Wykeham Rise: NIMBY Is Not Good for Washington

I was very encouraged when the Washington Zoning Commission voted last week to mediate the dispute over the proposed Wykeham Rise Inn. David Owen, the Zoning Commission and the intervening neighbors, Wendy and Eric Federer, have demonstrated an unprecedented willingness to collaborate to find a fair solution that would adhere to the regulations and potentially allow the proposed inn to move forward. However, I was discouraged to read an Op-Ed piece in last week’s Litchfield County Times by Theresa Peacocke, a self-proclaimed “qualified and experienced mediator.” Her remarks were biased, illogical and can only be understood as the latest clarion call for the privileged few whose refrain is “not in my backyard.”

For transparency’s purposes, it would have been helpful for readers to know that Ms. Peacocke owns property at 14 Bell Hill Road, directly across from the proposed inn.  Mrs. Peacocke makes many claims that are unsupported by the facts:

First, she contests Janet Wildman’s assertion that the majority of Washington residents do not support the proposed inn. Technically, she stands behind the fact that there was no popular vote. Correct. As a weekender, she clearly hasn’t spent enough time in the market, the Washington Supply Company, local shops, the numerous zoning meetings or the town hall to hear the overwhelming support surrounding the proposed inn. Nor, apparently, has she heard that the town needs more jobs, a broader tax base and something productive at 101 Wykeham, a property that was an active school for more than 100 years and has sat unused for the past nine. Over 220 town residents have written letters in support of this project

Second, she champions her “expertise” as a mediator when explaining that mediation can actually add significant costs to a legal dispute. An interesting claim, but one I think her employer, Consensus Mediation, would vehemently disagree with. Consensus Mediation states on its Web site that “Mediation is significantly less expensive than- litigation—because months or years of litigation are avoided, as are the consequent fees of lawyers and experts. Mediation works because it helps the parties to resolve even the most difficult disputes in a practical way. It deals with their real interests and needs without the risks and costs of further court proceedings The parties achieve their own solution without an imposed decision. Mediation resolves disputes fast, usually within a day.”

Third, Mrs. Peacocke depicts Mr. Klauer as a litigious man, yet she fails to mention that her neighbors on Bell Hill Road, the Federers, are using litigation to stop this project. They filed a suit against the Wetlands Commission, which approved the project, and a suit against Mr. Klauer. Mrs. Peacocke can’t fathom why Mr. Klauer isn’t conceding his litigation with the Federers regarding a dispute over a deed restriction which the Federers purchased from a former trustee of the Wykeham Rise School for $500 14 years after the school had closed its doors. The conveyance of this deed seems specious at best.

Fourth, Mrs Peacocke and these few neighbors don’t want an inn nor do they want anything else to be built on this property. Mr. Klauer has discussed an alternative to develop a mixed-use residential project that includes much needed affordable housing. The neighbors say this is just a threat. This is ironic since one of these neighbors and critics of the proposed inn, Peter Talbot, was an architect for an earlier proposal at this very site for a residential project that would have been 25 percent larger than Mr. Klauer’s inn proposal.

As her Op-Ed rambles along, Ms. Peacocke states, “I do not accept Mrs. Wildman’s assertion that a court decision might cause the Zoning Commission to forfeit its authority over the property … .” She might not accept this assertion but, in undisputed fact, if Mr. Klauer pursues his second development option this will be the result. A bit further, really grasping at straws now, Ms. Peacocke claims that “realistically, the inherent value of this septic system is probably spent anyway, as it is unlikely to comply with the more stringent EPA regulations to be expected from an Obama administration.” Conjecture at its finest.

Lastly, Ms Peacocke claims Mr. Klauer is an uncompromising developer. In fact, from the beginning Mr. Klauer has reached out to neighbors and other town groups He incorporated suggestions from both the Inland Wetlands and Zoning commissions, which resulted in a project that is 30 percent smaller and environmentally better than it is today.  At the heart of Ms. Peacocke’s Op-Ed is a strong opposition to the proposed inn. Rather than obfuscate this opinion and hide behind the rhetoric of “mediator-speak,” why not simply state your opposition and why. If you’ve got a legitimate reason for opposing the project, your voice will be heard and counted.

Should the town of Washington allow so few to block what so many view as an appropriate and welcome addition to our town? Having lived in town with my family since 1972 and having served on public commissions, been a volunteer EMT and seen the town struggle to balance its rural nature with increased development pressure, I can only echo the sentiment expressed by others, including Mrs. Wildman. Regarding the conveyance of the Van Sinderen property to the Devereux School, which some in town opposed at the time, Mrs. Wildman said, “It was good for the town. Some just couldn’t see it yet”

I applaud the Zoning Commission for unanimously approving the invitation to mediate, and I, with many other Washington residents, encourage the Inland Wetlands Commission to follow suit. Accepting Mr. Klauer’s request to mediate is non-binding; if nothing comes of the process, at least the commissions could rest well, knowing that they tried.
Editorial by Philip Dutton – Litchfield County Times

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