Pennsylvania charter school magnate, lawyer, and entrepreneur Vahan Gureghian is bringing his charter school vision to Camden.
The Camden City Zoning Board of Adjustment granted a use variance to Gureghian and his partners Monday night to build a school in North Camden.
The school would be built near the Northgate I and II high-rises and the Ben Franklin Bridge, between Linden and Pearl Streets and Eighth and Ninth Streets. Zoned residential under the Gateway North Redevelopment Plan developed in 2005, the site has been vacant for several years.
Gureghian owns the Chester Community Charter School, on which he reportedly intends to model the future Camden Community Charter School.
Jake Der Hagopian, president of Gureghian's Chester School Management Inc., outlined plans for the school Monday at the zoning board meeting.
Camden Community Charter School was approved by the state in January and given a year to find a location.
Neighborhood groups had previously advocated for a supermarket at the North Camden site preferred by Gureghian, but one never took shape.
From a planning perspective, the property does not work for a supermarket in part because Linden is one-way and retail needs two-way traffic movement, said Dave Foster, chief executive of the now-merged Greater Camden Partnership and Cooper's Ferry Development Association. Cooper's Ferry helped Gureghian determine the location for his proposed Camden charter school.
It would consist of two 2,500-square-foot buildings and a gymnasium, and is scheduled to open in September 2012. Starting with kindergarten through fifth grade, it would eventually run through eighth grade and serve 950 students.
Four residents spoke at Monday's hearing, mostly in favor of the charter school, though concerns were raised about the traffic it might bring to the neighborhood.
In emphasizing the school's potential positive impacts, Der Hagopian noted that the land would be privately owned and thus subject to taxation. Camden Community would be a public charter school open to all Camden City students.
If there were space available, students from surrounding communities would be considered for enrollment, Der Hagopian said. But the intent is "to provide an anchor and help solidify this neighborhood," said professional planner Barbara Woolley-Dillon, who is working with Gureghian's group.
"We're shovel-ready . . . pending approval," she said.
The proposal will next go to the city planning board.