Camden Passes New Jersey’s First Sustainable Site Plan Ordinance

February 18, 2015


It was a cold night, but the Camden City Council chambers were packed last Tuesday, primarily because twelve outstanding residents — nurses, policemen, faith leaders and more–were recognized for their contributions to the City of Camden as part of Black History Month. The recognition ceremony set the stage for the passing of an ordinance that had been a long time coming in a city that has struggled with the environmental impacts of development on its residents.

Donna Drewes
Donna Drewes

On February 10, 2015, the City of Camden passed New Jersey’s first Sustainability Site Plan Ordinance, which is one of just a handful of sustainability ordinances that address environmental justice and cumulative impacts passed across the whole country.

The Ordinance Adopting Sustainability Requirements for the City of Camden requires that applicants coming to Camden to propose a new development must submit an Environmental Impact and Benefits Assessment (EIBA) that evaluates and addresses the potential impacts and potential benefits that the development activity could have on the environment and the public health and general welfare of residents of the City of Camden.

“This ordinance is important because there are regulations for cumulative impacts for a few resources like water, but air quality doesn’t have cumulative standards in place,” said Andrew Kricun, the executive director and chief engineer for the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority. “Before this ordinance, a developer was required to report on how it alone would affect air quality, but it didn’t take into consideration that the development next door might also be also affecting air quality.”

Impacts to our ecosystem and communities are caused by decisions that are made without any one asking what the cumulative impact of making the change is, thus taking into consideration what’s already there.

Environmental Impact and Benefits Assessment (EIBA)

The Environmental Impact and Benefits Assessment completed by a developer will be reviewed by the Camden City Planning Board and Zoning Board of Adjustment before project approval. The City is also working on a Best Management Practices document that will provide resources for applicants to use.

To give you an idea, here are a few of the questions included in the EIBA:

Is the project designed to reduce vehicle emissions?

  • Is the proposed project compatible with neighboring uses from a noise perspective?
  • Identify any technologies proposed for the building facility use that will provide benefits from improvements in energy efficiency.
  • Are disadvantaged populations at greater risk of exposure to environmental hazards?
  • Are affected residents involved in the planning process?
  • Does the proposed project include safe routes to school with a minimum of street crossings and high visibility for children walking to school?
  • Does the proposed project include traffic quieting road designs in both subdivisions and shopping districts?
  • Does the plan include effective project-specific or regional stormwater quality measures?

The ordinance is timely because Camden is experiencing an economic revival of sorts. There are several large projects moving forward, for example the Philadelphia 76ers are building a new training facility and headquarters and Subaru of America is moving its headquarters and training center to Camden.

“The ordinance is not intended to be restrictive toward development; it provides best practices and puts more thought into the overall process which will ultimately make the final project more successful for all involved,” said Chris Waldron, director of the Camden County Office of Sustainability and Shared Services.

Camden Benefits from Collaboration and Partnerships

One secret to Camden’s forward motion with sustainability initiatives is the collaboration between the many interests and stakeholders. Chris Waldron is one member of a group of partners that has worked hard to get this ordinance written, approved and passed. Work on the sustainability ordinance grew out of the Environmental Justice Task Force of the Camden Collaborative Initiative, a partnership between governmental, non-profit, private, and community-based agencies formed to plan and implement innovative strategies to improve the environment and the quality of life of Camden’s residents.

The work group included representatives from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Office of Environmental Justice, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Camden, Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority, Camden SMART Team, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, the Camden Green Team, many other non-profit groups and concerned residents. In addition, work on the ordinance and Natural Resources Inventory was supported by a $20,000 Sustainable Jersey Small Grant that the Camden Green Team applied for and received.

Next Steps

Moving forward, the City of Camden will refine a Tool Kit that will be made available to those involved in development and construction projects. The Tool Kit will include best practices from around New Jersey for green design and development.  A Natural Resources Inventory will be completed; right now a Request for Proposals is out to find a consultant for this work. And finally, it is hoped that the defunct Camden Environmental Commission will be revived to support the Department of Planning and Zoning with the review of the EIBA submittals from businesses looking to develop in Camden.

Hats off to Camden for passing this important ordinance. It is just common sense that municipalities should examine the effects of land use changes before they implement them. We hope this is the first of many sustainability ordinances that address cumulative impacts and environmental justice issues in New Jersey!

Donna Drewes is one of the principals that founded and now co-directs Sustainable Jersey. She is a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. 

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