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Claim added to lawsuit against Lake Geneva

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Kayla Bunge
July 16, 2010
— A New York-based developer that has filed a $29 million federal lawsuit against the city has added a claim that city officials “acted maliciously.”

Mirbeau of Geneva Lake, which along with Illinois developer Robert Hummel in 2007 proposed a plan for a hotel, winery and homes on a 718-acre property on the city’s south side, is accusing some city officials and members of opposition groups of interfering with a contract.


Mirbeau argues that Alderwoman Mary Jo Fesenmaier, former alderwoman and Friends of Geneva Lake member Penny Roehrer, current mayor and Vote No Mirbeau-Hummel founder Jim Connors, Linn Township resident Dick Malmin and Lower Density Development manager Tom Muenster intentionally interfered with the contract.


The addition comes on top of plenty of recent action in the two lawsuits pending in federal court filed last year by Mirbeau and Hummel as well as another claim filed in January by Hummel.


The two developers are seeking a total of almost $400 million in damages from the city.


The complaint states Fesenmaier and Roehrer, through their involvement in Friends of Geneva Lake, learned that Lower Density Development wanted to halt plans for the development and buy the property.


The complaint also states Fesenmaier, Roehrer, Connors, Malmin and other members of Friends of Geneva Lake communicated with Muenster and Lower Density Development about the contract and proposed development.


It states they “formulated and pursued a strategy of ongoing and improper tactics” to delay review of the rezone request and development plan, stop development of the property and drive down the value of the property and to pressure Hummel into selling the property to Lower Density Development at less than fair market value.


Mirbeau also argues that Fesenmaier, Roehrer, Connors, Malmin and Muenster spearheaded “a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity” after Lower Density Development offered to pay $10 million for the property and promised to develop it in a more desirable fashion than Mirbeau and Hummel.


The complaint states they launched a “multi-front attack” on Mirbeau.


They regularly exchanged e-mails about their plans, according to the complaint.


Roehrer, who at the time was not a member of the city council, frequently e-mailed Fesenmaier, who was a member of the city council, to obtain inside information about the status of the rezone request and development plan.


They regularly discussed their plans at Friends of Geneva Lake meetings, according to the complaint.


For example, Roehrer and Muenster attended a Dec. 14, 2007, meeting and talked about how the advisory referendum on the proposed development should be worded.


The minutes of the meeting state: “We decided that this should be simple and not describe the whole ordinance and all that it would include. Make sure that it is a positive ‘yes’ vote to build the project and a ‘no’ vote to stop it.”


The minutes also reflect that Roehrer, Malmin, Muenster and others planned to work secretly with Fesenmaier to ensure the referendum would be worded the way they wanted.


They formed Vote No Mirbeau-Hummel to oppose the development plan, keep their activities from being directly attributed to Friends of Geneva Lake and provide them cover as they supported using the referendum to delay a vote on the development and allow Lower Density Development to buy the property, according to the complaint.


Mirbeau alleges that Lower Density Development continued its efforts to buy the property and block any development plans even after it “successfully interfered” with the contract Mirbeau and Hummel had.


The complaint states Roehrer, even after she was elected to the city council, continued to advise Muenster and Lower Density Development on the appropriate strategies for acquiring the property.


It also states Muenster in a March 4, 2009, e-mail to Roehrer and attorney David Williams wrote: “I would like your opinion on LDD’s exposure to tortious interference.”



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