“This is an area of our town that has suffered economically for several decades. I think the idea is to come up with zoning and design ideas that will incentivize developers to come in and work with a lot of vacant lands and underutilized properties. These are properties that are not the most attractive right now,” said township administrator Anthony P. Mercantante. At its June 17 meeting the township committee kicked off a process to determine if the stretch of highway from Palmer Avenue to Leonardville Road is an area in need of redevelopment. So what can the township offer to incentivize economic development in the area? The first section runs from the border of Keansburg at Palmer Avenue to Main Street in Port Monmouth. Section two extends to an area near 9th Street in Belford, just before the beginning of naval base lands. The final section consists of lands spanning from Broadway Avenue in Belford to the intersection of Leonardville Road and Route 36, just shy of the Bayshore Shopping Center in Atlantic Highlands. Though Hazlet’s Airport Plaza Shopping Center on Route 36 is successful – an easily accessible extensive mall with eateries, a Department of Motor Vehicles branch, commercial outlets and a bowling alley – just south sit two vacant parking lots on either side of the highway, one the empty husk of what was once the Bradlees department store complex and the other the vacant site of a former supermarket. Just a short drive south is the vacant Holy Family School and a tract of undeveloped farmland, both of which have been eyed by the township for speculative affordable housing developments. Further south, among gas stations and fast food chains, is the global International Flavors and Fragrances head-quarters in Union Beach, followed by more residential properties, food vendors and small service centers. Mercantante said other Route 36 municipalities will not be included in this study and noted the township would issue an request for proposal for a consulting firm to lead the study this week. MIDDLETOWN – A longstanding vision to create architectural continuity and economic vitality along the township’s Route 36 corridor is headed to the planning board for further investigation. But history is not on the township’s side. Like Middletown, other Bayshore municipalities have struggled to generate economic growth in this area. “We can’t be sure what there is to offer yet,” Mayor Tony Perry said in a June 10 interview. “I want a model that’s unique, just like our town. It could include elements you’re able to find in other towns around the state or it could be some- thing that no one’s ever seen. But whatever it is, it can’t be short-term thinking. This needs to be a model that’s viable for the next 50, 60, 70 years.” According to planningdocuments outlining thestudy area, the townshiphas divided the corridorinto three sections. Naval Weapons Station Earle is another tract of undevelopable acreage that Middletown must contend with, but Mercantante is hopeful the investigation will yield ideas and recommendations to help developers view these quirks as opportunities. “In some ways the trail is a physical constraint and contributes to the narrowness of the area. But on the other hand it’s one of the most heavily utilized trails in Monmouth County. If you can provide services of interest, the trail users are just another captive audience,” Mercantante said. “The same can be said for Earle. It’s an active naval base. How can we provide those servicemen and women more access to businesses and restaurants?” Since December 2016 Middletown has mulled a transformation of the residential and commercial properties spanning the 5-mile portion of state thoroughfare. This complicated corridor is located close to the Sandy Hook Bayshore, an area that includes beachfronts, protected wetlands, waterways like Pews Creek and Compton Creek and other environmental factors that hinder residential development. The neighboring boroughs of Atlantic Highlands and Highlands have had similar issues creating economically viable offerings on their portions of Route 36, with downtown areas located off the state roadway. “It’s a blank canvas right now. You can expand the types of development that are allowed, like mixed-use buildings. You can get creative, and the developers can tell you. The market can dictate what is economically viable,” Monmouth County Freeholder, State Assembly-hopeful and former Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger said. Maybe it’s a model thatdoesn’t exist yet. The following year Maser Consulting unveiled a conceptual rendering of what the Main Street intersection in Belford could look like with Victorian-style mixed-use developments perched at each corner, complete with decorative thermoplastic crosswalks connecting one side of the highway to the other, as well as new curbing and sidewalks with grass cutouts. Another factor that limits development and shrinks the consumer market is the location of the Henry Hudson Trail, a 10-foot-wide biking and walking path that extends from Highlands to part of Freehold. At certain points, the Middletown section of the trail is located just yards from the shoulder of the highway, which would otherwise be valuable real estate for potential developers. “By the end of June we should have responses and we’ll be ready to appoint a consultant for the investigation at our first meeting in July,” Mercantante said.