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Owner of retreat popular with swingers calls it a night

Fayette bed and breakfast enraged neighbors

Monday, January 19, 2004

By Cindi Lash, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

After living for most of his 68 years in Fayette County, Thomas Wajda is tired of snow and ice and cold winters.

He's tired of cutting grass and wood, of washing linens and tending the pool and all of the other chores that come with running a 23-acre haven of hospitality.

Most of all, he's tired of some of his neighbors, the folks he calls the "phonies and hypocrites," who spent years and thousands of dollars fighting to close him down. Their battles have abated, but still he said he'd rather spend his retirement in a place where the air and the atmosphere are warmer.

For more than a decade, Wajda has been the owner and innkeeper at the Mountain Retreat bed and breakfast off Route 40, welcoming a clientele that sought something more than just an antique four-poster and home-cooked French toast. Now he's planning to move on, and he's advertising for a buyer to take the place off his hands.

No more dips in his sapphire in-ground pool or rippling hot tub. No more gazing out from his rustic hilltop lodge at his spectacular view.

No more nude sunbathing or clothing-optional soirees. No more of the "alternative lifestyle," adults-only gatherings that neighbors, pastors, county officials and community groups unsuccessfully fought to stop.

"This was not a bad place for an old bachelor to hang out. But I'm too old to work anymore," Wajda said. "I'm going to sell my place and I'm going to retire, honey. I want to move to a warmer climate and die in warmer weather."

Since the early 1990s, the Mountain Retreat has been a destination for "swingers," or adults who are interested in casual or group sex.

No "For Sale" signs are posted on the rural property in the village of Brier Hill, east of Brownsville. But advertisements for an adult bed and breakfast appeared in the Adults-Classified section of the weekly City Paper and on at least one real estate web site.

Wajda said he hasn't listed the property with a Realtor or advertised in local daily newspapers because "those guys charge an arm and a leg." He won't say where else he's advertised, or how he's describing his establishment to potential buyers, but said he's asking $950,000 for "everything but me, my guns and my clothing."

Apparently Wajda figures he'll need his clothes once he sells the rolling green property and its two-story log lodge with sprawling porch and deck. The lodge houses two spacious bars, paneled lounges with stone fireplaces and large-screen TVs, a party room, a dance floor with sound system and a workout room with exercise equipment.

Then there are private bedrooms -- two with air conditioning -- and the mattress-lined "lovebird lofts," where Wajda's visitors do what they've come there to do after they've danced and mingled at weekend BYOB "socials" or weeknight private parties. Couples and single women who visit -- single men are frowned on -- find the unmarked Mountain Retreat through word of mouth or through magazines or Web sites aimed at swingers.

Wajda wouldn't discuss current rates, although past ads indicate that he's charged $40 per couple for weekend-night admission. Some patrons schedule in advance, while others "just show up," he said. He said he doesn't have a liquor license, monitors BYOB drinkers, permits no drug use and cautions patrons not to pressure others into encounters they don't want.

The retreat is zoned for agricultural use, which permits the operation of bed and breakfast inns. Its zoning or permitted uses will not change if it is sold, county zoning board head Dave Bukovan said.

That means that a new owner who intends to pick up where Wajda left off is unlikely to confront the kind of legal opposition he faced after county residents discovered they'd had a sexually oriented club operating quietly in their midst.

Wajda grew up in the nearby village of Republic, then attended beautician school, served in the Army and traveled, but returned to Fayette County to work in a steel mill and coke yard. He also did construction work, and in the 1970s, operated a beauty shop in Republic. He never married, saying "I never took that gamble."

In 1989, Wajda bought property that had been used as growing land for a nursery from his brother, Francis, for $1, according to county records. He lived quietly until 1995, when the Uniontown Herald-Standard newspaper informed Fayette County readers that he'd been operating a club for swingers there for four years.

"A couple of people talked to me about [opening] it," he said. "I thought it might be kind of interesting. It was."

When zoning officials investigated, they found he'd never obtained the zoning permit required to operate a business in an agricultural area. So Wajda applied for a special exception to the county zoning ordinance that would have allowed him to run a commercial recreational facility -- a status usually granted to bowling centers, movie theaters, roller rinks, golf courses and other large facilities.

A coalition of neighbors, ministers and others mobilized to oppose him in court and at public prayer services, saying his business was an affront to community standards. That set off a legal fight pitting Wajda against owners of adjacent properties and the Citizens for Decency and Safety in Southwestern Pennsylvania, which predicted the club would bring dire social and health problems to the county.

The dispute raged for nearly three years, bouncing between the county zoning hearing board, the county Common Pleas Court and the state Commonwealth and Supreme Courts. Fayette County commissioners also weighed in, revoking a certificate issued by the zoning board that allowed Wajda to instead run a bed and breakfast inn.

Finally, in 1998, attorneys for Wajda and the citizens group reached an agreement that called for him to drop his request for the zoning change that would allow him to operate a recreational facility. In exchange, the citizens group dropped its opposition to Wajda operating a bed and breakfast inn.

Wajda also sued the commissioners in U.S. District Court, arguing that they violated his rights by illegally revoking his B&B certificate. The suit was later settled in Wajda's favor, although Wajda and his former attorney, James Carroll, would not disclose the terms.

Since then, Wajda has had no other clashes with his neighbors, and he's tried hard to maintain the below-the-radar profile that his customers prefer. State police, who patrol the area, say they've had no calls to the Mountain Retreat and no reason to go there because patrons may be having sex but aren't breaking any laws.

Wajda's guests seldom pull into his neighbors' driveways, knock at their doors by mistake or seek directions at the nearby Jackson Farms convenience store, as they did in the retreat's early days. That makes it easier for his neighbors to forget that he's there. Some are resigned, or even amused, by him. Others just ignore him.

"It's over and done with," said Margaret Defino, who with her husband, Michael, was among those who opposed Wajda in court. "What happened, happened, and that's all behind us."

Still, Wajda said he worries that his planned sale might stir up more unwanted controversy, and he makes no secret of his resentment over his legal troubles and social status.

He noted that Susanne Teslovich, a former county commissioner who was in office when his zoning troubles began, was herself later convicted of running an escort service. Two of the former commissioners who revoked his zoning permit, Sean Cavanagh and Harry Albert, also attracted public attention for fighting with each other in the courthouse in 1997.

"All that time and taxpayers' money to close my place? Who's the credit to the county?" he said. "[The business] did allow me to meet interesting people who weren't hypocritical and lived their own lives. But I never knew it was going to cost me all the money it did. If I had, I'd have never gotten into it."

Cindi Lash can be reached at or 412-263-1973.

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