MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Abandoned houses, storefronts and a boarded-up motel litter Route 9 and the back areas of the township.
That could soon change, as township officials plan to tear down abandoned buildings, fix up old buildings and promote economic development throughout the area.
In September, the township held a special meeting where several officials gave presentations about economic development, accompanied by a review of the “Area in Need of Rehabilitation Strategy and Plan,” which was prepared for the township by Triad Associates, a community development firm in Vineland.
Elizabeth Terenik, the township administrator, said the project is a team effort among the mayor, Planning Board, Township Committee and every official who works in Middle Township.
“We’re setting up the structure so that we can move forward with the rehab,” Terenik said.
The Triad plan targeted five key areas that need rehabilitation: Cape May Court House, Rio Grande, Stone Harbor Boulevard, the former Lamonica Oyster Processing site, and the Cape Harbor site.
“This plan summarizes the current conditions in each of the designated areas as well the vision for redevelopment in these areas,” the plan reads. “It is expected that designating the areas defined in this report as areas in need of rehabilitation will help prevent further deterioration and promote the overall development of the community.”
The report laid out a detailed vision of what these five sites could look like after rehabilitation. For example, the Cape May Court House corridor should have a walkable area and retail stores “within a vibrant mixed-use community.” Sporadic development along the corridor, as well as outdated infrastructure, has slowed down any kind continued investment.
The average age of buildings along the Route 9 corridor designated for rehabilitation is 80 years, according to the plan. Parts of the sewage infrastructure are also more than 80 years old.
The plan was particularly critical of the Rio Grande section, saying the area is filled with empty and undesirable buildings that bring in crime and general safety concerns.
“Overall the corridor of Rio Grande acts as a hub of retail activity in Cape May County,” the plan reads. “The redevelopment of the older motels and hotels would improve the safety and aesthetic of the neighborhood.”
This is not the first time Middle Township has planned to tear down or rehab derelict properties. In 2014, the township committee voted on an ordinance appropriating $200,000 in capital improvement funds to demolish a handful of unsafe and abandoned homes.
This project, however, is much larger in scope, and the township must still hire a redevelopment lawyer.
The plan suggested the township apply for numerous state and federal grants to help pay for the project, and there is no timetable on its overall completion.