Court: Camden can demolish old Sears building

The old Sears store in Camden has been the subject of legal fights for six years.
The old Sears store in Camden has been the subject of legal fights for six years. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 05, 2011

Camden and Campbell Soup can move forward with their plans for the former Sears building on Admiral Wilson Boulevard, which likely includes its demolition, according to a decision by Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division.

The plan to raze the former department store was challenged by Ilan Zaken, who bought the building in 2006, and city activist Frank Fulbrook.

In February, Superior Court Judge Francis J. Orlando Jr. struck down Zaken and Fulbrook's lawsuit against the city and Campbell Soup in which they claimed the city did not follow proper protocol in its decision to include the Sears building in its redevelopment plan.

"They completely sidestepped my oral argument that it was a conflict of practice," Fulbrook said Monday, after the appellate ruling was made public.

Fulbrook argued that Theodore Z. Davis, former city chief operating officer and chairman of the Camden Redevelopment Agency, and Saundra Ross-Johnson, the redevelopment agency's executive director who at the time of the amendment to the Gateway Redevelopment Plan in 2009 also served as city director of development and planning, "had legally untenable conflict of offices, which tainted the entire ordinance adoption process."

The plan to demolish the former Sears building, a once elegant 1927 Classical Revival structure, has been in the works for several years.

In 2007, the New Jersey Historic Sites Council ruled against the city's application to demolish the building. That decision was later overruled by the state.

The Sears building has sat vacant since 2007 and has kept the city from developing a corporate office park to be anchored by Campbell Soup Co.'s world headquarters.

Campbell has since gone around it and last year finished a $93 million expansion of its corporate headquarters.

Fulbrook and Zaken have not decided yet whether to pursue further appeals. However, Fulbrook warned that if the Sears building ends up being taken down through eminent domain, the pair could use that as a separate legal fight.


Contact Staff writer Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917, cvargas@phillynews.com or InqCVargas on Twitter.

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