistic approach, the key to which is
the revitalization of Yorkship Square as a center of commerce and community,''
said Anthony M. Cancro, acting commissioner of the state's Department of Community Affairs, adding that it also involves
community input. Those two factors make this plan different from past efforts, which ''slowed but didn't stop the
deterioration,'' he said.
Over the last two years his department devised the
plan together with the designated developer, RPM Development Group
of Montclair; the Fairview Historic Society; and other community groups. Among them are the area's seven churches and the
Senator Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University in Camden.
Al Rose, president of the historic society, praised
the plan's determination to preserve not only the neighborhood's bricks
and mortar but also its spirit. Mr. Rose has run a pharmacy for 28 years in the neighborhood; today it is the only business
still operating from an otherwise shuttered building.
FELIPE GOROSTIZA, executive director of the Rand
Institute, said Fairview's ''real or perceived image'' of a lack of safety
also needed to be addressed. ''People must be given a reason to want to come back,'' he said.
The Rev. Kenneth Hallahan, pastor of St. Joan of
Arc Roman Catholic Church stressed, however, that the aim is not ''to
gentrify the area or drive out long-time residents.''
Last month the city signed off on the plan, which
requires RPM to acquire existing buildings as well as land from various
owners. It is to be carried out in three phases over the next three years.
The acquisition process has begun for the first
120-unit phase, which includes acquiring four vacant buildings along the
square and renovating them to create 50 mostly one-bedroom rentals and acquiring several parcels along Collings Avenue, a
main entryway to the area, to build 70 new apartments. Work is to begin in late spring.
The $40 million plan is to be financed mostly through
state as well as federal funds. The city is providing a 30-year tax
In the last eight years the state has invested $80
million to produce 780 new and renovated housing units in other Camden
neighborhoods as well as $20 million more in commercial redevelopment. ''We had to show private developers Camden
was worth investing in,'' Mr. Cancro said.
That commitment helped to persuade RPM, known mainly
for its work in northern New Jersey, to respond to the state's call
for developers. Other factors included Fairview's location and physical appeal, said Ed Martoglio, RPM's principal.
''Beyond the blight and boarded-up buildings, you can still see a charming neighborhood,'' he said.
The federal government created Fairview in 1917
to house workers of the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, which
churned out ships for World War I. Originally called Yorkship Village, it was carved from farmland along Newton Creek
near the shipyard.
But, like 54 other such wartime neighborhoods nationwide,
it was designed to be more than a barrackslike compound. The
designer of Fairview, Electus Darwin Litchfield, modeled the community after the Garden City developments popular in
England at that time and gave it a central village square, from which stretch narrow winding residential streets and broad
green commercial boulevards like spokes on a wheel.
The architect also lined the streets with trees
and row houses, duplexes and detached homes made of red brick and graced
with porches and small front and back yards. Having the creek on three sides also makes Fairview seem more suburban than
urban, and residents with homes overlooking the creek say they can spot egrets and blue herons.
FROM 1923, when the government auctioned off the
homes, to the start of the last decade, Fairview remained an stable
enclave. Then a 1992 tax revaluation that doubled homeowner's property taxes, an aging population and white flight
conspired against the neighborhood and left behind a trail of vacant houses, many of them sold to investors. Over the last
decade the number of such units rose and property values fell.
In that time the neighborhood's population dropped
to 4,877 from 5,353 and its complexion changed. In 1990, 90 percent of
the residents were white; today estimates put the population at one-third to one-half white and the rest black and Hispanic.
Michael H. Lang, a professor of urban studies at
Rutgers in Camden and a Fairview resident, credits the neighborhood's
survival over the decades to the quality of its design. He said it is often cited as a model of the ''New Urbanism'' school of
planning, which advocates see as the answer to suburban sprawl.
While the community's response to the revitalization
effort generally is positive, there are concerns. Among them are the
relocation of businesses along Collings Avenue and the loss of undeveloped county-owned land along the creek to make
way for the new rentals.
Some also think that the 320 residences planned
are too much for the neighborhood and that too many of them, 220, are to
rentals affordable to people earning $25,000 to $38,000 a year, depending on family size. The 50 renovated rentals in the
buildings edging the square and the 170 new rentals planned in up to eight structures will have one to three bedrooms with
650 to 1,100 square feet. They will rent for $400 to $600 a month.
Mr. Martoglio said the density ''is needed to support
area businesses.'' The new rentals make the plan economically viable
and allow his company to provide the community center and recreational area, he said, adding that the goal of the 100
market-rate houses ''is to attract people with higher incomes.''
Those now-vacant houses, with 1,000 to 1,600 square
feet, will be renovated and sold to buyers at initial prices of $40,000
to $55,000. Work on the first 35 homes is to begin in midspring.
Still, old-time residents like James Viall, 80,
who has lived in Fairview for 32 years, are weary of promises of a new
beginning. ''Sure I would like to see improved buildings,'' he said, but he added that an increase in neighborhood pride is
Last month, within days after the announcement of
the Fairview project, the New Jersey State Legislature rejected a separate
state aid package to turn around Camden, whose finances were taken over by the state in 2000. But state housing officials
stress that the Fairview money will come from the sale of bonds and from real estate transfer taxes, not the state Treasury.
Mr. Rose, who described himself as an optimist,
said the Fairview plan would be realized, ''because we are all working
together.'' Michael Devlin, a former city councilman and Fairview resident, added that ''the will and resources'' are there to
get it done. ''But,'' he said, ''it will take work that requires rolling up shirtsleeves.''