They never thought the day would come.
After five years entangled in bureaucratic red tape, community organizers in Cramer Hill were ecstatic to finally see the decrepit, vacant house next to St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church and School razed and cleared away Tuesday morning.
An environmentally friendly playground is to be built early next year on the River Road lot, which faces the community garden.
Known as Ron's House, after its last owner, Ron Hurlburt, who died at 57 in 2006, the house has been the subject of constant disputes among the city and the church and officials from Camden Churches Organized for People (CCOP).
Hurlburt, who had no children, wanted to leave the house to the church, but he died without a written will, said the Rev. Jud Weiksnar, pastor at St. Anthony's.
The church tried to buy the property from the city, but with tax liens on it exceeding $25,000, the parish could not afford it.
After CCOP and parish leaders held neighborhood cleanup rallies to draw attention to the house, Hargrove Demolition Co. offered to tear it down for free, and a couple agreed to pay the liens so the church could acquire the property.
Though Camden City Council voted in 2004 to authorize use of the state's Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation Act - which gives the city power to hold a special tax sale or to use eminent domain to gain control of derelict properties - it was not until the spring that Mayor Dana L. Redd put the measure to use.
Ron's House, at 2842 River Rd., was one of the first homes this year to go on the city's official abandoned-properties list. Paperwork allowing Hargrove to tear down the eyesore was only recently made final.
"Never again should it take five years," said Weiksnar, who, through his parish and CCOP, has been a vocal advocate for the city to use the abandoned-properties act to clean up blight in Cramer Hill.
Initially, St. Anthony officials planned to build a multipurpose building for the school and parish. But after the economic downturn in 2008, development plans were put on hold, Weiksnar said.
PlayGreen Initiative, a developer of sustainable playgrounds and green spaces in urban areas, is working with parish and city officials to construct a playground at the site using nontoxic and recyclable materials.
The Washington company hopes to get corporate sponsors to pay for the project, PlayGreen spokeswoman Karen Ammond said. The company most recently completed a green playground in 2008 in New Orleans.
The firm expects to start work in Camden next month, Ammond said, and to have the playground completed in May or June.