Spencer Estate residents protest Lucerne land grab

Some Spencer Estate residents think that the end of Lucerne Street should still be open to the public. Photo by Victor Chu

When someone started to fill in the waterfront end of Lucerne Street in Spencer Estate, June Haymon sniffed. When someone installed a gated fence, Haymon grumbled.

Then someone put in a lawn and mounted a surveillance camera. So Haymon penned a petition. The 77-year old Lucerne Street resident misses the waterfront where she used to swim and launch kayaks.

Lisa McDonnald grew up on Radio Drive. She remembers swimming at the end of Lucerne Street. It was public, plain and simple. But property owners at the end of Lucerne Street have gradually appropriated the waterfront. Haymon doesn’t want to make trouble; she wants an answer. She thinks the city or state owns the land.

“Was it legal?” Haymon asked.

Nick Reina owns the large house at the end of Lucerne Street, on the south side. Reina grew up on Throgmorton Avenue and bought the Lucerne Street “castle house,” as it is known, in 2004.

Reina was told that the end of Lucerne Street down to the waterfront belonged to the castle house and the owner of the attached house on the north side of Lucerne Street, not the city, because former property owners had maintained the land for seven years.

Reina hauled trees and tires off the land when he bought the castle house; the end of Lucerne Street looked like a jungle, he said. Reina mounted the surveillance camera to deter drug users and eager teens. He mows the beautiful lawn.

The gated fence was up when Reina bought the house and for good reason, he said. The end of Lucerne Street is dangerous.

“Imagine what would happen if someone fell on the rocks or drowned,” Reina said. “Who would be held responsible?”

Haymon has gathered 33 signatures and expects to add more. Wilma Turnbull signed. The longtime Radio Drive resident also misses the Lucerne Street waterfront, on the Long Island Sound’s rocky Palmer Inlet.

“It was public access to the water since the 1920s,” Turnbull said.

In 1980 or so, property owners on the waterfront installed a concrete wall parallel to the shore and started to fill the waterfront in, Turnbull said. One property owner was fined by the city and ordered to build steps to the water, McDonnald said.

Eventually, someone obliterated the path from Lucerne Street to the waterfront and appropriated the land. Reina nailed a sign at the end of Lucerne Street. It reads “24 HOUR VIDEO SURVEILLANCE.”

“As far as I know, there were no permits granted,” Turnbull said.

The houses on the waterfront have changed hands again and again. Turnbull thought that the end of Lucerne Street belonged to the Parks Department, but it belongs to the Department of Transportation, Parks Department spokeswoman Jesslyn Moser said. DOT spokesman Monty Dean was unable to confirm. Dean said DOT would explore the issue.

Spencer Estate borders tidal wetlands protected by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. DEC inspected the end of Lucerne Street in June, at Councilman James Vacca’s request, and observed unauthorized repairs on a seawall. It issued a consent order and will review historical records to determine whether the fill was permitted, DEC spokesman Thomas Panzone said.

Concrete walls are no good for marine life, Turnbull said. The walls upset clam and oyster beds, and leach lime into the water.

“To the extent that the fill at the end of Lucerne Street was placed in a tidal wetlands area, the natural resources…were eliminated,” Panzone said.

Haymon has lived on Lucerne Street since 1955. She and her late husband used to anchor their boat offshore and row to the waterfront.

“We’re upset,” Haymon said.

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