By Allison Perrine
MIDDLETOWN – The township is hoping to bring more parking and recreational features to River Plaza in the near future, officials told The Two River Times this week.
Officials anticipate receiving federal funding for a project to develop a vacant lot at the corner of Navesink River Road and Hubbard Avenue, adjacent to River Plaza Elementary School, into a park. Specific details for the site have not been determined but the hope is the project will alleviate traffic, increase pedestrian safety and afford better opportunities for residents to visit recreational facilities nearby, said township administrator Tony Mercantante.
There is currently no specific timeline for when the work will start.
As it stands today, the property is a nearly 2-acre vacant lot in the River Plaza section of Middletown. It sits within walking distance of both Shadow Lake and Poricy Park, two major recreation facilities in the area frequented by hikers, fishermen, canoers and others who enjoy the nature that Middletown has to offer. It was once owned by the Koleda family who also owned the neighboring lot that is now River Plaza Elementary School. Should this project move forward, officials are considering naming the new park after the Koledas.
“We’d like to preserve the last piece of property that that family had,” Mercantante said, though nothing is definite yet.
One issue that must be addressed before any work is done is the soil. According to Mercantante, there is some contamination at the property that the township is working to clean up with the state Department of Environmental Protection. From there, officials hope to build a parking lot on-site as well as some type of recreational feature, whether it be a basketball court, playground or other amenity. But parking will be the priority since there is no designated parking area for visitors of Shadow Lake or Poricy Pond. Currently, people park along the adjacent road to Shadow Lake which Mercantante called “very unsafe.”
“A big part of this is access to the lakes for fishermen,” he said. “Particularly, if they’re dropping off a boat or canoe… which is often the case, it’s not really the safest place to do it.”
And as a bonus, if there is better access to parking, there’s a greater chance that Shadow Lake can be restocked with trout. According to Mercantante, the state used to stock the lake years ago but stopped because there was “really no public place for people to park.”
The site could also improve parking and congestion brought on during school hours, particularly in the mornings and afternoons when both Navesink River Road and Hubbard Avenue are heavily trafficked by pedestrians and motorists. Currently, those looking to pick up or drop off their children at the school often park in the residential neighborhood across the narrow and busy road.
“It’s a tough spot during very busy times,” Mercantante said.
The township is considering connecting the parking lot with the school’s driveway for buses only to grant direct access to Navesink River Road which Mercantante said will further alleviate traffic congestion issues.
And while it is not part of this project, the township is also working on a $1 million Safe Routes to School project with a grant from the state to improve pedestrian safety from West Front Street to River Plaza School, where most students travel while walking to get to the elementary school. “It’s a separate project but it all works in the same vein,” he noted.
The article originally appeared in the July 15 – 21, 2021 print edition of The Two River Times.