January 6, 2002, Sunday  NY Times


 In the Region/New Jersey; A Plan to Revitalize a Historic Enclave in Camden


 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 the
 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 be
 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
 also needed.

 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.''