At first glance, it seems to make perfect sense. A long, picturesque street along the banks of the Toms River, lined by well-kept homes on one side and some stones and a walking path along the bulkhead across the street. In the middle are a few parking space for those who want to take a walk along shoreline, like the Holiday City man out for a stroll with his dog while a Shorebeat reporter snapped a few photos.
Passersby would be forgiven if they didn’t realize these few parking spaces have drawn more than 50 calls to police in the last three months – 30 in just the last two, Police Chief Mitch Little said. According to residents, the parking spaces are sometimes used as intended during the daytime, but at night, troublemakers end up finding what becomes a dark corner of the southeast portion of town. Some of the offenses are minor – a “lover’s lane,” so to speak – but there are also frequent drug overdoses reported to police, as well as residents who told township council members at recent meetings that they’ve witnessed hand-to-hand drug deals taking place across the street from their homes.
The parking spaces are located along Bay Shore Drive, an out-of-the-way street near what is known as Coate’s Point, a small piece of land that angles out into the area where the river and Barnegat Bay converge, a few blocks in from the Thomas A. Mathis bridge to the barrier island. Signs are posted advising visitors that there is no fishing, crabbing or swimming allowed. Parking is prohibited after 10 p.m., but residents say the regulation is frequently ignored.
During the past two meetings of the township council, residents described observations ranging from odd to downright scary.
“People are idling for hours” during the day, said neighbor Gabrielle Brown. “One day, I’m gardening outside this week, and for for hours they played ‘Africa’ by Toto.”
Another resident described periodic horn-honking in the middle of the night that just wouldn’t stop. He finally went outside to see what was going on, and he saw a man intermittently “nodding off” from consuming drugs. His head would slope down, hitting the horn, which would then wake him up. The police and EMS were called to the scene.
The residents are asking for the spaces to be removed and simple ‘no parking’ signs placed along the bay. Police officers are aware of the situation, but resources don’t always allow constant patrols of a few parking spaces in a single neighborhood.
“We’ve responded there over 30 times in the last two months,” said Little, after looking up the statistics on his laptop during the council meeting. “Sometimes it’s the first time a person has been there and we ask them to leave. Sometimes we have written summonses.”
So if the spaces are causing so much trouble, why can’t they simply be removed, resident asked? As with many issues in Toms River and beyond, removing a parking space is more complicated than it sounds. Several years ago, Toms River decided to replace the bulkhead along the street as part of a regular maintenance project. That entails state permitting.
“The [Department of Environmental Protection], as you know, has a public access management plan, and one of the conditions of the permit that we got to replace the bulkhead was to include those spaces,” Township Engineer Robert Chankalian said.
After two rounds of pleas at council meetings, residents were assured that officials were seeking a resolution. Councilman Justin Lamb, who represents the neighborhood’s ward, said he would speak with residents and brainstorm with officials and the chief about how to best handle an unusual problem. Several council members suggested creating a physical barrier that is locked after the 10 p.m. time limit on the spaces were to end. It would crate more work for security staff, but would ultimately be one more stop among several gates that are locked around town at nighttime.
Some neighbors called for violators or loiterers to be ticketed rather than warned.
“It’s a dark end of the neighborhood,” said Stacey Gromlich, one of the neighboring residents. “And while [the police] do come when we call, nobody is ticketed. They’re still going to be parked right along the bulkhead. I’ve seen it, I’ve sat outside and watched.”
For now, the spaces remain off-limits from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and Little pledged to find a solution in concert with his colleagues at town hall.