Neighbors of New London lighthouse suing maritime society; workers, visitors accused of trespassing

New London - Next-door neighbors of the New London Harbor Light are suing the New London Maritime Society, which recently acquired and restored the historical icon, for trespassing and encroaching on the enjoyment of their property by bringing construction crews and visitors to the lighthouse.

The Maritime Society, a nonprofit group that runs the Custom House Maritime Museum on Bank Street, received notice Tuesday of the lawsuit being brought by Donald and Bonita Waesche, residents of the home and 4,400-square-foot yard at 800 Pequot Ave.

The society acquired New London Harbor Light, one of three lighthouses it owns, in 2009 from the federal government through the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act.

This spring - with donations of labor from trade groups, about $150,000 from the community and other resources - the 210-year-old lighthouse underwent a major restoration and was open for free tours the second weekend in October.

New London schoolchildren also have visited the lighthouse in recent weeks.

Susan Tamulevich, director of the society, and George Sprecace, president of the board of trustees, said the property was surveyed at the time the group acquired it, and they are confident that all activities have been kept within the proper boundaries.

The deed from the federal government requires the society to restore and maintain the lighthouse and make it accessible to the public, Tamulevich said.

"All we're doing is fulfilling our obligation as stewards," she said.

The lawsuit alleges that the society built a concrete walkway on the Waesches' property, allowed construction crews to repair the lighthouse without proper permits and "has invited the general, unorganized public to diverse activities," including tours, lectures, cookouts and open houses, and "seeks to expand its ownership of the property into a commercial, money-making venture."

A historical brick retaining wall was demolished as part of the renovation project, and was replaced without proper permits with a larger granite retaining wall that encroaches on the Waesches' land, the suit states. The activities the society intends for the lighthouse are not permitted in a residential zone, according to the lawsuit.

"The conduct of the (society) diminishes and depreciates the value of the plaintiffs' property," the lawsuit states.

In addition, "the routing of people over land of the plaintiff ... is particularly onerous inasmuch as it would afford a lack of privacy to anyone utilizing ... the Waesches' back yard," the lawsuit states. "Guests of the defendant would virtually be at eye level with the Waesches and other parties, including their daughters, who may be sun bathing at the pool."

Tamulevich and Sprecace said they have never been contacted by city police about a complaint of trespassing from the Waesches. Attorney Lloyd Langhammer, who is representing the Waesches, did not return a message Tuesday requesting comment.

The lawsuit contends the city has "refused to issue a cease and desist order" and has not taken other steps to enforce zoning regulations on the property. Sprecace said most of the zoning issues raised by the Waesches have been dismissed by city officials. A meeting on remaining issues is scheduled for later this week.

"We reject the allegations of trespassing," Sprecace said.

He said the society tried unsuccessfully to negotiate an agreement with the Waesches.

"We tried very hard to avoid this, but if that's the direction they want to go, we are prepared," he said.

The Waesches are seeking injunctions "to enjoin (the society) from trespassing on land of the plaintiffs ... and to comply with any and all state, federal and local regulations regarding use of the property," as well as monetary damages of $15,000 or more.

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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