FREEHOLD, N.J. – In a story July 11 about a lawsuit over a mall project in New Jersey, The Associated Press misspelled the surname of the judge hearing the case. It is Thornton, not Thorton.
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A corrected version of the story is below:
Judge: Suit against Kushner mall project faces uphill battle
A judge has told four New Jersey residents suing to stop a development plan from Jared Kushner's family's real estate company that they face an "uphill battle."
FREEHOLD, N.J. (AP) — Four residents suing to stop a development plan from Jared Kushner's family's real estate company face an "uphill battle" to prove their case, a judge said.
Superior Judge Lisa Thornton said Monday during the first day of the trial that it's hard to see that there was a violation to the state's open public meetings law that would lead her to overturn the company's zoning approvals, the Asbury Park Press reported .
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Kushner Cos., which is owned by the family of President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, hopes to build hundreds of rental apartments atop a mall parking lot in what it calls an effort to save its shopping development in Eatontown and provide affordable housing.
Four have sued to overturn the zoning approvals that the company needs, arguing that the public was not able to properly participate in the meeting where the zoning was approved because dozens of people in an overflow crowd had to watch from a hot firehouse next to borough hall.
"It's hard to see there was a violation," Thornton said. "The (state open public meetings act) does not require that a municipality provides a space to everyone."
Eatontown Borough attorney Andrew Bayer said the borough had gone "above and beyond" what it was required to do. Testimony in the case could conclude Tuesday.
Plaintiffs in the mall suit also claim town officials privately negotiated with the Kushners for half a year without telling the community, then rushed a vote on new zoning rules that benefited only the Kushners' company after the deal already had been rejected.
The town's attorneys say officials allowed ample time for debate before voting. And the attorneys for Kushner Cos. say that the mall was in "steady decay" and that those opposing the expansion want to block the company from building affordable housing for needy residents.
Other real estate deals the Kushners have brokered in New Jersey are under attack, too, with residents claiming local politicians are too accommodating to the powerful real estate family.
In Jersey City, the Kushners had hoped for a 30-year local tax break for two residential towers, but residents took to the streets in February and the family recently withdrew its application. Farther down the shore, in Perth Amboy, the status also is shaky. The Kushners have been pressing the city to approve a downsized version of a 22-building waterfront community the family promised years ago, but that is uncertain given resentment over stalled construction and a lawsuit from condo investors who feel misled.
In Eatontown, the Kushners are giving every sign that their Monmouth Mall development is secure. Residents say land surveyors started digging into neighbors' front lawns despite the impending trial.
Federal financial disclosure forms show Kushner still owned the mall in March, but a White House spokesman said Friday that he cut ties to the project in May. The spokesman said the related disclosure filings were not yet public, and he provided no documentation.