A Luxe Resort May Resurface In Washington

Washington – It’s possible the controversial plans for a luxurious new inn, spa and restaurant on a quiet country road will rise like the mythological Phoenix from the ashes of Zoning Commission denial without a court intervening.

Last week, Matthew Klauer, who owns the former Wykeham Rise girls school property on Wykeham Road, filed a request with the Zoning Commission to mediate its decision to deny his proposal for the 27-acre property.  The commission is to discuss the offer during an executive session at its next meeting.

Mediation is the process by which two or more parties in a dispute, in this case Mr. Klauer and the zoning panel, present issues to an independent mediator-a person who shall be agreed upon by both disputing parties-for negotiation and resolution. However, if one of the parties in the dispute refuses to participate, then mediation cannot occur.   Enacted under section 8-8a of the Connecticut General Statutes in 2001, the purpose of mediation is to provide an alternative to the normal course of having a superior court judge decide a land-use appeal. The length of the process could be a fraction of the six months or more a court appeal could take-though it should be noted, section 8-8a does allow up to 180 days for mediation-and it is a far less costly procedure.

Mr. Klauer submitted an appeal to the Litchfield Superior Court about two weeks subsequent to the zoning board’s December denial.  “The whole idea [of mediation] is based on two things-it saves the town lots of money and it is a way for the Zoning Commission to maintain supervision over the property,” said Mr. Klauer.  Indeed, if the superior court were to ultimately approve Mr. Klauer’s appeal, it could give the applicant the ability to build his inn as was finally proposed.

When the zoning panel denied the land-use application by a vote of 3 to 2, there was concern among commission members that the proposal was too intense and was in conflict with the town’s vision of rural character. Chairman David Owen, who cast the deciding vote, indicated that he was troubled by the plan’s overflow parking, as well as the narrow entrance/exit of the application.  If Mr. Klauer wins his appeal, those concerns could essentially become irrelevant. However, by the nature of mediation, all parties would have to be open to compromise.  The process enables the parties to communicate directly with each other in the presence of the mediator, to explore alternatives in project design and to identify the issues that are important to every participant.

Mr. Klauer said he would be open to change, if the commission is open to mediate.  “I feel through the process, we tried to be as open as possible to the Zoning Commission and to the public, and we will continue to be open to all concerns,” said Mr. Klauer.  Still, this is entirely new territory for the town. According to Mr. Owen, “I don’t think mediation has come up before on the 15 years or so I’ve been on land-use boards.”  Because of the superior court appeal, Mr. Owen would not comment further on the matter.  In the meantime, Mr. Klauer engaged the commission in a conversation about the possibility of building a 33-unit affordable housing complex on the Wykeham Rise site. He hasn’t filed an application yet, but if he does and it meets state guidelines, such as ensuring that 30 percent of the project is composed of affordable units, then Mr. Klauer could circumnavigate the zoning regulations that cost him the resort inn and spa.

The next Zoning Commission meeting is at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 23 in the Bryan Memorial Town Hall.

By Jack Coraggio – Litchfield County Times

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