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Builders Intimidation Tactics Intended to Stop Free Speech
Friday, 06 October 2006

Builder sends threat of lawsuit to critics
The residents said the letters came after they publicly criticized last month a 1.3-mile berm and a 4-foot fence around Tallgrass subdivision, a 110-acre development near Kelsey, Miller and River Roads.The letter from attorneys with Lord Bissell & Brook LLP states potential claims "for commercial disparagement, defamation, interference with prospective economic advantage, and tortuous interference with contract."..."They are intimidating the people that are standing up and speaking about this," Schnack said.

Builder sends threat of lawsuit to critics

By Deidre Bello
Special to the Tribune
Published October 5, 2006

Lake Barrington trustees offered no answers this week on mending a rift between some residents and a developer who threatened them with lawsuits.

Five Lake Barrington residents said they received hand-delivered letters around 8 p.m. Sept. 28 from developer Michael Graft Jr.'s attorney and brother, William Graft.


The residents said the letters came after they publicly criticized last month a 1.3-mile berm and a 4-foot fence around Tallgrass subdivision, a 110-acre development near Kelsey, Miller and River Roads.

The letter from attorneys with Lord Bissell & Brook LLP states potential claims "for commercial disparagement, defamation, interference with prospective economic advantage, and tortuous interference with contract."

Michael Graft Jr., president of Exclusive Land Development Inc., received board approval in May 2005 to build the gated development.

At Tuesday's meeting, resident John Nikolich said he felt intimidated when two men in suits delivered the letter to his home, in front of his children.

"Both my wife and I are extremely disappointed in the Graft brothers, that they would conduct business this way as community leaders, as business leaders in this community, as neighbors," Nikolich said. "And we're also disappointed in the board."

Village President Kevin Richardson said residents will always be welcome to speak their minds, and although he accepts criticism of the berm, the board plans to move forward.

"I can't speak for my colleagues tonight, nor do I propose to revisit 15 months of public hearings, but I will say this: I accept the criticism, I'm also willing to be accountable for the decisions I made and how I voted," Richardson said. "I believe that when the project is complete it will be a credit to our community."

Michael Graft Jr. offered no apology for threatening to take legal action but noted his efforts to help the project fit in with topography.

"In no way, shape or form did I or any of my team attempt to limit the public process," Graft said. "That's certainly not what I'm about, and many of the folks in the audience tonight know me and know what I stand for and why I'm standing here tonight. ... I'm sorry folks feel injured or upset by the letters."

Residents said concerns with the berm's appearance and height, which reaches 11 feet in areas and averages 7 1/2 feet, were overshadowed by the developer's actions.

Bradley Schnack, who also received a letter, read from a list of comments he solicited from neighbors, one of which said the development "looks like a penitentiary." He said he understands board members want to distance themselves legally from the incident, but trustees need to acknowledge it.

"They are intimidating the people that are standing up and speaking about this," Schnack said.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/nearnorthwest/chi-0610050235oct05,1,6824955.story?coll=chi-newslocalnearnorthwest-hed&ctrack=1&cset=true

 
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