EATONTOWN: A trial that will decide the immediate future of the Monmouth Mall will begin this week.
A group of Eatontown residents who oppose the ordinance to rezone the Monmouth Mall filed a lawsuit against the borough in an effort to overturn it last October and now the trial is set for Monday, July 10.
The three-count complaint was filed in Monmouth County Superior Court in October by residents Evelyn Guerra, Judith Bretzger, Barbara Denegar and Sara Breslow and seeks a ruling to declare the ordinance null and void due to "violations of the Municipal Land Use law, procedural deficiencies and violations of the Open Public Meetings Act," according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges that people were turned away from council meeting room when it reached its 130-person capacity and were asked to watch a live stream of the meeting next door at the Eatontown Fire Department. The suit states that the livestream did not work properly and that those in attendance could not hear or see the meeting for long periods of time.
The plaintiffs also claim that the council never made a formal motion to vote on the ordinance and that it should be declared "null and void" as a result.
The final count states that the new zone "adversely impacts, the plaintiffs' property rights and property owned by them."
History of the Project
Kushner Cos. became the sole owner of the mall after purchasing Vornado Realty Trust's 50 percent interest in the summer of 2015. Following their purchase of the property, they presented a plan in February, 2016 to turn the mall into and indoor/outdoor mixed use development known as the Monmouth Town Center. In addition to the retail already in place, Kushner Companies was also looking to add a residential component, recreational uses, office space, healthcare facilities, a hotel, a multipurpose plaza area and a market.
The Eatontown Council voted down an ordinance that would have changed the zoning in the area to allow this development to be built following site plan approval from the Eatontown Planning Board. Their intention was to scale the project down, increase buffers to nearby homes and make other adjustments.
However, before the borough's professionals could begin crafting a new ordinance, a representative from the developer announced at a public meeting last month that the mall would remain "as is."
Later, the Kushner Companies did end up stating that they had a revised plan for the mall, which ended up becoming the concept announced in May.
The new plan includes the creation of an indoor culinary marketplace, Culinary Heights, which will feature upscale restaurants, themed eateries, wine bars and tea boutiques, a public facing town square, a streetscape with prominent retail and dining options and unique landscaping and architectural deigns. Kushner Companies has teamed with Rouse Properties for the new plan.
Rouse Properties has a portfolio which includes projects across the country where they took an existing structure and repurposed and modernized it, including the conversion of several indoor malls into open air retail shopping areas.
Eatontown Mayor Dennis Connelly has said no plans for the mall have been filed with the planning board, but said the developers are eager to get the process started. It is likely that the developers will wait to see the outcome of this week's trial before moving the plans forward.
If the plans are presented to the planning board, the public will have a chance to question the professionals, such as engineers and planners, hired by Kushner Companies and Rouse Properties. Once the public has a chance to ask questions, the board will vote on the project and if the developers are given site plan approval, they will move to get final approvals before beginning construction.