Owners of New London lighthouse seek end to legal troubles

New London — A settlement agreement is being considered by the owners and neighbors of Harbor Light, which is the source of a federal lawsuit and has been closed to the public while the owners seeks local land-use approvals.

New London Maritime Society President George Sprecace said attorneys for the maritime society and the neighbors, the Waesches, met for a settlement conference earlier this month as ordered by a federal judge.

Court records show a more than three-hour settlement conference was held on Dec. 10 with U.S. Magistrate Judge Joan G. Margolis. Sprecace said a proposed settlement will be reduced to writing before any other action is taken.

Sprecace declined to discuss any details of the settlement proposal but said, “It certainly looks like a step in the right direction.”

He said the fact it was developed with substantial help from a federal judge increases the likelihood it will survive more scrutiny.

The nonprofit Maritime Society, which owns three local lighthouses including Harbor Light, has been mired in a series of legal struggles since it first started renovations to the historic Harbor Light last year.

Donald and Bonita Waesche, who own the home at 800 Pequot Ave. that abuts the lighthouse, filed a suit directed at a disputed property line, the increase in activity at the lighthouse and what they claimed was unpermitted construction of a walkway and retaining wall.

Access to the lighthouse was later halted by the city with a cease-and-desist order due to what the zoning enforcement officer said was a marked increase in the number of visitors to the residentially zoned property.

The Maritime Society, which had been conducting tours by appointment, has argued it is continuing a tradition by allowing a limited number of visitors by appointment at the lighthouse.

The city’s Office of Development and Planning had suggested seeking a museum designation which could be approved by special permit.

The society has taken an alternate route and is crafting a text amendment and a special designation for historic landmark or property, which would theoretically be applicable to other sites in the city.

Maritime Society Director Susan Tamulevich said the text amendment application is in draft form and the society hopes to have something for consideration of the Planning and Zoning Commission at its meeting in February.

The society continues to work with the city’s planning department, which has offered input on the crafting of the language of the text amendment.

Neighbors of the lighthouse and residents alike will eventually be able to comment on the proposal with an ultimate decision coming from the Planning and Zoning commission.

Tamulevich said the society has great hopes that the lighthouse will reopen to the public in the new year with past difficulties, which have hindered fundraising efforts, behind them.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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