A week after the Camden Zoning Board approved a controversial billboard project on the waterfront, the City Council delayed a vote to reappoint four city Zoning Board members recommended by Mayor Frank Moran.
City activist and former Council member Ali Sloan-El blasted the decision by Council and said he believes it signaled a possible move to remove three of the Zoning Board members who voted in favor of the billboard. Sloan-El supports the billboard project, which has been hotly debated among community leaders and developers.
The Council "took no action," a procedural move that removed four resolutions from the agenda at its meeting Tuesday night. The resolutions sought "advice and consent" from Council to reappoint Michael B. Jordan, Karen Merricks, Charles Cooper, and Franchesca Abed to the nine-member board. No reason was given at the meeting for the action.
Council President Curtis Jenkins and Moran did not respond to messages Wednesday seeking comment.
City spokesperson Vince Basara said he did not know why Council took no action on the reappointments. "They could appear on the next Council agenda," Basara said. "They may or may not be on the next agenda."
By an 8-1 vote after a heated marathon public hearing, the Zoning Board approved a variance for a 167-foot-high, two-sided billboard on Delaware Avenue at Elm Street that would target the thousands of commuters who use the Ben Franklin Bridge. A variance was needed because the city's master plan prohibits billboards in the neighborhood.
Abed, an alternate, cast the sole dissenting vote.
Moran is weighing his option to veto the Zoning Board's decision. He has 10 days after receiving the board's minutes to overturn the approval.
Also pending is a decision by the New Jersey Department of Transportation on whether a permit that it granted in 2012 by the state to Interstate Outdoor Advertising for the project should be revoked. Camden Lutheran Housing Inc., a nonprofit that opposes the billboard, asked the state to review the project. The group wants the state to determine whether billboards are permitted in that area under state and federal regulations.
Opponents contend the billboard would drastically change the architectural landscape of the Camden waterfront, bring light pollution, and hamper economic development in the area.
Interstate Outdoor CEO Drew Katz has said he believes the permit is valid.
The son of the late Lewis Katz, a Camden native who gave millions to his hometown, Drew Katz has said he wants to use proceeds from the billboard to carry on his father's philanthropic legacy. The elder Katz, a co-owner of the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com, died in a plane crash in May 2014.
Proceeds from advertising sales, about $200,000 annually, would be earmarked for nonprofits in the city.