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Pennsauken looks to its future, with vacant homes at top of list

When Pennsauken officials and residents met to identify the community's biggest problem, they quickly reached the same answer. The Camden County township has been plagued in recent years by a proliferation of abandoned homes, scattered across the community of 12.1 square miles.

When Pennsauken officials and residents met to identify the community's biggest problem, they quickly reached the same answer.

The Camden County township has been plagued in recent years by a proliferation of abandoned homes, scattered across the community of 12.1 square miles.

That was placed at the top of the list on a whiteboard at an informal brainstorming meeting Wednesday at the municipal building.

The meeting was convened by Mayor John Kneib and the five-member township committee to chart a vision for the future of Pennsauken.

There was no formal plan presented, and Kneib declined to call the topics shared by residents and officials a "wish list."

"This is our start. We have to have a vision before we can go anywhere," Kneib said. "We are going to be proactive."

According to Kneib, Pennsauken has about 300 vacant homes, mostly foreclosures from the 2008 market crash. The township is developing a plan to force the lien holders to maintain the properties.

"With the amount of foreclosures, who's picking up the taxes?" asked longtime resident Vincent Scialabbi. "If the bank takes over the property, they should pay the taxes."

With nearly 36,000 residents, Pennsauken has about 3,275, mostly older single-family detached homes on small lots, records show.

Sitting around a conference table, township officials and a handful of residents tossed around proposed projects to improve Pennsauken. Residents said they also want to learn more about the school district and how its spending impacts their taxes.

"I jumped at the opportunity to dialogue," said the Rev. Ben White, pastor of the Circle of Hope Church on Marlton Pike. "It's a good idea. I think it should happen regularly."

There was also a list made of some of Pennsauken's best attributes that could be selling points. They include: diversity, the waterfront, location, a golf course, a train station, good schools, parks, a commercial district, and a new affordable-housing apartment complex.

"Everybody has an idea of what makes Pennsauken special to them," the mayor said. "It's a great community."

Formed in 1892, the town takes its name from Pindasenaken, a Leni-Lenape word that means "tobacco pouch," according to "The Pennsauken Story."

Among the improvement suggestions were redeveloping Westfield Avenue and attracting new businesses. The group also wants to showcase Route 130 as more than a corridor.

The fate of the old Pennsauken Mart site was not broached at Wednesday's meeting. The popular shopping venue was closed in 2006 and demolished a year later.

The 35-acre site remains bare. Negotiations are ongoing between the county and a developer to revive the mart, said township spokesman Frank Sinatra.

The town also needs new slogans and signs at eight major entrances, the group said. The current slogan is "Pennsauken Working Together."

Bernie Kofoet, a retiree who has lived there since 1979, said a property tax increase may be needed to generate more revenue to tackle projects.

"You have to be able to control your own destiny," he said.

mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814 @mlburney

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