The Village of Forest Park announced last week that it had reached a $50,000 settlement with local restaurateur and developer Robert Marani, who filed suit back in August 2009.
At the Jan. 10 village council meeting, board members recessed to a closed session and discussed the terms of the pending litigation. When they returned to open session, all of the board members in attendance – Commissioner Rory Hoskins was absent and not allowed to participate by phone – voted to execute the terms of the settlement
Village officials, Marani and any “agents” in the know are bound to a confidentiality agreement and have refused to elaborate on the terms of the settlement.
Because of this, Marty Tellalian, commissioner of Public Property, refused to discuss them, but he said that the settlement was reached, in large part, to avoid a costly legal battle that the village’s insurance would not cover.
In a telephone conversation with the Forest Park Review, Tellalian explained that the settlement reflects the $50,000 cap that the village’s provider, Illinois Counties Risk Management Trust, placed on its coverage.
“Anything that exceeds that … the village is on the hook for the rest,” he said. The lawsuit was the result of a dispute between Marani and several former village employees over Marani’s construction of the Tuscan Lofts luxury condominium complex at 7320-7322 Madison.
The dispute dates back to October 2007, when the village ordered Marani Ventures LLC to halt construction on the roof of the Madison Street building because the “alterations” he was making reportedly differed from plans he submitted to the Zoning Board.
“Safety was an issue,” said Mike Curry, commissioner of Public Health and Safety, in reference to the roof-top construction.
In early 2008, the building’s interior was seriously damaged by a heavy leak. Curry said the water came from the roof’s drainage system and was a result of the faulty structure.
Marani’s attorney at the time, Maria Cristiano, attributed the damage to the village’s stop-work order. In a letter to former village administrator Michael Sturino, she wrote that the order prevented Marani from performing repairs.
But Curry told the Review that Marani had been working on the building after the stop-work order was issued.
Cristiano wrote that although Marani deviated from the original plans he submitted, the “punishment” – the stop-work order – did not fit the “crime.”
She also said Michael Boyle, former director of the Dept. of Public Health & Safety, had a vendetta against Marani, which stifled any progress toward resolving the issue.
Neither Boyle nor Sturino returned calls for comment.
By 2009, the village voided Marani’s building permit because no work had been done “at the subject property in at least six months.” In response, Marani penned a letter to the Village of Forest Park and Curry, offering a choice of diplomacy or litigation.
Letters from village officials, Marani and Marani’s hired representatives are accusatory in that each side claims the other was unwilling to discuss Marani’s purported zoning violation.
“Mr. Boyle held onto my client’s structural engineer’s report for over three weeks before he submitted same to the village’s outside firm,” Cristiano wrote. The report she referenced was a 2007 letter sent to Boyle by Dr. Moussa A. Issa, an engineer at HBM Engineering Group LLC, stating the plans for Marani’s rooftops were structurally sound. Marani hired HBM to draw up the development.
“There have been no responses given to the questions for information that were generated by the review of your structural engineer’s report,” Boyle countered in a letter to Marani.
“We bent over backwards to work with Robert Marani,” Curry said. “Safety is our number one issue. We’re not out to close anyone down.”
In August 2009, Marani sued the village, seeking reparation for financial losses he suffered due to the stop-work order and the voided building permit. What’s more, the lawsuit also says he suffered “emotional distress” and “high blood pressure” due to the ordeal.
The suit names the Village of Forest Park, Boyle, Mayor Anthony Calderone, and Curry as plaintiffs. Boyle was sued individually and outside of his official capacity.
Marani has now settled with the village for $50,000. According to the lawsuit, the Tuscan Lofts development went into foreclosure. Issa also told the Review that Marani never paid HBM for its work either. He couldn’t remember what Marani owed the firm, though.
“We thought he didn’t have any money,” said Issa, explaining why HBM did not take legal actions to obtain compensation.
The Review asked Marani to discuss the lawsuit, but he refused to comment.
He did, however, compare the dispute with the village to a “cut to the jugular vein.”