Planners eye Port Belford area properties for redevelopment

Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN — On the heels of a recent discussion about redevelopment opportunities for the North Middletown section of the township, Planning Board officials approved recommendations from a preliminary study that the Port of Belford should be designated as an “area in need of redevelopment.”

In a presentation to the board at its Dec. 2 meeting, Stanley Slachetka, group manager of planning with T&M Associates, said the purpose of the study was to determine whether or not certain properties within the proposed area qualified as in need of redevelopment.

“The study was initiated in the summertime [by the Township Committee] … so we’ve been looking at this site for the past several months doing site visits in July and September and again in November to reaffirm the conditions and to focus on specific properties,” Slachetka said.

The study was funded as part of a Post- Sandy Planning Assistance Grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs

The study area encompasses approximately 399 acres and consists of 60 parcels located in the vicinity of Port Belford, the Middletown Township Sewerage Authority and Ware Creek.

According to Slachetka, the area is also surrounded by the Raritan Bay to the north, Seabreeze Avenue to the east, the Henry Hudson Trail and Route 36 to the south and Main Street and the Compton Creek to the west.

Publicly owned property, either by Monmouth County or the township, makes up the predominant land use in the area, according to Slachetka.

Publicly owned property includes the Belford Ferry terminal, a commuter parking area, a landfill site, the Sewerage Authority, a leaf compost site and some generally wooded and undeveloped wetland areas around Ware Creek.

Residential properties in the study are located on Main Street, Palmer Avenue, north of Broadway and adjacent to Compton Creek and, according to Slachetka, are single-family detached residential dwellings.

Commercial property is dispersed throughout the western half of the study area, according to Slachetka.

The Belford Seafood Co-op owns some of the commercial property, some is owned by the Atlantic Pier Company and other sites include a storage and construction yard along Compton Creek, vacant property on Main Street and auto repair and storage uses on Center Avenue.

“In terms of our overall conclusions, our determination is that the majority of the properties in the study area are in need of redevelopment,” Slachetka told board members. “There are several properties that are needed for the effective redevelopment of the area, and there are several properties that do not meet the statutory criteria and should not be designated as in need of redevelopment.”

“These observations are based on various field visits,” he said. “Our role and responsibility as part of this planning study was to evaluate and look at the conditions as they exist, and that led to our conclusions.”

Planning Board members approved the recommendations 6-1.

“We have looked at this development through two different factors … building up the commercial fishing area [with better piers, better docks], and industrial, but we have to look substantially now at how we can get good monies coming into that area,” said board member Carl Rathjen.

Slachetka reminded residents that the Planning Board is not adopting a redevelopment plan for the Port of Belford area, but is deciding whether or not to pass on to the Township Committee the recommendation that the area should be classified or designated as an “area in need of redevelopment.”

“The township is undertaking a broader, more comprehensive study to evaluate what would be the appropriate plan for the area,” Slachetka said. “Essentially, the board is just recommending … and it would be the governing body then that would need to pass a resolution, if it agrees with the findings and recommendations of the board, formally designating the area in need of redevelopment.”

Committeeman Kevin Settembrino said township officials and committee members want to see progress made toward the Port of Belford area.

“The overall intent of the redevelopment zone is to further utilize the natural assets that are there,” Settembrino said. “The intent … is to make the area more viable, more productive for the local community and to enhance all the assets that it has, which doesn’t necessarily mean changing it into something different than what’s already there, but adding value to what’s there.”

Albert Adams, owner of Certified Truck Repair and Bedliners on Center Avenue, said he is concerned about the type of impact future redevelopment plans will have on his business.

“I’ve owned and operated this business for over 30 years,” he said. “There are a whole bunch of lives involved with this … and this is throwing everything up in the air.”

“Thirty-one years I was rock solid, now I’m not, and I’m concerned. I can’t just pick up a business I’ve owned for 31 years and move it someplace else.”

Members of the Belford Seafood Co-op also spoke about their dislike of the situation.

“I am really disgusted,” Richard Isaksen, with the co-op, said. “Here we are with another grant; we’ve had so many grants for studies … where’re we going with this? I don’t understand.”

Much like Adams, Isaksen said he doesn’t want to see the business ruined by unfavorable redevelopment that might come in.

“I’m a commercial fisherman. I want to stay in business,” he said. “My grandfather was there, my father was there, and I’m there, my son’s there.

“Belford use to be a nice little town, and I have seen no development that’s helping us … we need to really think about this one.”

Roy Diehl, president of the Belford Seafood Co-op, agreed

“There’s a lot of stuff here that has to be looked at,” he said.

Despite discontent from audience members, township and planning board officials assured stakeholders they would be heavily involved in the redevelopment process.

“The governing body has the last word [and] if it is so designated as being in need of redevelopment, the process in which the plan is developed will be structured in such a way where there’ll be an opportunity for the public and stakeholders in the area to provide input,” Slachetka said.

“The idea is to get as much public input and then craft a plan that makes sense.

“The idea would be to maximize the benefit for everybody and to think about ultimately what is going to be in the best interest of the overall community.”