Klauer Files Lawsuit Linked to Resort Plan

WASHINGTON – Wykeham Rise property owner Matthew Klauer filed a lawsuit Aug. 11 in Litchfield Superior Court against neighboring property owners Eric and Wendy Federer, seeking the removal of the Federers’ restrictive covenant on the Wykeham Rise parcel. Mr. Klauer, who in April purchased the former girls boarding school turned hospitality training center for $2.75 million, submitted a land-use application about a month later to develop a destination spa and inn on the property, a proposal that has angered neighbors.

The Federers’ property on Bell Hill Road, abuts the 27-acre Wykeham Rise land on the southern end. In 2005, they obtained a 14-year-old restrictive covenant on the Wykeham Rise property, one that is designed to prohibit development on the 330 feet of Wykeham land adjacent to their own. But Mr. Klauer and his attorney, Robert Fisher, contend that the restrictive covenant is null and void, and has been since it was originally drafted in 1990 after the school was sold to the Swiss hospitality company Hotel Consult.

“If the school’s corporation had retained any of the property, the restriction would’ve been valid,” Mr. Fisher told The Litchfield County Times. “But because the corporation did not retain any of the property, there is no property to be benefitted. That, I believe, would make it void.” Because there are no statutes on this matter, Mr. Fisher cites in his lawsuit the need for a declaratory judgment from the court pursuant to Practice Book 17-54, and adds that a “bona fide and substantial question exists as to the enforceability of the restriction.”

In 2005, this restrictive cov­enant, which Mr. Fisher believes was invalid by that point any­way, was signed over to the Federer family by the chairman of the board of trustees of the Wykeham Rise School, Jack Field. Once again, according to lawsuit, “[Mr.] Field had neither implicit nor express authority to take any action on behalf of the [14-year] dissolved entity.”

Mr. Field told The Litchfield County Times that as far as he knew, the restriction was current and applicable. “About four years ago, [the board of trustees was] approached by the Federers, who said they wished to have the enforcement rights, and we had no problem with that,” said Mr. Field. “I know there’re some questions about it now … but as to the legality of it, I really have no argument one way or another.”

The Federers were not avail­able for comment, and their attorney, Edward Hills, said that he can’t discuss pending litiga­tion. But he did note that he will, at the next land-use meeting in Washington, ask Mr. Klauer why, “if he clearly knows there is a restriction on the property, he said there isn’t one on the man­datory pre-application form.” Specifically, the pre-applica­tion form asks if there are “any conservation restrictions or pres­ervation restrictions on the sub­ject property.” Mr. Fisher point­ed out that the form does not ask about restrictive covenants.

Mr. Hill has attended every public hearing on the proposal thus far, and at each one has issued a statement about why the land-use commissions should deny the proposal. Because his proposal exceeds the maximum building lot cover­age by 1.34 percent, Mr. Klauer needs a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals before moving forward with any other agency. But Mr. Hill argued that no hardship has been demon­strated by Mr. Klauer, and said the ZBA should deny him a variance.

Mr. Hill also told the Zoning Commission that since Mr. Klauer has yet to receive a variance, he should be forced to adhere to the town’s newly amended zoning ordinance (which was changed subsequent to Mr. Klauer’s submittal) that dictates that all inns must be built on a state highway, not a local bvway like Wykeham Road.

At both of those hearings, Mr. Hill cited the restrictive cove­nant, which Mr. Fisher rebutted the validity of each time. Aside from suing to release the deed restriction, Mr. Klauer is also seeking further equitable relief, or other such relief in lieu of monetary damages. The next Zoning Commission public hearing will be at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 25, at the Bryan Memorial Town Hall.

By Jack Coraggio – Litchfield County Times

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