Camden council rejects 20-year tax abatement for rehab project

Posted: April 10, 2014

CAMDEN In a surprising reversal, City Council on Tuesday night rejected an ordinance passed a year ago to grant a 20-year tax abatement to the owner of an affordable-housing complex.

Council first passed the ordinance in April 2013 to give Roizman Development a 20-year PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreement for his Broadway Townhouses complex. A Superior Court judge ruled last month that the vote violated the state's open public meeting law because the Camden Courier-Post was not properly notified about the special meeting, held at noon on a Friday.

Resident Colandus "Kelly" Francis sued the city over the ordinance, arguing the tax abatement robbed the city of badly needed tax dollars, and was capricious and arbitrary. Under the agreement, which owner Israel Roizman had pushed for in 2013 as necessary for completing the renovation of 175 units, the city would have received $177,324 and the county $9,332 per year - far less than the total real estate tax bill of $407,669, including for schools, that ordinarily would be due.

In the year since Council granted the abatement, Roizman received a state Economic Development Authority grant of $13.4 million to rehabilitate the units. After the judge's ruling last month, Roizman told The Inquirer that he was no longer interested in the tax abatement: "We changed our mind."

At Tuesday's meeting, following brief public comments urging Council to vote down the ordinance, the motion failed to secure a second, garnering applause.

Francis commended the decision and said he hoped members would carefully consider any approvals of future abatements.

"The action you've taken today fully supports our children, which is the most important thing, probably, that we have to deal with in today's society," he said. "Everyone must pay their fair share for the education of our children."

Roizman has said rehabilitation will move forward. Residents have complained of serious plumbing problems, toilets that leaked into living rooms, and doors that had to be taped shut.

Roizman also owns Camden Townhouses, where he once promised long-term renters home ownership for $1. The plan was not legally binding and never came to fruition. Most renters have since moved out.

In other business:

Council awarded a $4 million contract to C&T Inc. of Souderton to rehabilitate four wastewater pumping stations, rejecting a bid from Centerpoint Associates of Blackwood.

Kathleen B. Zaccaria, a Centerpoint representative, attended the meeting to object to the decision, saying the company's bid was $450,000 lower but was rejected on a point that she said stemmed from a problem with city paperwork.

City attorney Marc Riondino countered that it was Centerpoint that did not acknowledge a notice to extend the time to bid, which was sent out and required to be returned.

Council also approved an $8 million bond to take down abandoned buildings. Kristen Nalen of Camden Churches Organized for People asked whether the funding was already allocated and whether it would be evenly distributed.

Council President Frank Moran said the properties on the city code enforcer's list would be put out to bid, with those posing the most imminent danger being razed first.

Resident Jose Figueroa, 32, accepted a commendation for his success as a distance runner. The father of three and husband of his high school sweetheart went from weighing 240 pounds to a trim, fit marathon runner who placed 11th in a 100-mile race last month.

The New Jersey Ultra Festival at the state fairgrounds in Augusta took Figueroa 27 hours to complete.

"You're an inspiration, and you're a Camden kid," Moran said. "You're a role model. . . . Keep sharing your story."

Figueroa, accustomed to training on concrete, said the woodsy course presented a challenge.

"I ran into the woods and all I saw was stones, water, dead animals, and all I said was, 'Father, God, protect me and give me strength through this course,' " he said.

jterruso@phillynews.com856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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