Judge’s Ruling on Lawsuit Will Determine the Future of Monmouth Mall
After two full days in court, Superior Court Judge Lisa P. Thornton decided to hold off and not deliver her ruling on a lawsuit, which wants to overturn the zoning that is needed for the redevelopment of the Monmouth Mall, directly after closing arguments were made on Tuesday, August 15.
Thorton said she will give her opinion on the suit in writing and deliver it later in the week.
Eantown’s attorney Andrew Bayer, who in his closing argument requested that lawsuit against the borough and its government be dismissed, said, "She (Thornton) didn't say when. Sometimes the court calls, sometimes the court mails it out."
Referencing the actions taken by the borough to adopt the zoning ordinance, Bayer said, "The record shows that the borough engaged in a very public process, it went above and beyond what was required by law."
According to App.com, “Four Eatontown residents saw it differently. Judith M. Bretzger, Sara Breslow, Evelyn A. Guerra and Barbara Deneger filed a lawsuit in Superior Court Freehold last October seeking to overturn Eatontown's Ordinance 10-2016, known as the Mixed Use Regional Center Zone. The zone permits up to 700 apartments on the Monmouth Mall property and is critical to the mall's owners – Kushner Cos. and Rouse Properties – who are planning a massive redesign of the traditional shopping mall… Their lawsuit accused the borough of spot zoning – that is showing favoritism to the mall owner when the borough created the zone – and violating the Open Public Meetings Act, also known as the sunshine law, when it adopted the zone. The suit also claimed the adoption of the zone was procedurally deficient because the council didn't make a motion before voting to approve the zone at a Sept. 14, 2016, meeting.”
In his closing argument, the plaintiffs’ attorney Edward F. Linston Jr. said, "It was so obvious it (the adoption of the zone) was done to benefit the Kushner organization and no one else.”
On Monday, August 14, Thornton told the plaintiffs that they had an “uphill battle” in convincing her that the Open Public Meetings Act, also known as the Sunshine Law, was broken by the council when it passed the ordinance, which is a key argument for the plaintiffs.
App reports, “The law is designed to ensure that decision-making government bodies conduct their businesses in public. The zoning ordinance was adopted at a public meeting in which an overflow crowd of about 50 or more people was directed to the firehouse adjacent to Borough Hall to watch a live feed of the meeting on a television screen after the 130-person capacity Council Chambers was filled by members of the public.”
The building in which the crowd was overflowing to watch the hearing, residents say, made it very hard for the public to participate.
On Tuesday, Thornton said, "There's nothing before me that would indicate that this was anything but good government. Folks can think there is a conspiracy when the ball doesn't roll their way."
Regarding the spot zoning claim, Thornton did not make it as clear which side she was on, but she did say that since the plaintiffs did not bring in an expert to testify on the issue, it would be hard to find in their favor.
Regarding the new design plans for the mall, real estate developers Kushner and Rouse are planning a mixed-used retail and residential center. In 2018, is when the developers hope to start construction.
Kushner Companies is owned by Jared Kushner’s family. Jared in both President Donald Trump's son-in-law and his senior adviser.
In February 2016, concepts for the mall’s redesign were first presented to the public by Kushner Cos. In April 2016, a zoning change that would allow for 800 apartments and a hotel was rejected by the borough council.
On September 14, 2016, the zone was rewritten and approved by the council. The new version eliminated the hotel and cut the number of permitted apartments down to 700.
This past May, Rouse was brought in as a new partner on the project by Kushner Cos.
"She (Thornton) didn't say when. Sometimes the court calls, sometimes the court mails it out."