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Merchantville, NJ : Development News

8 Merchantville, NJ Articles | Page:

AIA PHILADELPHIA YOUNG ARCHITECTS FORUM: A different kind of affordable housing in North Camden

Editor's note: This is presented as part of a content partnership with the American Institute of Architects-Philadelphia's Young Architects Forum.

Name: Jeff Pastva
Age: 29
Firm / Title: Haley Donovan / Project Architect
Education: B. Arch '06 Syracuse University
Project: The Meadows at Pyne Point (441 Erie St., Camden, NJ), an $8 million affordable housing complex with sweeping views of the Delaware River and Ben Franklin Bridge.

Why is your project important to the neighborhood or the city at large?
This project is a part of the North Camden Neighborhood Plan, a 2009 NJHMFA Smart Growth award winner, and becomes the first delivered component. Since the neighborhood has seen severely depressed economic activity and crippling blight, the building serves as a source of hope for many who haven’t witnessed this level of investment in decades.

What was the biggest obstacle in completing this project?
From a total project perspective, funding is always an issue in the state of the economy, but this particular project saw the requirements change during the design. In addition, other external factors led the project to scale back in size, so the original concept that was designed completely changed.

Did you have any key partners or collaborators in making this project a reality?
As architects, we acted as the point during design and construction, but couldn't have pulled this off without our client Ingerman and BCM Affordable Housing, the support of their non-profit partner Respond Inc., the community activists at Save Our Waterfront, and the City of Camden.

How do you feel like your personal stamp, or that of your firm, is placed on this project?
From our firm's perspective, we believe in rebuilding the underserved urban areas in the Northeast. From southern Maryland through northern New Jersey, central PA to Atlantic City, we’ve been fortunate enough to execute many of our designs. This is one of our truly transformative projects though, because it brings a highly designed building with modern amenities to an area of the Greater Philadelphia region in true need of affordable housing.

What is the most innovative or distinctive part of this project?
The ability to provide an energy efficiency and quality design on an extreme budget is always a distinctive part, but you can’t overlook the social benefits. It provides much needed affordable housing for the neighborhood’s elderly and special needs housing for the chronically homeless.

As the first built project of the North Camden Neighborhood Plan, it also provides hope and a rallying point for future development. Due to the successful completion of this project, Phase II is currently being designed.
AIA PHILADELPHIA was founded in 1869 and is among the oldest and most distinguished of AIA Chapters, with a long history of service to members and the public. AIA Philadelphia organizes architects in the region for the purpose of advancing their influence in shaping the built environment, and their ability to effectively practice architecture in an ever-changing society and competitive marketplace. The YOUNG ARCHITECTS FORUM provides a place for young architects to network and communicate with one another, the College of Fellows, and Associate Members regarding mentorship, leadership, and fellowship.

Camden County looking to implement area's first county-wide bike sharing program

While bike sharing has caught on in American cities as large as New York City and as small as Hollywood, Fla., it has yet to catch on in any large way in Greater Philadelphia. While Montgomery County’s Pottstown and Camden County’s Collingswood do have bike sharing programs, they are two of a kind in the Delaware Valley. Despite the efforts of many, no such service exists in Philadelphia. However, various boroughs and cities in Camden County are looking to build off of Collingswood’s success and offer the first cross-county bike sharing service in the region in a project conveniently known as BikeShare.
The Camden County Division of Environmental Affairs is working with the national bicycle advocacy group Rails to Trails Conservancy to expand upon Collingswood’s popular bike share. BikeShare organizers currently have 250 bicycles, although many are in need of maintenance, says Jack Sworaski, the director of the Division of Environmental Affairs. Sworaski adds that a few of the bikes might be beyond salvage, in which case they’ll be used for parts. 

While Sworaski can’t give a definitive timeline, he says that “in the coming months, a few locations will be up and running" and anticipates more growth in the fall and next spring. He’s ambitious, as his overarching goal is to make BikeShare available for all Camden County residents. Sworaski says rates for joining BikeShare will depend on each individual municipality. For example, lower-income communities will have far cheaper rates to join than will affluent neighborhoods. This is to make the program accessible to all neighborhoods, regardless of wealth.

