The developer behind a proposed development on Saco Island was issued a notice of violation and stop work order after he clear-cut trees on the property in violation of shoreland zoning regulations.

The notice of violation was issued Nov. 3 by code enforcement officer Richard Lambert after trees were cleared from 30,000 to 70,000 square foot of the 6-acre lot adjacent to the Saco River in downtown Saco. The stop work order has since been lifted to allow property owner Bernie Saulnier to do erosion control work.

On Monday, Saulnier, city officials, the Saco River Corridor Commission and the Attorney General’s Office will meet to discuss the final resolution of the tree issue. Lambert said that outcome could include a fine or a mitigation plan for replanting trees.

“It was a misstep that happened and we don’t want to get off on the wrong foot (with Saulnier),” Lambert said.

Saulnier in July announced plans for a $40 million mixed-use project on Saco Island that will include apartments, hotel, restaurant, marina and a connection to the city’s river walk. Saulnier is in final negotiations with hotel developer Jim Brady, who opened the Press Hotel in Portland, to build a boutique hotel on the island.

At the suggestion of city officials, Saulnier held a series of meetings over the summer to meet with residents about his plans for undeveloped east side of the island. He said he plans to submit project plans to the city in January.

The tree cutting first came to the attention of city officials when a person with an office on the other side of Saco Island told a city employee his view of the river improved as trees were removed. Lambert said he went down to Saco Island within an hour of finding out about the cutting, but crews had already done their work and were leaving. He issued the notice of violation and stop work order immediately.

“We didn’t want to have anything else torn up on the site until we knew exactly what was going on,” Lambert said.

The city’s shoreline zoning ordinance regulates tree cutting on properties within 250 feet of the Saco River. Property owners cannot cut more than 40 percent of trees of a certain size in a 10-year period. While no permit to cut trees is required, Lambert said the city will review plans to ensure tree cutting meets the requirements.

Saulnier said crews removed overgrown sumac and vegetation from his property, not large trees. During the cleanup process, he also evicted five homeless people from the property and found an old foundation and years worth of dumped trash. He is now doing surveying and environmental testing on the property.

“It’s kind of a junkyard,” he said. “We cut trees where an engineer guided us to. This property had no trees on it years ago when it was a working waterfront.”

Saulnier, who lives in Saco, said he has been aggravated by the response of the city to the issue, especially because he has tried to work with city officials to develop a project that benefits the city.

“I paid for this land and I own the land,” he said. “I feel the city thinks they own it. I thought the city was behind me and they wanted to work with me.”

Lambert said he and others at the meeting on Monday will want to hear from Saulnier about what is intention was when clearing the trees.

“You may own private property, but it doesn’t give you license to do whatever you want on that property,” he said. “Our goal is to look forward and see what we can do to get in compliance.”

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