By Kayla J. Marsh
ABERDEEN – New life could soon be coming to Route 35 as township officials are seeking outside assistance to study the area highly traveled by residents and commuters alike.
At the Township Council’s Feb. 2 meeting, the governing body authorized an agreement with Middletown-based T&M Associates for professional planning services associated with the revitalization of Route 35 and “LI” (Light Industrial) Zone for a cost not to exceed $4,000.
“Basically there are parts of Route 35 that could use some rehabilitation and extra attention, so the council is taking a very proactive role in looking at Route 35 and the vacant land and some of the other places that need to be updated and improved upon,” Mayor Fred Tagliarini said.
In his proposal to the governing body, Martin Truscott, a consulting partner with T&M, offered an overview of the project at its current stage and outlined different actions the governing body could take to make the area more aesthetically pleasing to residents and travelers.
“We are excited about the opportunity to assist Aberdeen in its efforts to revitalize and encourage new development along Route 35 and look forward to the prospect of working with township officials on this important project,” he said.
According to Truscott, the subject area spans the entire length of Route 35 in Aberdeen from Matawan Creek to the Old Bridge Township municipal boundary.
He said the study area also includes the “LI” Light Industry area along County Road, which adjoins Route 35.
“The highway corridor contains a mixture of retail commercial uses, as well as some light industry,” Truscott said in the proposal. “From an economic standpoint, the area is mixed.”
He said in some areas there are businesses that are thriving and viable, and in other areas, there are underutilized properties and commercial centers with significant vacancies.
“The corridor is approximately one mile in length [and] … is undergoing a transition based on local, regional and national demographic and economic trends.”
According to Tagliarini, the area has struggled since the closing of the A&P Supermarket, located at the intersection of Route 35 and Cliffwood Avenue, last year due to a consolidation of stores by its parent company.
“Basically the council is trying to be very proactive in making this an appealing place [and] we are trying to stay a little bit ahead of predicaments that might arise in the future,” he said.
“With the recent closing of the A&P, we want to make sure we can provide the landlord with enough tools to revitalize the shopping center there and make sure that Route 35 in our town is vibrant and developed to the needs of the people in our town.”
Truscott added that there are also vacancies in the Commerce Plaza commercial center on County Road, near Route 35.
“The benefit of revitalizing these areas are improved commercial establishments to offer an increase in goods and series to township residents, an expansion of employment, increase in the tax base and improved aesthetics as businesses renovate and upgrade their facilities,” he said.
In his proposal, Truscott said there are numerous options municipal officials can take.
“The role of the municipality to improve the economic climate and boost market forces to revitalize an area is limited with planning and zoning controls such as permitting certain uses and increasing building intensity,” he said. “The town also has the ability to grant tax exemptions with the redevelopment powers.
“In other cases, the town can change design features of the roadway to improve access or increase visibility or aesthetics, so in this case, since Route 35 is a state highway and operated by the New Jersey Department of Transportation, there is a limited role in that regard,” Truscott said.
According to Tagliarini, the idea is to bring new life to the area and provide a plan that will help with any further development that could bring new business to the area.
“Council basically wants to be a step ahead of what might transpire [with the site] and basically passing this agreement allows us to be prepared to help development, and it gives an incentive for businesses to come into our town,” he said. “We need to be aggressive so that we can maintain retails for our residents.
“We realize how important business is to Aberdeen so any time we can maintain that level of help it is important to do so.”
Truscott said an option the governing body could take involves zoning.
“Private investment in the Route 35 corridor and the industrial zone can be encouraged through zoning changes such as the easing of restrictive conditions, allowing more permitted uses, or increasing the amount of building area or height,” he said.
Another option involves considering “area in need of rehabilitation” designation.
“One benefit of the redevelopment plan option is the degree of customization of the land use controls,” he said. “The specific zoning requirements can be established for the redevelopment area.
“Another benefit is the control over the redevelopment process through he redevelopment agreement.”
Truscott said, based on initial evaluation, it is recommended that the township first determine if the Route 35 corridor and/or adjoining “LI” district along County Road meet the definition of an “area in need of rehabilitation” and then they can proceed with any redevelopment plans necessary and appropriate.
“We will prepare a report summarizing our findings,” he said. “Assuming the area meets the definition of an ‘area in need of rehabilitation,’ we will prepare a draft resolution for adoption of the governing body.”
He said the group will also attend township Planning Board meeting for discussion of the findings and to assist the Board in its response to the governing body.
“The next phase of the revitalization will be the preparation of one of more redevelopment plans once the township decides which area(s) are appropriate for redevelopment plans,” he said. “T&M Associates will provide the township with a scope of services and cost estimate of professional services.