Port Belford Plan Ready To Set Sail

May 18, 2017
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The Port Belford Redevelopment Plan includes mixed use developments, retail and restaurant space and an amphitheater/stage area. Photo courtesy of Middletown Township/T&M Associates

By Jay Cook |

MIDDLETOWN – Anticipated plans for a cultural and commercial revival in one section of the township have finally come to fruition.

Still reeling from damage incurred by Super Storm Sandy, the Port Belford Redevelopment Plan is ready to give Belford a major facelift, said Middletown Mayor Gerry Scharfenberger.

“Now is the chance for you to weigh in on what you think is needed or what you think can work,” Scharfenberger said about residents becoming involved in the redevelopment.

The township designated nearly 384 acres, about 350 of which are owned by Monmouth County, in the greater Belford section as an area in need of redevelopment in February of last year. That land ranges from the NY Waterway Terminal along the Raritan Bay down to designated open space area along Route 36 West.

Scharfenberger said Monmouth County, Middletown Township and T&M Associates, the project planners, drew inspiration from three specific seaports along the east coast: South Street Seaport in New York City for its utilization of mixed use development; along with Mystic Seaport, Connecticut; and the Tuckerton Seaport in South Jersey for its maritime and historic village influences.

“They all have the same sort of vision,” he said about the three seaports. “They’re destination areas, have built on the historic maritime heritage and have recreated that feel.”

While the redevelopment plan still needs Planning Board and Township Committee approvals, the outline presents major improvements along the Bay, especially where the NY Waterway ferry terminal and the Belford Seafood Co-op are located.

At the NY Waterway site, the vast parking lot for the hundreds of commuters who utilize daily ferry service could be renovated into a number of uses, ranging from mixed use development with commercial and residential portions to converting much of the parking lot into a parking deck.

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Also included is a circular amphitheater and stage area and significant room for more retail and restaurant space.

Moving west past the commercial fishing port would be more housing, potentially spread across eight acres with 20 housing units per acre, per the redevelopment plan documents. These housing developments would not stand higher than four stories tall.

If approved, Middletown would be following an increasingly popular trend across the state with its own style of transit hub, unique to its water front property.

The Belford Seafood Co-op, based in the northern section of Middletown for over 60 years, is one of the several areas that could see substantial upgrades if the Port Belford Redevelopment Plan wins approvals from the Middletown planning board and governing body.

“I know it is a little bit unusual because there are a lot more train stations and bus stops than there are ferry terminals,” Scharfenberger said about the area being considered a transit village. “But when you look at the number of commuters that commute daily from there, to say it’s not a transit hub would not be accurate.”

Also proposed for the site are infrastructure improvements, designed to keep the fishing port safe from storms and to encourage residents or visitors to experience the entire area.

Bulkhead improvements entering the harbor along with a new bulkhead in the marina would be considered. Plans for an elevated pedestrian walkway spanning Compton Creek, which would have to be at least 60 feet tall for boat traffic, are also a possibility.

According to the redevelopment plan, that pedestrian bridge would allow for “an enhanced view of the New York City skyline as well as the Port Belford neighborhood and its various marine-oriented uses, emphasizing the appeal and uniqueness of the neighborhood.”

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One of the most established stakeholders in the area would be the Belford Seafood Co-op, a commercial fishing port that has operated on its 1.3-mile property for over 60 years. After being ravaged by Sandy, the redevelopment plan provides potential upgrades on that site.

The Pirate’s Cove restaurant was destroyed during Sandy, and the plan calls for reinstalling that restaurant. Supporting upgrades to the co-op’s many buildings, used for packaging and shipping, are encouraged as well.

While the redevelopment plan seems like a plus to the area, some are skeptical about how integrated the entire site can be.

Roy Diehl, president of the Belford Seafood Co-op, said the co-op sees no traffic to their site from the droves of commuters that come to Belford each day. “They speed 100 miles an hour down the road, but don’t worry about coming over here to spend any money,” he said.

Diehl said prior to improvements made across the marina at the NY Waterway site, he wants to see some serious upgrades to the infrastructure around his facility. New bulkheads are at the top of his list, as well as a second attempt at dredging the marina, which was last done in 2015.

“They did a half-ass job dredging,” Diehl said. “We can’t get in here – I run into mud every low tide.”

Agreeing that the area could use a “shot in the arm,” Diehl continued on to say it must be done on the right terms.

“Growth is welcome, customers are welcome, business is welcome,” said Diehl. “But we have to agree on it. We want to stay fishing.”

This article was first published in the May 11-18, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.

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