Camden officials returning to the city's Cramer Hill neighborhood this afternoon will offer residents the chance to be involved in yet another plan to redevelop their waterfront community.
And this time, the city isn't taking them for granted.
The Cramer Hill Community Development Corp., Mayor Gwendolyn A. Faison, and Camden's chief operating officer will hold a news conference today to announce that the corporation has received an $85,000 grant to hire two planners who will spend a year asking Cramer Hill's 10,000 residents what they envision for their neighborhood.
The approach is starkly different from the bold $1.2 billion so-called Cherokee Plan. That redevelopment plan was abandoned more than two years ago after being voided by a judge.
At the time, neighborhood activists argued that the city took a top-down approach to push through the largest investment in city history.
The plan called for a North Carolina developer, Cherokee, to build 5,000 homes, 500,000 square feet of retail space, a marina, and a golf course in the section, which sits next to Pennsauken on the Delaware River waterfront.
About 1,100 families in the mostly Hispanic, working-class neighborhood would have been displaced through eminent domain.
"It wasn't the most open and transparent process in the past," said Manuel Delgado, the Cramer Hill Community Development director, who came on board after the Cherokee proposal collapsed. "Now there's definitely a desire to be as transparent and inclusive as possible."
Delgado said the new plan would involve "no displacement and very limited use, or no use, of eminent domain."
The Wachovia Regional Foundation, which provides planning grants for revitalization projects in low-income neighborhoods, will fund creation of a committee of Cramer Hill residents, city officials, the Camden Redevelopment Agency, and business owners. The planning committee will then organize focus groups made up of local residents.
The two consultants hired will review earlier development plans and analyze demographic information, Delgado said.
Once they are familiar with Cramer Hill and past plans, a general community meeting will be held, Delgado said. Then a redevelopment plan could be offered to the city Planning Board for approval.
There are other new developments in Cramer Hill, Delgado said.
After the state Department of Environmental Protection finishes a cleanup, the Salvation Army has more than $50 million earmarked for a new community center on a 12-acre former industrial site.
The goal is to "put together a new plan that leverages what the Salvation Army is doing, what DEP wants to do along on the waterfront, and what residents want to see," Delgado said.
Jose Santiago, a local resident who angrily opposed the Cherokee Plan, concedes that redevelopment of his neighborhood is inevitable.
He'd like to suggest improvements to the streets, the elimination of a recycling facility, lights at the local park, and more low-income housing for sale.
And no way does he want eminent domain to be pushed down residents' throats.
"Eventually they're going to try," Santiago said. "But we're ready for it."