BikeShare will likely be used for recreation in some areas and commuting in other parts of the county. In more affluent  boroughs, Sworaski sees bicycles being used for fun by people who have access to private automobiles or the train. However, “for others, particularly in the City, where many residents do not own cars, a bike will provide the means to get to work, school, or other community events,” he says. The director makes sure to add that this will encourage an active lifestyle, benefit the environment, and save participants money, regardless of why they’re using BikeShare. 

The organizers of the bike sharing service are also working with Camden youth to repair their bikes and teach safety. Sworaski says the timing is ripe with summer around the corner. Also, BikeShare architects are working with the CYCLE program to teach children about bike safety and repair. This is a one-month program that will pair kids with trained bike instructors to make sure that they enjoy riding safely and know how to make repairs.  

Source: Jack Sworaski, Camden County Division of Environmental Affairs
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Photo courtesy of Evan Kalish

Camden community group believes bike/ped trails play a role in Cramer Hill's revival

The national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy held a trails forum at Rutgers Camden this past Friday in conjunction with Cooper's Ferry Partnership and the William Penn Foundation. The forum, a local byproduct of Rails-to-Trails' Urban Pathways Initiative (UPI), concentrated on the need for bicycle and pedestrian trails in Camden. The forum comes in the throes of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission's (DVRPC's) Regional Trails Program, which awarded money to Camden in mid-December.

While there's potential for a number of new trails in Camden, DVRPC awarded $150,000 towards the design phase of the Baldwin's Run Tributary Trail, says Chris Linn, manager in DVRPC's Office of Environmental Planning. Meishka Mitchell, the Vice President of Neighborhood Initiatives at Cooper's Ferry Partnership, hopes to "daylight" the Baldwin's Run tributary, which forms from the Delaware River and runs through the Cramer Hill neighborhood of Camden. By "daylighting," Mitchell means unearthing the tributary, which was filled with dirt in the 1960s, by creating a trail out of it.

The Baldwin's Run Tributary is now the site of Von Neida Park, which is Cramer Hill's most sizeable park. Usually a park connotes positive things for a neighborhood, but things aren't always as they seem in Cramer Hill. In fact, Cooper's Ferry complains that the park is prone to flooding, illegal activity, and a lack of upkeep. Flooding is the most dire woe, as nearby homeowners are left waterlogged after many storms. The flooding stems from the filling-in of the creek, which Mitchell's CDC hopes to rectify by removing the dirt and turning the body of water into a trail and drainage area.  
Mitchell is convinced of the plentiful benefits that trails can have for impoverished Cramer Hill. While it wasn't funded during the first phase of the Regional Trails Program, she is optimistic that a trail will be built along the Cooper River. She says a trail here could generate as much as $600 million for the city, expand its tax base, and help re-develop its brownfields, of which there are many. There is currently zero public access to the Cooper River in Cramer Hill. 

The vice president is happy with how the Urban Pathways forum went. "The event has helped to raise awareness on critical missing links, economic development, and neighborhood restoration," lauds Mitchell. The forum consisted of five sessions, which discussed how trails in Camden and its older brother across the Delaware River can connect, waterfront trail facilitation, how trails promote public health, teaching youth about trails, and funding trails.   

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Sources: Meishka Mitchell, Cooper's Ferry Partnership and Chris Linn, DVRPC

Rush & Hush: PATCO to experiment with a Quiet Car for South Jersey commuters

Have you ever had to bear with someone on the phone having a loud argument with their boyfriend or that group of teenagers that just won't shut up on your train? If so, you might be intrigued to hear that PATCO, which operates the high-speed rail line between Lindenwold, NJ and Philadelphia, wants to shush the arguments and boisterous conversations. In fact, PATCO will be testing a "quiet car" on all weekday trains starting in March.

John Rink, the new General Manager of PATCO, reports that his agency's "quiet car" program will be modeled after SEPTA's successful QuietRide policy on Regional Rail. On designated cars, this means cell phone use will be forbidden, any conversations should be fleeting and in a low voice, and passengers must listen to music using ear buds or headphones so as no one else will be able to hear. PATCO plans on delineating the rear cars of its weekday trains as "quiet cars," which means you can still yak to your heart's content if you're not in the last car.

