Collingswood Moves to Take West Collings Avenue Parking Lot by Eminent Domain


Borough officials say the lot that runs behind several businesses in the 600 block of West Collings Avenue has deteriorated into a dumping ground with unsavory activity. Business owners say they don’t want to sell the lot without carve-outs for their own vehicles, employees, and customers.

By Matt Skoufalos | April 8, 2024

Parking lot along the rear of West Collings Avenue 600 block in Collingswood. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Citing years of neglect, alleged nuisance behavior, and general confusion over its usage and access, Collingswood borough commissioners began proceedings to acquire two, privately owned parking lots on West Collings Avenue at their April 2024 meeting.

The lots in question are identified by ordinance as Lots 5 and 6 within Block 167 on the borough tax map, and belong to Vijay Patel and Robert Giordano, respectively.

The properties also encompass two drive-throughs. One is nine feet wide, and runs between Patel’s Laundry Zone laundromat and Collingswood Dental. The other is 15 feet wide, and runs between Zeppoli and Salon G, which is owned by Giordano and operated by his daughters, Christina and Jamie.

The resolution by which the local government intends to obtain the properties authorizes their acquisition through direct purchase, or, if necessary, eminent domain. Collingswood already owns a portion of the lot spanning from the rear of 622 West Collings Avenue to the Richey Avenue lot entrance.

For the Giordano family, the news that Collingswood officials could move to take the parking lot that comprises a fundamental aspect of their business was an upsetting surprise. The family said they were not notified before the item appeared on the April 1 municipal government agenda, and arrived to the meeting to protest the action in person.

“It’s my parking lot; I bought it fair and square,” Robert Giordano said. “You should have bought it when it was up for sale for two years. We went and bought this place because it had a parking lot. That’s what they want; that’s why we purchased it.”

Robert Giordano objected to characterizations of his property as neglected or dangerous in his remarks. He said the lot is covered with cameras, paved cleanly, and hasn’t harbored criminal activity to his knowledge.

“There’s no trouble there,” he said. “I don’t know about the other spots; I see other things. But behind my salon, we keep up with it.”

Salon G in Collingswood. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley described the overall condition of the parking lot that runs the length of the 600 block of Collings Avenue as having been “an issue for the borough for many, many years.”

He told Giordano those concerns originated “long before you guys owned the property.”

“We’ve made several attempts to try to get some coordination, get it looking better, have it maintained better, get it in better condition,” the mayor continued.

“We’ve lately had some issues with problems of folks in the evening and not good control over that site. So what the borough’s looking to do is to gain ownership of the remainder of that lot, to make it public parking.”

“The hope is what’s going to come out of it is a better-controlled and better-repaired lot, which will also take some of the tax liability off you,” Commissioner Rob Lewandowski added.

Maley said after the meeting that attempted negotiations between the borough and property owners past and present have been fruitless for years. He acknowledged earlier conversations with the Giordanos as “an effort to do this cooperatively” that nonetheless were unsuccessful.

“We followed up a bunch of times,” he said. “We wanted to put a lease agreement to make it metered, and work out permits and stuff. Nothing.

“This lot is in awful condition,” Maley said. “We want to convert it into a public parking lot, and have it be well-lit; maintained properly. We’ll work to make accommodations with them, and they will be appropriately compensated, not just for this land where the parking lot will go, but for any damages.”

Jamie Giordano said she and her sister, Christina, have spoken with borough representatives about the parking lot as far back as the spring of 2023. Although they weren’t interested in selling it, they agreed to meet with Borough Administrator Cassandra Duffey to discuss what they were told was the possibility of establishing an easement there.

At their initial meeting, the Giordanos found the terms of the deal unacceptable.

“I told Cass the only reason why we bought this building was because we wanted parking, because we looked on Haddon Avenue when we were starting up our business in 2018,” Jamie Giordano said.

From left: Christina, Robert, and Jamie Giordano outside of the Collingswood Senior Community Center. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

“[If we sold,]  I would lose all my rights to the parking lot; they would put kiosks in, and we would need permits to park our cars, maybe $300 a year,” she said.

“We have 12 employees. It would be $4,000 a year for us and our employees to have parking permits. And each year, they could raise that.”

Despite being offered a share of the parking kiosk revenues, the Giordanos weren’t interested in forfeiting the dedicated parking that they say their employees need and their clients want.

They thought the issue was settled, until late March 2024, when they were invited to sit down with Duffey and Maley.

In that meeting, the Giordanos again said they declined the offer to sell their parking lot.

In response, they allege that they were told that their lot could be acquired by condemnation before talk turned to issues of trash and alleged criminal activity on the property.

Jamie Giordano said that Collingswood Police have approached Salon G “maybe three or four times a year” to review footage from its security cameras, “and it’s always in the front, not in the back.”

“We’re all women,” she said. “We work until late at night. We would be calling the police if we felt we were in danger. We play it safe no matter what, but we have not had any issues, thank God.

