If you drive down Manchester Avenue in Brick, you might think a major crime had occurred there.
Yellow tape resembling the type hung at a crime scene lines several of the front lawns of the street's homes, tied to bushes and trash cans, leading a visitor to wonder if parking was allowed.
That's the point.
The reality: parking is allowed on the narrow block off Mantoloking Road, and an ongoing dispute with a taxi company located at the corner is what has led some neighbors to put up the yellow tape, as well as trash cans, flower pots and other makeshift obstacles that might dissuade one from parking a car there.
New Mantoloking Taxi has its office and parking lot at the corner of Mantoloking Road and Manchester Avenue, and neighbors say drivers employed by the company are leaving their personal vehicles parked on their narrow street while they work. In some cases, they say, there are so many cars parked that emergency vehicles would not be able to get through.
The dispute is the latest controversy in the saga of New Mantoloking's presence on the street. The main story has been the taxi company's ownership of two residential lots next to their regular parking lot. The company, without permission, paved over the residential lots and used them for extra parking. Last month, the township council voted to allow the company to continue to operate through September – only if it agreed not to use the illegally paved portion of the property.
Next week, New Mantoloking will go before the township Board of Adjustment to present its case for a variance to allow the lot to stay paved and to be used commercially. In the mean time, however, neighbors say their quality of life is being diminished.
"I realize it's a public street, people can park there," said Monmouth Avenue resident Joshua Specht, at Tuesday's township council meeting. "But they park right up to our mailboxes, so the mailman won't deliver the mail. All of the sudden, I don't get mail."
Specht said he's called the police department to report cars parked illegally at stop signs at the Mantoloking Road intersection, which makes things dangerous for residents turning out onto the busy road.
"They don't care," he said, of the taxi company employees. "They don't care about the residents. They need a place to park, they have to go to work, and they just park wherever they want."
"I can't get in and out of my house," said David Panebianco, another neighbor. "Now, I have to worry about cars parking on properties ... It's contaminating my property, my area, my children."
Another member of the public at the council meeting accused the taxi company of instructing drivers to park on the street out of spite, an accusation that New Mantoloking's owner, Henry Acierno, denies.
"It wasn't done spitefully," he told Brick Patch on Wednesday. "My drivers have no place to park. Where are they supposed to go?"
He accused neighbors of being "inconsiderate" as his quest for a variance makes its way through the process of being heard by the Board of Adjustment.
"Right now, the people are blocking off spots," he said. "They're roping them off like it's a murder scene. They have nothing better to do."
Acierno said the entire situation would be resolved if he's allowed to use the paved lot for extra parking, though some neighboring residents are expected to oppose his application at next week's meeting.
"The board is going to take into consideration some of the issues you've said," said Councilwoman Susan Lydecker, referencing concerns brought up by Panebianco.
"The board may approve them, they may deny them," Lydecker said. "If they do deny them, they'll have to tear it up and put down grass or whatever was there beforehand, and we take it from there."
Councilman Dan Toth urged patience, telling residents to wait to hear the outcome of next week's Board of Adjustment hearing. Otherwise, he said, an ordinance has already been drafted that would ban parking on Manchester Avenue, Sterling Avenue and Monmouth Avenue, all streets adjacent to the taxi company.
"If it doesn't go to the applicant's wishes, and they're made to remediate the area, we've got certain tools already in line," Toth said.
The Board of Adjustment hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, July 18, at 7 p.m. at the township municipal complex.