UPPER TOWNSHIP — The agency that operates the Garden State Parkway has agreed to look at expanding Exit 20 in the Seaville section of the township, in response to requests from local officials.
But parkway officials made no promises.
Local officials have met with representatives of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to ask for a full exchange at Exit 20, said Tom Feeney, a spokesman for the authority, which also operates the parkway.
“As a result of the local interest, the Turnpike Authority agreed to have a study done to evaluate the feasibility of adding the missing movements at the exit,” Feeney wrote in an email. “That study is not yet complete.”
The idea to expand the exit received strong support in a survey completed by the township’s Economic Development Commission.
Commission Chairwoman Susan Adelizzi-Schmidt told Township Committee members Jan. 8 that residents support the commission’s priorities, which include bringing more shops and restaurants to town, better signage and the development of a recreational bike path. However, expanding the exit, the proposal that drew the strongest support by far, is out of the township’s control.
In a survey completed by the commission in November, 90 percent of those responding indicated they want a full parkway interchange at Route 50.
From the intersection of Routes 9 and 50, just south of the Cedar Square Shopping Center in Seaville, drivers can head south on the parkway, but they can’t access the northbound lanes without taking a U-turn at the Ocean View service area. Drivers heading north can exit the parkway there, from a left-lane exit just past the toll, but drivers heading south cannot exit until the Sea Isle City exit a few miles south.
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In her report to Township Committee, Adelizzi-Schmidt also asked for funding for her fledgling advisory commission, which was formed in 2017. Township funding could help get the message out to potential business investors and visitors, she said.
The commissioners promised to keep the Economic Development Commission in mind when they begin the budgeting process in earnest this month.
“I do agree that some sort of budgeting may be warranted,” said Mayor Rich Palombo, praising the commission’s efforts to increase commercial development. “We’ll see how we can do it. Obviously, we try to be good stewards of the funding.”
Adelizzi-Schmidt pitched the Economic Development Commission at the start of 2017. The group held its first meeting in April and made its first report to Township Committee in August.
At the first regular meeting of the year, Adelizzi-Schmidt updated the governing body on an online survey that ran from Nov. 1 to 30 and was compiled in December, seeking residents' input on business centers, the best assets of the township and more.
She said the parkway question overwhelmingly received the greatest response. She said the commission has already sent a letter to state Sen. Jeff Van Drew seeking action on a new interchange, and asked Township Committee to approve a resolution supporting that move, and to hold a town meeting on the topic.
“We just want to get the wheels moving, to get this conversation going,” she said. “I know there are a lot of obstacles. We’re fully aware of what they are. But we think some good dialogue in 2018 makes sense.”
Palombo said he met with Van Drew last spring, and they discussed the interchange with state representatives.
“There are hurdles, mainly budgetary, and where the state funding is going to come from,” Palombo said. “It’s certainly something that I’ve been trying to do for a long, long time.”
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The three Township Committee members at the meeting approved asking the township attorney to draw up a resolution in favor of expanding the interchange.
Adelizzi-Schmidt said 292 people responded to the multiple-choice section of the survey, and 209 responded to an open-ended question about the township’s most valuable assets.
More than 50 percent of those responding supported more shopping and dining in Marmora and Seaville, the township’s two largest commercial areas along the Route 9 corridor. Close to 86 percent of respondents supported developing a recreational bike path and increasing public access to the township’s recreational waters.
About 36 percent of survey responders felt "very positive" about growth and change in the township, which could include increased population and greater commercial development.
Adelizzi-Schmidt said 29 percent responded they felt somewhat positive about it, 16 percent saying they were neutral and 19 percent responding they felt somewhat or very negative about it.
That is perhaps not surprising, considering another survey question found a large number of responders saw Upper Township’s small-town feel as among its most valuable assets, along with its schools, ecotourism, recreation facilities, tax rate and low crime rate.
After the meeting, Adelizzi-Schmidt said she originally sought to start the organization to work on a plan for a new bike route under construction over the new parkway bridge, set to connect the area near the township’s bathing beach on the Great Egg Harbor Bay near the Tuckahoe Inn in Beesleys Point to Somers Point for bikes and pedestrians. She said she wanted the township to plan for the opportunities an expanded bike route could bring.
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According to Adelizzi-Schmidt, the new group looked at numerous existing plans, including the township master plan and other proposals created over the years.
“Initially, the EDC started to work on a new vision for Upper Township, then we decided there is enough already,” she told Township Committee. “There are enough plans, there are enough ideas that have been floated out there over the years.”
In March, the EDC came up with a list of 10 priorities, and later whittled those down to four. The main focus is to attract business to the township, and to keep the businesses that are already there. The advisory commission is also working on a pamphlet listing the township’s attractions, which she said was only a rough draft at this point. Township funding could help marketing efforts move forward, she said.
“We have some great momentum going with this group,” she said.
After the meeting, she told The Gazette she did not have a specific funding request for the township, and that the commission would work with whatever the township thought would be appropriate.
She said $50,000 would be amazing, but $10,000 or $20,000 could also make a big difference.
During the public comment portion of the Monday meeting, Upper Township Business Association President Blanche Adams thanked the commission for its work.
“Our association members, and we have about 130, are pretty much in full alignment with your ideas, especially your Exit 20 idea,” she said. “Our Seaville business members are very excited about that possibility.”