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    Wednesday, February 21, 2024

    Norwich spells out case against alleged illegal events venues in court hearing

    A wedding reception gets underway Oct. 17, 2020, at the Mount Crescent House bed and breakfast on Broadway in Norwich. The owner, Huey "Natalie" Min Lee, is engaged in a dispute with the city and neighbors over weddings and large events at the venue. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Norwich — With four large tents erected at one allegedly illegal large events venue, city officials on Friday laid out their case during a two-hour online court hearing against the owner of three unpermitted events venues with alleged zoning, building and fire safety violations.

    The city filed a civil suit in New London Superior Court seeking a permanent court injunction to order the venues to cease operations. Mount Crescent LLC, which owns the Mount Crescent House at 270 Broadway, and Renaissance Quest LLC, owner of the Lathrop Manor bed and breakfast at 380 Washington St. and a large residential house at 138 Mediterranean Lane all are run by LLC principal Huey "Natalie" Min Lee.

    City officials repeatedly said during the hearing in New London Superior Court that Lee has defied notices of violation, cease and desist orders and abatement orders to correct fire safety hazards. Lee was arrested on a criminal charge of failure to abate a fire safety hazard but failed to show up for her court date in Norwich Superior Court. She filed a claim of false arrest in Norwich Superior Court.

    City officials issued a new notice of violation Friday morning prior to the court hearing for the four new large tents erected Thursday at the Mount Crescent House property on Broadway.

    Lee has responded to zoning orders over the past five years with emails containing insults aimed at city officials — calling them “idiots” “low IQ” and “three Stooges” — and threats of legal action for violations of her private property rights. She did not attend Friday’s online court hearing, and court officials affirmed for Judge Karen A. Goodrow at the start of the session that she was informed of the proceeding.

    Answering questions posed by Norwich Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll, Zoning Enforcement Officer Richard Shuck, Building Official Dan Coley and Fire Marshal Mark Gilot described what they said were repeated violations of zoning and building regulations at the three properties. Large events, unpermitted large tents, short-term rentals, noise and traffic complaints have occurred at all three properties, the city officials said.

    “We had tried to work with Ms. Lee to bring her into compliance,” Shuck said. “And she refused to communicate professionally or move in any direction.”

    Shuck said neighbors called his office Thursday to tell him about the four new tents being erected. He said the tents clearly are large enough to require building permits, and neighbors expressed concern that another loud event will take place this weekend.

    “It’s my understanding she is not compliant with the building and fire code to operate what in essence is a hotel, with guests staying there without the proper safety conditions,” Shuck said.

    Another large event occurred at 138 Mediterranean Lane a few weeks ago, Coley said. He said he has received complaints for tents erected without permits at the home, located on a narrow historical residential road.

    “I’ve probably seen the largest tent in our town erected on that premises,” Coley said. “It was a large, I’d almost classify it as a circus tent.”

    Large tents need permits to ensure they are properly anchored against potential high winds. Tents also must be inspected for any electrical wiring for lights and speakers, Coley said. Improper installation against metal tent poles could energize the poles and present an electrocution risk for tent occupants.

    Coley said Lee tried to seek waivers of the required safety regulations at the three-story Mount Crescent House, which were denied by state building officials. Coley said Lee argued the house is historic and making the safety alterations would ruin its character. Coley said city officials offered a compromise to close off the third floor, which lacks fire safety measures, but Lee refused the offer.

    Later in the hearing, Fire Marshal Gilot provided a rundown, with photos, of an inspection at the Mount Crescent House he conducted with a police officer present on Dec. 21, 2021, after obtaining an administrative warrant from the state’s attorney to inspect a commercial use of the property.

    Gilot described 18 violations, including nonfunctioning smoke and fire alarms, lack of visual fire alarms for hearing-impaired guests, no separation between the kitchen and common areas and numerous other problems. The basement has only one exit, with a second door padlocked, he said.

    Gilot said he had taken over the case from former city Fire Marshal Jim Roberts, who had retired. Gilot said Roberts had made repeated efforts to work with Lee since 2014 over work necessary to obtain final permits for a bed and breakfast inn at Mount Crescent House.

    “He pretty much had a dead end with her,” Gilot said. “She didn’t want to really comply with anything.”

    Shuck and Coley said the alleged violations started in 2017 and continued through Friday. Coley testified he issued another notice of violation to Lee on Friday morning after the four large tents were erected without permits on the Mount Crescent House grounds this week.

    The city officials described safety hazards in the operations. A large bathroom was built without permits in the basement of Mount Crescent House, Coley said. He described the bathroom as lacking accessibility for people with disabilities and said it would be difficult for occupants to get out in an emergency.

    Shuck said activity has been quiet lately at 380 Washington St., legally permitted as a bed and breakfast. But he said city regulations require bed and breakfast inns to be owner-occupied, and Lee does not live at the house.

    Following the testimony, Judge Goodrow asked attorney Driscoll to file the city’s desired motions for court orders by Friday, July 8. Driscoll said the city will seek a permanent injunction against the ownership LLCs and may seek injunctions against Lee as well.


    Huey "Natalie" Min Lee, owner of the Mount Crescent House bed and breakfast on Broadway in Norwich, on Oct. 16, 2020, talks about her dispute with the city and neighbors over weddings and large events at the venue. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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