“We’re getting steamrolled because of other people’s problems.”

The Giordanos own three total storefronts in the 600 block of West Collings Avenue: Salon G at 620, Kiko’s Peruvian Kitchen at 624, and the former Ed’s Barber Shop at 628. After having invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in acquisitions and renovations, the family says it’s aggravated at the thought of losing parking associated with all three businesses.

“We don’t feel comfortable being in Collingswood right now,” Jamie Giordano said. “We’ve tried to do everything we could to make this side of town better, and we feel it’s being taken from us.”

Vijay Patel owns three properties at 600 Collings Avenue, comprising the Food Mart convenience store, Crust and Cravings pizzeria, and Laundry Zone laundromat. Patel also owns some two-thirds of the parking lot behind those shops, stretching down behind the next half-block of storefronts until Salon G.

He confirmed that he’s had discussions with the borough government about selling or improving his lot prior to passage of the eminent domain resolution April 1.

Vijay Patel owns three storefronts at the entrance to the West Collings Avenue business district. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

Those talks were wide-ranging, Patel said, and covered a number of possible outcomes —a share of the revenues generated by metered spaces that would be created in the lot, discounted parking for employees of the businesses there, or an elimination of parking requirements for his businesses.

“My concern is that they should reserve something for us, and they should open the parking in the front,” he said.

“When we had to open that store, they made us block it there so no one could park in the front.”

Patel also said that his lot is frequently used by people who are not patronizing those shops, despite signage along his fence line. It’s become the default parking option for residents of the apartments above businesses on the strip, none of which have deeded parking spots there.

Patel also confirmed that there is no easement on his property to allow traffic unrelated to his business to cut through, which they often do.

“We have been abused by residents and nearby businesses parking in our lot,” he said. “Those residents don’t have parking; they use our parking lot.”

Collingswood resident Kelly McGinnis, who cofounded the West Collingswood Revitalization Committee neighborhood group, said the parking lot in the 600 block of West Collings Avenue has been a subject of cleanups for at least the past year.

Part of the issue with its deterioration is related to vegetative overgrowth, McGinnis said; the fence sits at the edge of an alley that is difficult to access, in which an invasive ivy has taken root. Overwhelmingly, however, the biggest concern neighbors have about the lot involves the volume and nature of trash found there.

From human waste and hypodermics to propane tanks, air conditioner units, and discarded fencing, the trash gathered during community cleanups indicates frequent and illegal dumping.

“We found bedding, which made it look like people might have been sleeping there,” McGinnis said. “People come there to clean out their cars and change their oil, and then stuff gets left. It’s just kind of become a dumping ground where people bring their stuff.”

In addition to the trash, McGinnis thinks the lack of clear signage and parking striping in the lot contributes to poor traffic flow there. Uneven pavement and sizable potholes are likewise ongoing concerns, but are secondary to the dumping issues.

“We want safety and cleanliness,” she said. “There’s so many issues, and my understanding is that because of the way the parking lot is divided up, they haven’t been able to get consensus from the owners as far as asphalt paving. It has been a very problematic lot for a long time; this is what the borough felt would be a good solution.”

West Collings Avenue community cleanup. Credit: West Collingswood Revitalization Committee.

Whether the lot is acquired by the borough government or not, the West Collingswood Revitalization Committee will continue its focus on placemaking efforts in the district, McGinnis said.

The group is working to provide bike racks, lighting, and some permanent furniture on the block, and will be supported by efforts from the municipal government to add seating and trash cans there.

Fundraising efforts from the civic group also could cover the cost of planting and local art installation.

“We believe that this strip shows a great part of this community,” McGinnis said, “from having a wonderful, James Beard-nominated restaurant to the corner store that has the things you need every day.

“We’ve wanted to make it a nice, safe district,” she said. “Our goal is not to gentrify or push anyone out.”

The Giordanos say they are reviewing their legal options with an attorney; in the meantime, they’ve launched a petition to rally popular support for their position.

Patel said he’s not entirely sure what his options are under the circumstances. The borough has made no formal offer to purchase his property yet — a next step in the eminent domain process is obtaining a property appraisal — so he’s waiting to reserve judgment until he can run the numbers.

While those discussions continue, Maley said borough engineers will draw up a new plan for the area, with parking controls, parking striping and configurations, and kiosk locations.

Ideally, he said, all parties would come to an amenable compromise that would account for landlord, tenant, and business parking as well as the continued upkeep of the site.

“All we’re doing is saying it would behoove this business district if there were a proper, well-lit, well-maintained public parking lot that served all the district,” the mayor said. “We’ll all be talking as we do it.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that a diner’s vehicle was stolen from the Li Beirut parking lot. A spokesperson for the restaurant clarified that a third-party delivery driver’s vehicle was stolen from the business lot next door when that driver left the vehicle running with the keys in the ignition.

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