By Michelle Durham
CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — Officials at a children’s education and play facility along the Delaware riverfront in Camden, NJ says they plan to fight the state’s decision to take away some of the land they have used for years.
The New Jersey treasury department says it is getting ready to allocate more than half the land of the Camden’s Children’s Garden to the company that operates an adjacent attraction, the Adventure Aquarium.
The Children’s Garden runs programs that teaches children about gardening and healthy eating, and has a playground area (below).
Specifically, the state says the Children’s Garden will have enough remaining ground for four buildings — its greenhouses and administrative offices — but the playground and other buildings will have to go.
The state contends that the Children’s Garden has no lease or other legal arrangement despite the state’s attempts to effect one over a number of years.
Michael Devlin (right), executive director of the Camden Children’s Garden, says the state didn’t supply a document of ownership until more than a year ago, “and that document was signed and authorized by a city employee. A city employee can’t overturn what a city legislature passed and approved,” he contends.
It was not immediately clear what the disputed land would be used for. Aquarium officials refused comment, steering our calls to the Coopers Ferry Partnership, a nonprofit development corporation that conducts Camden’s city planning.
“Coopers Ferry actually was the developer of the Garden,” says Coopers Ferry CEO Anthony Perno. “We actually built the garden back in 1998 and 1999. The facility and its improvements were actually turned over to the State of New Jersey, and through that the facility was operated by the Camden Children’s Garden.”
Children’s Garden officials contend the buildings the state wants to take were built and paid for with tax-exempt contributions generated by them. And one where all their seedlings are generated into 50,000 plants, they say, is part of a USDA grant and would threaten their ability to continue serving the community the way they have.