Closed since 2015, Harbor Light to reopen to the public

New London — In a decision that ends years of legal wrangling, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals has approved ground rules for the reopening of historic New London Harbor Light to public tours.

The New London Maritime Society plans to host its first tour since 2015 on Wednesday. A mother and her two children had requested the tour and Maritime Society Executive Director Susan Tamulevich was happy to oblige.

“I’m excited. I’m just happy to be moving forward,” she said. “It’s time to put all of this behind us.”

The Maritime Society, which owns the lighthouse, was barred from hosting tours by a cease and desist order issued by the city in 2015 as a response to a growing amount of activity at the small Pequot Avenue site. The society was simultaneously entangled in litigation with a neighbor over a property line dispute.

The ZBA upheld the cease and desist order but the order later was overturned in a 2018 decision by Superior Court Judge Kimberly Knox, who ruled that small-scale visits to the lighthouse by request were consistent with historic use of the lighthouse.

Judge Knox left it up to the ZBA to determine the extent of the tours. On Feb. 28, the board announced terms of the “nature and extent of the nonconforming use of the New London Harbor Lighthouse property.”

The tours are limited to a total of six people and no more than five times per day, or a maximum of 12 tours in a week. The six-person limit was a determination made by the city fire marshal’s office. The hours of tours are limited to between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. An electronic log book with dates and times of the tours is to be made available to the city’s zoning official.

The conditions are more stringent than the Maritime Society, through attorney John Casey, had lobbied for. It had requested to be open until 6 p.m. or sunset, whichever came later, and wanted the ability to bring 12 people onto the property. It also had wanted to reserve the right to return to the ZBA to request an increase of the number of tours, should the need arise.

New London Maritime Society President Edward Cubanski III called the ZBA decision “reasonable.” He said the city’s decision to bar access to the most easily accessible lighthouse in New London County was “concerning” and a blow to historic tourism in the region.

Cubanski said the Maritime Society has great things planned for the summer that include not only tours of the Harbor Light but an increase in tours to iconic Ledge Light, another one of the three lighthouses owned by the society. It also owns Race Rock Lighthouse.

Cubanski does not expect any legal challenges to the board’s decision and said the society’s main goal is to be a “good neighbor.”

g.smith@theday.com

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