WESTFIELD, NJ — The owner of a landmark house wrecked in a 2013 fire claims in a lawsuit served this week that she lost profits, her property rights and suffered mental anguish as a result of the town’s denying approvals needed for rebuilding her residence.
Lisa Varandas, owner of the Wychwood Gate House, had in 2016 said that although it would be costly to rebuild a home similar to the original, she recognized its importance to the community and would attempt the reconstruction. Five years later, she claims, she is still fighting for the town’s approval to do so.
Varandas claims that in denying the government approvals needed for a rebuild at 120 Wychwood Road, the town retaliated against her and her family for its “publicly stated opposition to the enactment of a historic preservation ordinance” and also a prior lawsuit filed against the municipality.
“The planning board’s frivolous position does not further any of the town’s interests and has forced my client and the town to engage in costly litigation and jeopardize the rebuilding of the Gate House,” said Courtney Schael, Varandas’ attorney and her sister.
The town declined to comment on this lawsuit, which also names the planning board, building and zoning departments and the historic preservation commission, along with 11 municipal employees and Westfield officials.
“As a policy, the Town does not comment on pending litigation,” said Kim Forde, Westfield’s public information officer.
The new lawsuit claims a planning board subcommittee in November attempted to get Varandas’ permission to impose restrictions on the building materials, something she refused because it was “not required by the resolution and not permitted by any law or ordinance.”
On Nov. 16, Varandas received a letter conveying the town’s denial, the lawsuit states. Varandas claims that as a result of this denial, she lost buyers who had expressed interested in purchasing the property.
Schael told TAPinto Westfield this week that municipal officials treated her client's property as if it were designated historic and subject to new regulations for historically designated homes, something she argues is not the case.
“Neither the house that burnt down or any part of the property was designated as historic, so the new ordinance has no application whatsoever to this property,” Schael said.
Varandas’ complaint — which states that she spent $80,000 in architect, engineering, attorney and expert witness fees in her attempts to gain the planning board’s approval — seeks unspecified compensatory damages, attorney fees, the cost of the suit and an “order directing defendants to issue an unconditional building permit on Plaintiff’s Permit application.”
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