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2007-02-08
Glasgow, DE. Developerís SLAPP Suit Dismissed

On June 29, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that a judge of the Delaware Court of Chancery had ruled that a real estate developer could search the hard drives of computers belonging to two opponents of his plans for building a housing and shopping center on Glasgow farmland. A citizen's group called the Friends of Historic Glasgow, said the case would prove to be the first test of Delaware's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law. Seven months later, the court has thrown out most of the claims in the developer's lawsuit against the Glasgow family that is fighting the housing and retail project. The News Journal reported yesterday that a Vice Chancellor has ruled that developer Stephen Nichols failed to show that negative comments made about him by members of the Barczewski family undermined his plans to buy the 236-acre parcel and build a mix of housing and retail. The farm has been the focus of debate over its historical value. The developer was asking for $600,000 to $800,000 in damages. SLAPP suits are designed to prevent opponents from using their free speech rights to criticize a project. In this case, the judge wrote, "It is fundamental to the effective function of a republic that people be able to freely speak their minds about a government action. But the reason this case got as far as it did is the fact that because something arises in a public forum does not mean anybody can do anything they want." The developer filed his lawsuit shortly after he had paid more than $14 million for farml land belonging to Anne Barczewski, and her sons Stephen Barczewski and George Barczewski, and daughter Joanne Lewis. David and Susan Arday, who are Lewis' daughter and son-in-law, were co-defendants in the suit. Anne Barczewski died a few weeks after the lawsuit was filed. The developer charged that the defendants violated the purchase agreement, which bound them to support the project during its approval process. Instead, he argued, the family worked to oppose the development plans. The huge plan calls fro 75 homes and 149 townhouses, plus 5,000 s.f. of retail space. The family says the land holds the bed of an 18th century road that was used by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. The land also has two American Indian camps and earthen bunkers from the war. New Castle County offered the family $9 million to buy the tract and convert it to parkland. The judge said in his ruling, "Things get said about you that are not nice, and it kind of comes with the territory... The good thing about being a developer is you can go look at your bank statements."

What you can do: This SLAPP may still not be over, as the developer can reportedly still refile the complaint as "injurious falsehood," or appeal this week's ruling. But the family has stuck by its contention that Anne Barczewski would not have wanted her historic farm property to be torn up for housing and commercial development. For earlier stories on this case, search Newsflash by "Glasgow."










 
 
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