New London orders biker club shut down

Buy Photo Tim Martin/The Day The interior of the WildStyle Riders Motorcycle Club, in the rear of 130 Bank St., New London.

New London - The motorcycle clubhouse that early Saturday morning was the scene of a brutal brawl that left four hurt was ordered shut down Monday by city officials because the group does not have the proper permit to operate a members-only club in the downtown business district.

The WildStyle Riders Motorcycle Club's landlord has also given it until Sunday to vacate the basement premises at 130 Bank St.

The backlash comes after Saturday's 3:30 a.m. fight left a 27-year-old New London man stabbed and taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital with life-threatening injuries; a 31-year-old New London man cut on his ear and neck; a 33-year-old New London man with a broken leg suffered as he fled the fight; and a 28-year-old Guilford man hit in the face and head with a large wooden object.

The man stabbed remains in the hospital in serious - but stable - condition, police Deputy Chief Peter Reichard said Monday. The other three have since been treated and released, Reichard said.

Police have made no arrests and Reichard did not identify the victims, citing the ongoing police investigation.

Michelle Johnson, the city's zoning enforcement officer, said membership clubs are allowed downtown only by special permit or approval. Saturday's incident was the first her office had heard of the WildStyle Riders' existence. She said Monday's cease and desist order was addressed to the unknown club president and the building's owners, the Capano family, in Norwich.

The club can "say we're not a membership club," Johnson said, and appeal the decision to the Zoning Board of Appeals. "If they don't comply, or appeal, then after 30 days the file is sent to the city attorney to pursue further enforcement," Johnson said Monday.

Scott Capano, who along with his brother, Kenneth Capano Jr., and their father, Kenneth Sr., owns the building, said the tenant has been given until the end of the month to leave. He said he had had no problems with the tenant prior to Saturday's incident, most of which he has heard about in the news. The tenant had been there since before his family's company, CAP Realty LLC, purchased the building in March 2010.

"We rent space to a tenant and hope it's being used in the proper fashion," Scott Capano said Monday. "We do due diligence to keep tenants abiding by laws, for sure, but sometimes unfortunate things happen."

When they spoke recently, Capano said the tenant, whom he did not identify, told him the fight was started by non-club members.

"He was adamant it was none of his guys," Capano said.

On Monday afternoon, the clubhouse and its parking lot on South Water Street - which runs between the backside of Bank Street businesses and the railroad tracks - appeared vacant. Only one car was in the parking lot and a knock on the front door of the nondescript stone building went unanswered.

Several "no trespassing" and "no parking" signs adorn the building. The front door, which sits under a small green awning, bears a sticker reading "No Solicitors" and another that reads "Beware of The Dog." The letters "WSR," presumably for "WildStyle Riders," is written three times on the white front door, including on its knocker.

In the past, the club has put up a large "WildStyle Riders" banner across the building above the clubhouse door.

Scott Capano said the family originally bought the building with the intention of turning it into an Irish pub. Capano owns and operates the Harp & Dragon Pub in Norwich and in 2010 applied to build a New London version of the popular restaurant. The plans were subsequently approved that year by the city's planning and zoning board.

Kenneth Capano Sr., of Old Saybrook, is also the co-owner of the ShopRite stores in Norwich, New London and Clinton.

Diagrams in the front window of 130 Bank St., which includes a residential apartment on the top floor, show plans designed by SGN Associates of Norwich for the proposed restaurant. Mathew Greene, a New London attorney who filed the proposal for the planning board, said he believed the Capano brothers were "planning to move forward with the project."

Scott Capano said the plan has stalled somewhat for economic reasons but is still in the works.

The clubhouse sits between mixed commercial and residential-use buildings. Neighbors at nearby Bank Street buildings said the club "has not been good neighbors" and that police have been called there several times in the past. One business owner estimated the clubhouse had operated at 130 Bank St. for about four to six years.

"The police department, along with fire officials and zoning officials, have addressed issues with this location earlier in the year," Reichard said Monday in an email. "Police are in contact with the property owner to abate the issues at this premise."

The clubhouse has recently come up in court testimony during a probable cause hearing into a November 2011 murder. A woman last week testified that Evan J. Holmes got into a fight and had his face bloodied at the WildStyle clubhouse shortly before he allegedly shot to death Jorge "Loco" Rosa at Rosa's Montauk Avenue home.

Melanie Luke, supervising agent with the Department of Consumer Protection Liquor Control Division, said Monday the WildStyle club does not have a liquor permit. If the club is serving liquor, it becomes a police matter, Luke said, because the agency has no role since there is no license to regulate.

No one from the club could be reached Monday to comment.

On their Twitter account, the WildStyle Riders call themselves the state's "premiere motorcycle club since 1998" and mention a New Haven chapter as well as the New London one.

After a month without a "tweet," someone Saturday afternoon wrote, "If u didn't see it with ur own eyes..........."

s.goldstein@theday.com

The exterior of the WildStyle Riders Motorcycle Club, in the rear of 130 Bank St., New London, facing South Water Street.
Buy Photo Tim Martin/The Day The exterior of the WildStyle Riders Motorcycle Club, in the rear of 130 Bank St., New London, facing South Water Street.
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