Robert Webster, a co-owner of MJ's Pizza, Bar & Grill, says that he wants to be a good neighbor to Melrose Terrace residents living behind his business.
If good fences make good neighbors, Webster believes that the stockade fence soon to be installed behind the restaurant at the 1005 Route 35 bar/restaurant will satisfy nearby residents.
Specifically, Webster and his business partner, Angelo DiCapua, are optimistic that the opaque fence will help settle the quality of life issues their neighbors have raised with them and Middletown Township administration.
"[The fence] should be in there by no later than the end of next week," Webster said in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Melrose Terrace residents' gripes about headlight glare streaming through their windows at night from MJ's parking lot are legitimate, Webster said.
"Their biggest complaint has been about people pulling in and out of the parking lot and the headlights shining [into] their windows," he said.
That issue has been more pronounced this fall and winter due to the lack of foliage in the woods that separate the parking lot from the homes, Webster noted.
"I think that's the biggest problem, especially between November and April when the trees are bare," he said.
Seeking to maintain peace with their neighbors, Webster and DiCapua met with Township Administrator Anthony Mercantante to brainstorm a solution.
"We told [Mercantante] that we want to do whatever we can to help," Webster said.
Mercantante had also heard the neighbors' complaints about the wayward headlights. In turn, he advised Webster and DiCapua to install a solid fence along the parking lot's rear perimeter.
"Verbally, the owners have been very cooperative," Mercantante said in a telephone interview. "They told us that they would put fencing back there."
Another issue arose when some Rosewood Terrace residents complained to MJ's owners and to Mercantante about restaurant patrons using the residential side street off Route 35 as an overflow parking lot.
With only about 60 parking stalls in the lot that wraps around the building, Webster knows he has a parking crunch when the popular spot draws a crowd, particularly nights and weekends.
Rosewood Terrace, located just north of MJ's and an adjacent carpet and flooring store, leads to Melrose Terrace.
"People were parking on [Rosewood Terrace] when the parking lot filled up, especially on Friday and Saturday nights," Mercantante said.
Though MJ's is sandwiched in by the carpet store and other businesses including Pizza Hut and McDonalds, the owners would like to discourage employee or customer parking on Rosewood Terrace and residential streets.
Arrangements with the carpet store owners to use their lot for restaurant employee parking at night are pending, Webster said.
"We're trying to work out something with the owners of the carpet store, so we can eliminate parking on the side street," he explained.
Webster and DiCapua had considered hiring valet parking, but could not determine where the valets would put vehicles once the lot filled up.
"We can't figure out where to put overflow parking," Webster said. "We just don't see how the valet parking would work."
Any ideas from neighbors, patrons or township officials or residents for easing the parking shortage would be welcome, he continued.
"If anyone has any suggestions for parking, I'm definitely open to hearing them," Webster said.
Since its opening in February, MJ's is the first business that has prospered in the structure that last housed the now-defunct Giovanni's and other unsuccessful bars and restaurants, Mercantante pointed out.
Neighbors are used to having an empty building behind their homes, he added.
"They're not violating anything," Mercantante said of MJ's owners. "They just happen to be busier than any other restaurant that's been there."
Webster denied reports that neighbors have been troubled by excessive noise coming from the bar. Rumors that his patrons have wandered nearby residential streets in a drunken state are false as well, he said.
MJ's entertainment menu usually consists of a single guitarist, musical duos or trios or karaoke rather than live bands playing into the night, he added. The bar is open until 2 a.m. every night.
"We cater to a more mature crowd and to families," Webster said.
Township police have not received reports of drunk and disorderly patrons or of excessive noise emanating from MJ's according to Detective Lt. Steve Dollinger, a spokesman for the Middletown Township Police Department.
Besides the Middletown location, originally known as Mulrain's Tavern, Webster and DiCapua own two more restaurants under the MJ's name. Those locations are in the former Grist Mill on Sycamore Avenue in Tinton Falls and in the onetime Beacon Street Grille on Route 66 in Neptune.