Federal Grants Paying For Local Improvements

Photo by Stephanie A. Faughnan

  HOWELL – Township officials are again gearing up for their annual Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) initiative, a vital federal government-funded program administered through Monmouth County.

  Matthew Howard, the Director of Community Development and Land Use Officer, revealed during the Township Council’s most recent meeting that Howell anticipates approximately $160,000 from the grant program. The funds are specifically earmarked for certain eligibility areas, primarily determined by census data, focusing on low to moderate income communities.

  “We are given the grant money to do improvements,” shared Howard. “We like to use it for road paving and sidewalk construction. When we don’t have projects in the eligibility area, we are permitted to go outside of those areas if we are doing (Americans with Disabilities Act) improvements or improvements to blighted areas on township property only.”

  The federal grant funds were allocated towards the Fort Plains Road Paving Project in the previous year. In 2021, township officials applied the money to ADA enhancements within the community.

  Twenty years ago, a significant portion of Howell met the eligibility criteria for the federal grant. The area qualifying under the guidelines shrunk substantially between 2016 and 2018 and became even smaller in 2019.

  Local authorities are in communication with Monmouth County officials to assess the census data, aiming to identify any additional areas that might align with the eligibility criteria.

  Only two relatively compact zones currently meet the requirements set by the federal government. One area is situated to the west of Route 9 and stretches from Casino Drive to West Farms Road. The other extends from Adelphia Road and Route 9 to the border with Freehold.

  “These are the only areas we can find projects, and they haven’t changed in a few years,” Howard said. “It’s getting exceedingly difficult to find projects in the area with high impact. We don’t want to pave roads that don’t need it.”

The homes located on Ford Road would not be demolished as part of the project, although other structures would be torn down. (Screenshot by Stephanie Faughnan)

  As a result, this year’s strategy shifts beyond the established eligibility areas, with a focus on demolishing buildings located on township-owned property. All structures have been deemed beyond repair and acquired through various means.

  At the top of the list is a property situated east of Colts Neck Road along Route 33, which the township acquired through a tax sale foreclosure in 2017. Having languished in neglect and overgrowth, this parcel of land had been left vacant for an extended duration prior to its transition into municipal ownership.

  The site encompasses an abandoned single-family dwelling, a detached garage alongside a septic system and well. The structure itself is categorized as hazardous, exposed to the elements, and considered unsafe, while the property at large stands as a blight within the community.

  “In this day and age of the opioid epidemic, we want to make sure that we’re not harboring or having any type of issue with trespassing,” said Howard. “We’re proposing to clear up and clean up the site, remove the vegetation immediately around the structure and demolish the house.”

  The next property earmarked for teardown lies at Route 524, situated just south of Farmingdale and directly across the street from Frequency Engineering on Central Avenue. In 2021, the township gained ownership of this property due to foreclosure proceedings. The conditions on this property are nearly identical to the first property listed for demolition.

  According to Howard, the township also intends to initiate demolition on structures situated within Bear Swamp Fields, positioned directly opposite Soldier Memorial Park. Pop Warner and cricket players use the fields at this location, situated at the junction of Maxim Road and Route 547.

  The fire bureau designated both the single dwelling home and large chicken coop on site as unsafe for entry, even for first responders.

  “I think if you take a step through the front door of the house, you’d go right to the basement,” Howard shared. “There are no stairs.”

  The last project described by Howard would only be considered if the funds allocated for the prior initiatives are not fully utilized. It concerns property Howell assumed ownership of on Ford Road through a 2022 court settlement.

  Approximately six years ago, the township opposed a project proposed by Congregation Kollel Inc. to build a school on the Ford Road property. Following the project’s rejection, the applicant pursued legal action in 2018, asserting claims of anti-Semitism through social media platforms. The lawsuit settlement included stipulations for payment by the township and its insurer. Howell’s acquisition of the 20.19 acre parcel of land also came with an $8 million price tag.

  This particular land parcel contains four single-family dwellings, a daycare, and various outbuildings. Since the single-family dwellings are in relatively good shape, the township does not intend to demolish the homes. However, the rear of the property contains non-conforming structures as far as apartments and barns that would be torn down.

  Some of the considerations for the existing homes include use as affordable credits and returning the housing options to the market.

  The township plans to decrease costs by working with the Department of Public Works. The projects were listed in order of priority with no clear insight into whether all can be accomplished with this year’s grant money.