Wykeham Rise Applicant Adjusts Plan Again

Matthew Klauer, who hopes to develop a destination inn, spa and resort on the former Wykeham Rise property, has withdrawn his application for a zoning variance after shaving down the lot coverage for the third time. When Mr. Klauer originally submitted his application, it called for lot coverage of 17.6 percent, even though the Town’s lot coverage maximum is 10 percent. Twice already Mr. Klauer has scaled back the project. Now, with the lot coverage down to 9.94 percent, Mr. Klauer is hoping to develop 44 rooms, along with a restaurant, bar and spa on the 27-acre parcel that used to be home to an all-girls boarding school.

Since his application now meets the town’s lot coverage maximum, Mr. Klauer no lon­ger needs a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals. To move forward with the proj­ect, he must obtain approval from the Inland Wetlands and Zoning commissions, both of which are in the midst of rela­tively heated public hearings on the project. “I’ve been speaking with a lot of Washington residents who have expressed concern over the size; they thought [the inn] would be great but they wanted me to adjust the size,” Mr. Klauer, a New York City resident who purchased the property for $2.75 million in April, told The Litchfield County Times. “In the end, I just want it to be embraced.”

Though it may be embraced by some, many of the prop­erty’s neighbors are strong­ly opposed to the idea of a resort coming into their quiet neighborhood and disrupting the rural charm that so many have become accustomed to. Repeatedly, neighbors have cited noise, odors, lighting and increased aggravation to already hazardous traffic con­ditions as just a few of the reasons why the project would be at least a nuisance, and, at most a danger.

Barbara Talbot of Bell Hill Road, who has spoken against the proposal at public hear­ings, believes that regardless of the project’s size and scale, it is. simply not a suitable use for the site.

“Honestly, I think it’s not an appropriate use for the site, because this is a residential neighborhood and it doesn’t meet the criteria,” stated Ms. Talbot. That criteria is in part based on the five zoning ordi­nances she referenced at the previous Zoning Commission meeting, in which she chal­lenged the applicant as to how his proposal could adhere to such regulations. For example, section 13.1.a states ” … Special Permit uses that may be permitted … will be appropriate, harmonious, and desirable uses in the dis­trict.”

She questions how any pro­posal for a destination resort, even one that meets the lot coverage maximum, could be seen as desirable in a residen­tial neighborhood. “It would be one thing if Matt Klauer could assure us no increase in traffic or noise … but he simply cannot do that,” Ms. Talbot said. She added that she would like to see some kind of adap­tive reuse for the vacant and rundown property, as long as it is done within the confines of all the town’s regulations. “I don’t think it’s so much [that] we want to live in the past, but we do want to be stewards of the future … and I don’t know why we have to defend our property val­ues,” said Ms. Talbot. “We live here full-time; we don’t travel back and forth to New York. We made a community to live here because of the zoning laws, and that’s why we don’t have a downtown that looks like Southbury.”

Another vocal critic and neighbor Valerie Cooper of Old Litchfield Road, agrees with Ms. Talbot’s assessments of the proposal. According to Ms. Cooper, there is no need for yet another resort in town, especially considering the Mayflower Inn & Spa is right around the corner. “We in Washington really want to retain the rural char­acter, and that is going to go if we don’t fight for it,” said Ms. Cooper. “Nothing even sug­gests there is a huge market need for another inn.” Like Ms. Talbot, Ms. Cooper doesn’t believe that the appli­cation is in full compliance with the town’s zoning ordi­nances, even with the latest reduction in lot coverage.

Marc Goodin, an engi­neer with Meehan & Goodin who was hired by neighbor­ing property owners Eric and Wendy Federer, raised ques­tions about the validity of Mr. Klauer’s application at the last zoning public hearing. At that hearing, he gave a presenta­tion to the commission that indicated the application’s plans and reports “are incom­plete and do not meet the regulations.” His presentation contra­dicted Mr. Klauer’s traffic study, saying that study doesn’t account for certain safety precautions and offers inad­equate parking. He also notes, from his position, deficiencies to the site access driveways, water service, septic system and building grading.

The Zoning Commission is still mulling over that report, but Mr. Klauer said he has a rebuttal prepared for the next hearing. Zoning Chairman David Owen said he is hesitant to comment on the state of the project, or speculate as to how the commission may feel about it now that it has been revised a third time, but he did note that there is nothing strange about multiple revisions to the same application. “It’s usual for an appli­cation to change as it goes through the process,” said Mr. Owen. “Seldom does an appli­cation come in and go out in exactly the same form.”

Mr. Klauer believes that his proposal now stands an even better chance with the Inland Wetlands Commission, because there is now “less impervious surface and less chance of impacting the wet­lands.” Mr. Klauer hopes to build a resort that will be environ­mentally conscious as well as increase buffers and restore wetlands. He has also repeat­edly touted the economic and tax benefits of having another resort in Washington. The Inland Wetlands public hearing will continue Sept. 9 and the Zoning Commission public hearing will continue Sept. 22. Both will be conduct­ed at Bryan Memorial Town Hall.

By Jack Coraggio – The New Milford Times

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