EAST LYME – A four-year legal fight over a shellfish farm in Niantic is over, after the Zoning Commission agreed to a settlement that will resolve three lawsuits and let Tim Londregan continue running his business at Marker 7 Marina.
The commission voted unanimously last week to approve a settlement agreement that resolves Londregan’s appeals over a cease-and-desist and injunction the town ordered against him in 2019, amid complaints from neighbors about noise from an oyster tumbler he ran as part of his shellfish farm.
Londregan’s attorney, Tom Londregan, told the commission that the settlement rectifies “good faith disagreements” about the town’s regulations. It also resolves Tim Londregan’s federal lawsuit against East Lyme, which alleged that the town treated him unequally by seeking an injunction against his business.
“Tim wants to be a good business for the town. He realizes that he is the gateway to the village of Niantic from the east,” Tom Londregan said. “He knows he has an important piece of property, and he wants to be a good businessman.”
The town issued Tim Londregan a cease-and-desist letter in 2019, ordering him to stop using a tumbler that he had been using for years to clean shellfish, saying it was a “processing plant” for oysters that violated town regulations.
Tim Londregan appealed the order to the Zoning Board of Appeals, but lost despite a 3-2 vote in his favor, because the board requires four votes to reverse a cease-and-desist order, according to his attorney. Tim Londregan then appealed that decision to Superior Court.
Later, the town sought an injunction against the shellfish farmer for adding extra berths to his dock, which Tom Londregan said was approved by DEEP. That case was also pending in Superior Court, he said.
In response, Tim Londregan sued East Lyme in federal court for unequal treatment after discovering that similar DEEP-approved projects in other towns did not have injunctions against them, Tom Londregan said.
Town attorney Tim Bleasdale told the commission that East Lyme regulations don’t define what a shellfish processing plant is, making it difficult to enforce. But he noted that the state Department of Agriculture looked at Tim Londregan’s tumblers and determined they were a piece of farming equipment and not a processing plant.
“You can sort of think of it as an intermediate step in the agricultural process, so maybe something akin to a farmer going out and mowing hay or fertilizing crops,” Bleasdale said. “Something that is happening along the way in agriculture, but is short of the process of going through to put it on the market.”
However, Bleasdale said the commission could consider approving a noise ordinance to address neighbor complaints about the tumblers. The ordinance, he said, would give the commission more flexibility to manage a potential noise problem in the future.
“My recollection is that the evidence [Tim Londregan] showed was that his operations generally comply with that noise ordinance,” Bleasdale said. “So to the extent that it was to get louder, this condition would allow you to use those options.”
Bleasdale said the town has received “informal complaints” about the operation’s noise, mostly from neighboring marinas. He claimed no neighbors have been concerned enough to make a formal complaint or apply to change town regulations.
“One of the things the neighbors were interested in seeing happen is having the commercial shellfishing operation move as far away from the neighboring marinas as possible,” Bleasdale said. “And the applicants have done that, they moved to the extreme southeast corner.”
Tom Londregan said they were opposed to the commission adding a noise ordinance, saying it was a redundant and unnecessary burden to the operation.
State law says that water-dependent uses like commercial fishing are supposed to be given the “highest priority and preference” on coastal properties, Tom Londregan said. The noise ordinance would be adding a condition that if the shellfish farm was too noisy, it can’t operate, he explained.
And East Lyme already has a noise ordinance it can enforce with police powers, he added.
“We’ve come a long, long way over the last four years of litigation to now throw in, ‘Oh, noise,’ because of a neighbor’s complaint,” Tom Londregan said.
Commission member Deborah Jett-Harris said it’s positive that Tim Londregan already moved the tumblers, which were a focus of the public hearings on the issue.
“If it tends to get noisy or whatever, I would like to think that the residents could come to Mr. Londregan and talk to him and figure things out, or they could call the police,” Jett-Harris said. “I think it’s a very good compromise.”
Commission member David Schmitt said he used to have a boat slip close to Marker 7 and noted the complaints were not just about noise, but also the smell from the tumbler. He argued this could be a deterrent for people visiting East Lyme on the weekends.
“A lot of them have found it troublesome to enjoy a decent night’s sleep on their boat because of activities,” Schmitt said. “I know that it’s been moved further away, and I applaud that. That may solve the problem.”
Commission member Denise Markovitz said it would be a “shame” to walk away from an agreement that took years of work because of the noise concerns. She admitted there may be concerns from neighbors, but agreed noise was a police matter.
“I think it’s important that we get this accomplished,” Markovitz said. “This business is good for the town.”