BOLTON -- A spat among residents of a pricey local subdivision has put the town in a precarious legal situation, as one side is lobbing accusations of political collusion while the other tosses claims of governmental incompetence.
The spat in the Highland Drive subdivision has been building for nearly two years, since John Lavender, owner of Highlands Castle, began hosting weddings and other events on his property.
Lavender’s neighbors raised an uproar.
Town code allows homeowners to rent their properties, but Lavender’s neighbors believe hosting weddings and parties crosses the line into a business venture.
The state Supreme Court weighed in on the issue in March, tossing the town’s claim that Lavender ignored a cease and desist order issued by the Supervisor Ron Conover.
Supreme Court Justice David Krogmann ruled that the town can’t issue an order until local Zoning Enforcement Officer Pam Kenyon issued an official opinion on the matter.
Kenyon recently ruled in favor of Lavender’s practice following the court’s decision, further angering his 16 neighbors in the subdivision.
“We have no problem with him renting his home to families,” said Richard Waller, one of 16 other homeowners in the subdivision. “He’s advertising specifically for weddings. He’s obviously running a business.”
Lavender, who continues to advertise his property online, said he has been the subject of town-sanctioned harassment and bullying since the court’s decision.
Lavender said Monday that Supervisor Ron Conover is using his political muscle to orchestrate a Zoning Board ruling later this month, instigated by an appeal of Kenyon’s decision by his neighbors.
“They already knew what they were going to do; bring the neighbors in to appeal it,“ he said of Conover and Town Attorney Michael Muller. “They’ve loved keeping this under wraps.”
Kam Hoopes, who sat on the Zoning Board for 11 years, criticized Conover and Muller in November while testifying before the Supreme Court, for “circumventing the zoning officer” and independently ruling against Lavender.
Hoopes was subsequently replaced in December.
“I was disgusted,” Hoopes said of the politics involved in his removal from the Zoning Board. “It was really pathetic.”
But Waller, a real estate broker and one of 16 other property owners in the subdivision, said the issue has nothing to do with political favors. The problems are the volume of gala-going traffic on the winding private road and loud parties continuing well into the night, he said.
Waller and his neighbors want Kenyon’s interpretation of town code, and the definition of “commercial,” tossed by the Zoning Board. Kenyon’s opinion hinged on a ruling that Lavender isn’t selling any goods or services, according to the decision.
The town is appealing Supreme Court Justice David Krogmann’s decision.
Conover declined comment on the issue, calling the matter “a zoning issue.”
Kenyon also refused to comment.
Lavender has now filed a lawsuit against Conover and Muller, both personally and in their official capacities, alleging political malfeasance.
Both sides are preparing for further lawsuits, dependant on the outcome of a June 19 Zoning Board meeting, leaving the town in a potential no-win situation.
“I think if there was a different supervisor, this wouldn’t have happened,” Lavender said, adding that he believes Conover is protecting the interests of his political supporters in the subdivision, many of whom have stakes in local real estate and rental markets that could be affected by Lavender’s venture.
Lavender said Conover “muzzled” Kenyon, up until the Supreme Court ruling, and barred her from issuing her opinion in favor of his rental business.
It costs $3,000 per night to rent the castle’s two bedrooms overnight on a weekend, according to Lavender’s website.
The 16 neighbors have pictures of catering vans and other pre-event activities that, they argue, show Lavender is lying about the scale of the events on his property. They’ve repeatedly blasted Kenyon for ignoring Lavender’s operation for nearly two years.
Lavender admits to holding multiple functions, including a cocktail gathering for the State Bar Association last year, well after the town’s now void cease and desist order was issued, but before it was rendered void by the court.
“We didn’t call the police,” Waller said. “We probably should have.”