One major difference between PATCO and SEPTA Regional Rail is that the South Jersey rail agency doesn't use conductors. This will pose challenges for enforcement in "quiet cars," but Rink is confident the policy can be a success. "Train Operators will make periodic announcements during each trip, Variable Message Signs [VMS] on platform will display messages, and from time-to-time our Transit Unit [police] will ride in the quiet car," avers Rink. However, he adds that self-enforcement among riders will be key. As with SEPTA, it will be important that riders don't quarrel over enforcement.

With about a month left before the three-month trial begins, Rink wants to get the word out about the "quiet car" as much as possible to PATCO riders. "We will Tweet, post on Facebook, discuss in our E-Newsletter, place on our website, [put] signage in the train cars, [and place] signage in our stations," says the general manager. In addition, Rink expects to utilize station supervisors to hand out notices the week before and the first week of the "quiet car" experiment.

Along with the "quiet car" program, PATCO will also unveil a Courtesy Counts campaign. This campaign will urge riders to treat fellow riders with respect by not taking up seats with personal belongings, not standing and blocking the train doors, keeping one's voice down when talking on the phone, and grooving to music with a reasonable volume. PATCO already has a video for Courtesy Counts on its website, which uses a humorous approach to draw attention to serious problems. 

Writer: Andy Sharpe
Source: John Rink, PATCO PHOTO: courtesy Delaware River Port Authority

South Jersey hopes to prove that an earthquake can't bring down an old opera house

Like many South Jersey cities, Woodbury used to offer a thriving Main Street, punctuated by the G.G. Green Block. Dreamed up in 1880, The G.G. Green Block was a block-long building that served as an opera house, theater, and shopping destination for the Gloucester County seat. Yet, in 2001 the store that called the Green Block home shuttered, leaving the building to collect cobwebs for the next decade. Many observers thought the final straw for the building was the earthquake this past year, which caused inspectors to deem the building unsafe. Defying the odds, city officials may have worked out a deal to save the building.

As recently as this past autumn, all hope seemed to be lost for preserving the G.G. Green Block. City council members and code enforcement officers felt as though the building needed to be demolished because it was structurally unsafe and an eyesore. The state Department of Environmental Protection agreed, which many thought was the death knell for the historic building. However, mayor Ron Riskie says that the cost of demolition turned out to be pricey (around $1 million).

Stung by the high price of demolition, Woodbury once again looked at preserving and re-developing the Green Block. In late December, city council announced it had found an eager re-development partner in RMP Development Group. Mayor Riskie says the building could be preserved as mixed-use development. “If the current plan is followed, we would see retail space on the first floor, and living units on the second and third floors,” says an encouraged mayor. Of the new housing, 20 percent would be affordable, while the remaining 80 percent would be priced at fair market rates.

Understandably, the Woodbury community is excited by the chance to save the fabled building. “The community is overwhelmingly pleased,” reports Riskie. “We saved the ‘centerpiece’ of the City.”

While city officials and residents are hopeful that the proposed preservation and re-development comes to fruition, it’s not a guarantee. The mayor admits that funding for the re-development still needs to be settled, although he anticipates that the city would purchase the building for a dollar, and then transfer it to RMP. Unfortunately, past proposals of re-developing the building have failed, including a popular proposal just a year ago to turn G.G. Green into a performing arts center.

Source: Mayor Ron Riskie, Woodbury
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Voorhees Town Hall moves to the mall: Voorhees Town Center grows into 'Main Street' hub

With a centralized location just 20 miles outside Philadelphia and one of the highest median incomes in the state of New Jersey, Voorhees is a growing suburban community that has increased in population by 28,000 in the last 10 years. But before it can fulfill its potential, development professionals and city officials believe, it needs one thing that every great town has: a central hub. But like many residential areas and nearby cities, Voorhees has no Main Street, no central gathering place. So the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust created Voorhees Town Center, a mixed use shopping, dining and residential destination, bringing all the features of a vibrant downtown to Voorhees in one localized complex. City officials are on board, as Mayor Michael Mignogna announced this week that Voorhees' Town Hall will become the first city office to be located within the complex, adding legitimacy to the project as a true center point for this suburban community.

