The City of Camden Planning Board will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, August 25 at Camden City Hall to approve final plans for automobile company Subaru of America’s new US headquarters.
The pending approval of existing site plans (which are not available online) threatens to reverse the safety, economic and environmental progress Camden has made in recent years. Subaru’s move from Cherry Hill to Camden’s Gateway Office Park (owned by Campbell’s Soup) has been presented as a turning point for the City’s economic development. But current designs for the new headquarters will create an outdated suburban-style office park instead of the vibrant new district Camden deserves.
The site plans prioritize vehicles over other transportation modes in a city where 35 percent of occupied housing units do not have access to a motor vehicle–a rate four times higher than the national average.
While the company claims to support active lifestyles, its proposed headquarters will include 1,031 new parking spaces for the planned 500 to 600 employees. Why they’ll need enough spaces for each employee to drive two cars to work every day is unclear, especially given the site’s proximity to transit. The Gateway Office Park is a little over half a mile from the Walter Rand Transportation Center, which houses the Broadway PATCO High Speed Line station, NJ Transit RiverLINE and 25 NJ Transit bus lines. Future transit plans for the area also include the Glassboro-Camden light rail and South Jersey Bus Rapid Transit system.
The Subaru headquarters will also be adjacent to the expanding Circuit Regional Trail network, 750 miles of walking and biking trails throughout Greater Philadelphia, with Camden as a major hub. Meanwhile, features like continuous sidewalks, pedestrian refuge islands, bicycle lanes and trails–projects that encourage active living, reduce environmental pollution and boost economic activity–are extremely limited in the proposed design.
Furthermore, the plan, which is lacking in bicycle lanes and pedestrian safety features is inconsistent with the City’s 2013 Complete Streets Policy. It also does not adhere to the recently passed sustainability ordinance, a decree adopted last February which “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.”
Approving the existing plan for Subaru’s headquarters will potentially invite over 1,000 more cars into a city with health, environment and traffic safety concerns. City of Camden appointed and elected officials must push for development projects that ensure the City is accessible for all–not just drivers. Excessive surface parking and neglected sidewalks, bike lanes and trails negate that goal.
The Camden City Planning Board must act to ensure these mistakes are rectified to accommodate all modes of transportation and to actually serve local residents. By working with project partners and local residents and advocates, the City of Camden can transform an empty plot of land into an economic engine that benefits residents and visitors alike.
The Camden Planning Board meeting to approve current Subaru headquarters plans will take place on Tuesday, August 25 at 6 p.m. at Camden City Hall, 520 Market Street.