Large, loud party at Norwich house is part of dispute over events venue
Norwich — Residents in the quiet Mediterranean Lane neighborhood in Norwichtown started to worry as soon as they saw a giant event tent being erected and delivery trucks arriving at 138 Mediterranean Lane last Friday.
On Saturday, the cars arrived. When the driveway and lawn at the house filled, they parked along the streets and in one neighbor's yard. Noise rocked the neighborhoods. Police received three complaints about parking on the narrow, country lane and more about noise Saturday.
“We had to close our windows on a beautiful evening, run the A/C and still the house was vibrating,” Polly Whitley-Miner wrote to Zoning Enforcement Officer Richard Shuck on Sunday. “I did not report the loudness, since I did see two police cruisers go up the road about 5 p.m.-ish, and I hoped the police would recheck."
The next morning, the road was coated with “some sort of glossy spill,” and the area was littered with trash, she wrote in the email.
This was not a one-time backyard wedding or family event, but one of many events hosted by owner Renaissance Quest LLC, which purchased the house last November. Use of the house as an events venue violates city zoning regulations for the single-family residential neighborhood, city officials said.
It also is part of a nearly decadelong regulatory and legal battle between the city and Renaissance Quest LLC Principal Huey “Natalie” Min Lee. The city filed a civil lawsuit in June in New London Superior Court against Lee’s activities at 138 Mediterranean Lane, the Mount Crescent House at 270 Broadway and the Lathrop Manor bed and breakfast at 380 Washington St.
All three properties are being advertised online as events venues and short-term rental sites, city officials said, in violation of zoning regulations. The city seeks a court injunction to halt her operations at all three properties.
Lee has failed to file an appearance in the civil suit, and the court on Sept. 14 granted the city's motion to find her in default for failure to appear. A ruling on the request for an injunction is pending.
“This is a commercial use in a residential area,” long-time Mediterranean Lane resident and former Alderman John Paul Mereen said. “This sort of thing cannot continue. Other venues in southeastern Connecticut have permits and play by the rules. This should not be treated any differently.”
Mereen said a delivery truck driver shouted and swore at a neighbor to "get the (expletive) out of the road." Mereen said residents frequently walk their dogs and children along the winding, narrow streets in what had been a quiet area off the historic Norwichtown Green.
“And now, this crap,” Mereen said.
Stuart Peil, who lives across the street from the venue site, said he called police at about 5 p.m. Saturday, when two cars were parked in his yard. Police rectified the situation, he said. He called three more times later, when the loud music continued to vibrate his house, “and I’m 1,000 feet away,” he said.
“It’s unpleasant,” Peil said. “It’s only one day a month or so, but nonetheless it’s very unpleasant, and it’s a violation of our peace and quiet in a residential neighborhood. We expect in a residential neighborhood that we shouldn’t have to listen to sounds from a commercial venue.”
Peil and Whitley-Miner said last weekend’s event was “by far” the biggest and loudest so far at 138 Mediterranean Lane since spring.
“This is such a quiet neighborhood, it really affects the quality of the neighbors’ lives here, with these events going on,” Whitley-Miner said. “And Mediterranean Lane is so small, it cannot take this volume of traffic.”
Other neighbors complained that there were golf carts driving on Wightman Avenue.
Lee could not be reached for comment on the Mediterranean Lane complaints.
Lee has defied city cease and desist orders at the three venues. She has erected signs warning city officials to keep off her properties.
“PRIVATE PROPERTY NO TRESPASSING,” the sign states. “Notice to Low-IQ Public Servants. You are trespassing on my property, and if you do not leave after reading this notice, criminal trespassing charges will be filed against both the agency you represent, and you as an individual. NOW GET OFF MY PROPERTY.”
In May, Lee filed a Freedom of Information request for documents including the oaths of office records and surety bonds for members of the City Council, planning and zoning officials, city police and fire officials, Norwich Public Utilities and Uncas Health District officials. She complained that city officials had entered her property "without my permission" in response to complaints.
Since May 3, the city zoning office has received 13 complaints — some with multiple complainants — regarding 138 Mediterranean Lane. The office has received 24 complaints about Mount Crescent House at 270 Broadway.
The city issued a cease and desist order to Lee for Mount Crescent House on Feb. 3, 2020, another on Nov. 16, 2020 for the Lathrop Manor at 380 Washington St. And on May 10, 2021, the city issued a cease and desist order on 138 Mediterranean Lane.
Although Lathrop Manor is permitted as a bed and breakfast inn, city regulations require it to be owner occupied. The city lawsuit alleged that Lee has advertised Lathrop Manor for events of up to 50 people and Mount Crescent House and Mediterranean Lane house each for up to 200 people.
Lee received approval from the Commission on the City Plan for a bed and breakfast at Mount Crescent House but never obtained final zoning permits. She rejected fire safety orders for sprinklers she claimed would ruin the historic character of the Italianate mansion. The bed and breakfast also must be owner-occupied.
The city’s lawsuit said: “The defendants have caused and continue to cause loud noise, music, and sound pollution to be emitted from the properties at 138 Mediterranean Lane and 380 Washington Street at all hours of the day and night; tents to be erected, including without inspection or permit, in violation of safety standards, building and fire codes; and traffic congestion and parked cars to clog the roadways the areas surrounding the property inhibiting the flow of traffic and emergency response vehicles.”
Lee had filed a federal lawsuit in 2018 against the city and several city officials. Judge Kari A. Dooley ruled in the city’s favor and denied a series of motions by Lee to replace the judge, move to a different court and to reconsider the ruling.