"Moving the Voorhees Town Hall to the Voorhees Town Center is another step in creating something that Voorhees has never had--a 'downtown,'" says Mignogna in a statement. "It will be a place for families to eat, drink, shop, conduct business and share community events. The Voorhees Town Center will become the 'heartbeat of our community.'"

Located at the former Echalon Mall, national, regional and local vendors sit alongside the Rizzieri Aveda School for Beauty & Wellness and Bayada Nurses. Upscale residences and office spaces overlook tree-lined pathways, benches and fountains, creating a Main Street feel that developers feel was sorely lacking in Voorhees. The addition of Voorhees Town Hall further diversifies this new community center.

"The addition of Voorhees Town Hall solidifies Voorhees Town Center as a true town center for the community," says PREIT President of Services Joseph Coradino. "This alternative use, coupled with the upscale residential component, differentiates Voorhees Town Center in a highly competitive marketplace."

Source: Joseph Coradino, PREIT
Writer: John Steele

Do you know of a new building going up, a business expanding or being renovated, a park in the works or even a cool new house being built in the neighborhood? Please send your development news tips here.

SEPTA receives $6.4M in federal grants to develop transit asset management system

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey announced last Tuesday that Pennsylvania would receive $47 million in federal transit and infrastructure grants as part of the Federal Transit Administration's State of Good Repair program. As SEPTA updated its hybrid bus fleet two years ago, the lion's share of the funding went to Pittsburgh's Allegheny County Port Authority for a clean diesel fleet of their own. But SEPTA didn't come away empty handed, receiving $8.1 million for two infrastructure improvements a long time coming.

The first grant will revamp SEPTA's Parkside Bus Loop, helping reconnect this West Philly neighborhood. But the second, more universal improvement will aid in future upgrades. Using $6.4 million, SEPTA will install an asset management system to aid in record-keeping as many of Philadelphia's transit assets come up for repairs.

"A lot of our infrastructure dates back to the early 1900's and were taken over from other private companies," says SEPTA CFO Richard Burnfield. "What the FTA was trying to focus on is knowing what you have out there in the field before you can make an assessment as to what your overall needs are, coming up with a plan for when things should be replaced."

The system will help SEPTA keep better records so when funding is available, the authority can make a more organized, more compelling case for further federal dollars as the fleet is upgraded.

"Right now, we do a very good job of managing our assets so while the records are not as computerized as we'd like them to be, we have so much knowledge within our engineering staff that I feel we make excellent decisions," says Burnfield. "But I think this will help us going forward so we can do a second check on things as our staff reaches retirement."

Source: Richard Burnfield, SEPTA
Writer: John Steele

Amtrak stops at 30th Street Station to announce high-speed rail plan

In science fiction novels and books about the future, a few technologies are boilerplate: flying cars, meals in pill form and the ability to teleport instantly from place to place. National commuter rail company Amtrak took another step toward teleportation on Tuesday with its announcement of a high-speed rail vision plan. In Tuesday's news conference from University City's 30th Street Station, with Governor Ed Rendell on hand, Amtrak officials laid out their goal to create a line with average speeds well over 130 mph, saving passengers between one and two hours on average.

"Amtrak is putting forward a bold vision of a realistic and attainable future that can revolutionize transportation, travel patterns and economic development in the Northeast for generations," says Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman.

The plan, entitled A Vision for High-Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor, proposes a full build-out to be completed by 2040. Its construction, Amtrak says, would create more than 40,000 full-time jobs annually over a 25-year period, building new track, tunnels, bridges, stations, and other infrastructure. Predictably, the cost for such a project is high, $4.7 billion annually over 25 years. But Amtrak's feasibility studies peg the Northeast as a "mega-region" capable of drawing the type of rail traffic to make such an investment profitable. And with some premier legislative voices like New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg and Massachusetts' John Kerry already voicing their support, we may be teleporting out of 30th Street Station sooner than we think.

"Amtrak's High Speed Rail plan will create jobs, cut pollution and help us move towards a modern and reliable transportation system network in the Northeast," said Kerry in a recent statement. "As countries around the world continue to build out their transportation systems, we
cannot afford to fall further behind. This is an important down payment on the massive commitment necessary to bridge our infrastructure gap." 

Source: Joseph Boardman, Amtrak
Writer: John Steele

8 Merchantville, NJ Articles | Page:
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