Homeowners make way for Cooper Medical School

Stanley Austin had several rounds of negotiations with Rowan before settling on a price. He is moving into a home in the Cooper Plaza neighborhood valued at more than $160,000.
Stanley Austin had several rounds of negotiations with Rowan before settling on a price. He is moving into a home in the Cooper Plaza neighborhood valued at more than $160,000. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 27, 2013

In the 27 years that Stanley Austin has lived at the South Fifth Street rowhouse in Camden where his wife grew up, he's raised five children and started a DJ business.

Austin's memory-full house will be torn down, along with another dozen properties, as Rowan University paves the way for Block 189 to be transformed into a parking garage with first-floor shops.

The block is bounded by Fifth, Benson, Williams, and Washington Streets.

Since June, Rowan has been in negotiations with the owners of 22 properties that make up the block behind the new Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. So far, Rowan has purchased five homes.

At its April 3 meeting, the Rowan board of trustees approved the university's use of eminent domain on 10 properties within that block if the school cannot come to sale agreements with the owners.

Eminent domain would be a last resort, said university spokesman Joe Cardona.

Nine of those 10 properties, most of which are vacant lots, are owned by Stewart Waldman. The 10th property, at 518 Benson, which is owned by Marvin and Denise Pierce, appears vacant.

Neither Waldman nor the Pierces could be reached for comment Thursday.

The Rowan board previously budgeted $1.5 million for the acquisition of all 22 properties, including 11 homes, two businesses, and one church.

The university has secured five properties, all of which are on Benson, according to the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency (HMFA), which is helping in the acquisitions and relocations.

Except for 518 Benson, all of the properties on the 500 block are boarded up and ready for demolition. Acquisitions of Fifth Street properties, including Austin's, is under way.

"The only bad part about this is the sentimental reasons," Austin said about having to move, which wasn't exactly voluntary.

"They make an offer and say, 'If you don't take it, we'll use eminent domain,' " Austin said.

After several negotiation rounds, Rowan and Austin settled on a sale price.

"I really can't complain. The deal is pretty good," Austin said, though he declined to say how much Rowan was paying him. The house is valued at $22,900, according to 2013 tax records.

Whatever he received, he was able to afford a home in the nearby Cooper Plaza neighborhood valued at more than $160,000 - one of the newly redeveloped town houses by Newark-based M&M Development.

Another former Block 189 homeowner, Elsa Rodriguez, moved to one of the M&M condos at the Cooper Building, which received financing from HMFA. Rowan paid $100,000 for Rodriguez's house.

Bought-out residents were shown houses they could afford with the money they will receive.

"Relocated individuals selected their new homes," some of which were funded through HMFA, said state Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Tammori Petty.

Four families are under contract and waiting for their homes to be completed in the Cooper Plaza neighborhood, where M&M is developing 30 townhouses that will range in price from $161,000 to $214,000, three blocks from Cooper Hospital.

Austin said he is pleased with the Seventh and Washington Streets area where his new house is located.

"When we were looking at the house, there was a nurse looking at the house next door, so it's nice to know you'll have good neighbors," Austin said.

Though he is sentimental about the move because of the many years he spent in his Lanning Square house, he believes the change is for the best.

The Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, which opened last summer, has resulted in more police presence in the neighborhood.

"I like to see police back here," he said, adding that he thinks Broadway will soon be revitalized. "They're talking about high-end stores like Starbucks . . . for the students, doctors and nurses."

There is no timeline yet for when the Rowan garage will be built, Cardona said. But it will support students and employees of the medical school and Rowan's proposed College of Health Sciences building nearby.


Contact Claudia Vargas at 856-779-3917, cvargas@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @InqCVargas. Read her blog, "Camden Flow," at www.inquirer.com/camden_

flow.

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