Order pending in case challenging Kushner mall redevelopment

Markets Associated Press

A judge says she will rule in coming days in a lawsuit challenging redevelopment plans by Jared Kushner's family real estate company for a New Jersey mall.

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Testimony ended Tuesday in the lawsuit brought by four Eatontown residents who want the court to overturn the zoning approvals Kushner Cos. needs to build hundreds of rental apartments atop the Monmouth Mall parking lot.

The company says it's trying to save its shopping development in Eatontown and wants to provide affordable housing. But the plaintiffs say the public has been unfairly left out of discussion on the project, and residents complain that even as the trial was pending, land surveyors started digging into neighbors' front lawns.

Kushner Cos. is owned by the family of President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser. Federal financial disclosure forms show Jared 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.

The judge already has signaled how she might rule.

Superior Court Judge Lisa P. Thornton said on the first day of the trial Monday that the residents faced an "uphill battle" and that it was "hard to see there was a violation" of the state open public meetings act. Tuesday she 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."

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The plaintiffs argued 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 Eatontown Borough Hall.

"It was so obvious it was done to benefit the Kushner organization and no one else," Edward F. Linston Jr., the plaintiffs' attorney said in his closing arguments Tuesday, the Asbury Park Press reported .

Eatontown Borough attorney Andrew Bayer said the borough had gone "above and beyond" what it was required to do.

Plaintiffs in the case also say 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 Kushner 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 also are under attack, with residents saying 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 of another project 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.