The developer of a controversial former senior housing complex in Absecon has filed a lawsuit against a resident who spoke out against his project.
Louis Niedelman, an attorney with Cooper Levenson in Atlantic City, filed a lawsuit in Atlantic County Civil Court last month. The suit names Absecon resident Barbara Brown and mentions the possibility of naming additional residents.
Niedelman and his client, Anthony Cappuccio, president of Boardwalk Development & Design Inc. in Margate, which is developing the project, did not return messages seeking comment.
The complex was originally supposed to be for senior housing only, but the original developer fell into bankruptcy. Cappuccio took over the project and applied to make the 76-unit complex for all ages, citing a downturn in the senior housing market.
The city’s Planning Board, following a 2009 state law, allowed the change in May 2011, and a group of residents formed the Save Absecon Committee and filed a lawsuit against the Planning Board in July 2011.
Superior Court Judge Allen Littlefield ruled in March that the Planning Board was correct in allowing the removal of the 55-and-older requirement for the development at New Jersey Avenue and School Street.
The group of residents, however, still feels the design has changed too much and the project would be too burdensome for the city’s downtown.
The group announced Friday that it hired attorney Jeff Baron, of Voorhees, Camden County, to handle its appeal to the Appellate Division. It is now soliciting funds.
Cappuccio’s suit does not list any exact quotes from Brown but states the defendant “issued defamatory statements and information constituting libel and slander, thereby irrevocably damaging the reputation of the character” of Cappuccio.
Niedelman also wrote cease-and-desist letters to Absecon residents Joe Courter, chairman of the Save Absecon Committee, and Robert Kusnirik, a former member of Save Absecon’s core committee, which states Niedelman conducted an investigation and they may receive a claim in the future regarding defamatory conduct against Cappuccio.
The subjects of the suit say they are trying to figure out what they supposedly did wrong.
Courter said no members of the committee have stated anything that, to his knowledge, could constitute defamation.
“No one said anything that would constitute slander or libel,” he said. “We’ve been opposing the project.”
Kusnirik said he asked Niedelman for the findings of what he’s said and did not receive a response.
“I don’t do that. I don’t insult people. I don’t call them names. I stick with the facts,” Kusnirik said. “He’s now done exactly what he’s blaming me for. He’s said something which is not true.”
Brown, owner of The British Connection on New Jersey Avenue, said she believes the lawsuit is about taking away the residents’ right to free speech.
“This is a public issue that will affect our lives in this city. I don’t feel the project is good for the neighborhood,” she said.
“I never said anything to slander or defame Mr. Cappuccio. If he had something I said and it was misinformed, I would apologize to him. He didn’t give that to me. He just gave me a lawsuit,” Brown said.
The members said they had also tried to work out an agreement with Cappuccio.
Courter said he had offered to give the developer money to market Absecon Gardens for senior housing if he would agree to go back to senior housing.
The money, which Courter thought would be between $10,000 and $15,000, would come from the fund the group would not have had to spend on the appeal to the Appellate Division.
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