YARMOUTH — Residents of a quiet side street say they woke up without warning on Jan. 25 to the sound of machinery clear-cutting 17 acres of forest and wildlife habitat that served as a buffer between their homes and Route 1.

The Sisquisic Trail residents want the town to intervene with the owner of the property, David DeLorme, on grounds that the cutting violates the original site plan of the former DeLorme Mapping building at 2 DeLorme Drive, which was approved by the Planning Board in 1995.

But town officials say they have no jurisdiction over the cutting, because it’s regulated by state timber harvesting laws.

DeLorme owns about 42 acres of land in Yarmouth under a limited liability company, Global Village LLC. He also personally owns about 60 acres in Freeport.

What used to be the DeLorme mapping building is now the Garmin building because of a 2016 acquisition. It is home to Eartha, the world’s largest rotating globe, and sits on 11 acres in the town’s commercial district.

Behind that is more than 17 acres of land that is still owned by DeLorme. Once dense with trees, the land sits in the town’s low-density residential and shoreland overlay districts. The land at the south end of the parcel surrounds the tributary to the Cousins River and is marked as a resource protection zone.

Over two weeks, all but two rows of trees – one on the southernmost and another on the northernmost end of the parcel – were cleared.

After the town was notified of the cutting by residents, officials on Feb. 4 asked DeLorme to put a hold on the timber harvesting, to give the town time to look through files and permits. DeLorme agreed, through his attorney, Kevin Haley.

In an email to residents, Town Manager Nat Tupper said in honoring the town’s request, “DeLorme was not acknowledging any violation of any permit, rule or law and that he intended to preserve all his rights and privileges to harvest timber.”

After consulting town attorney Phil Saucier, Tupper said he notified neighbors that he did not believe, based on the information presented, there was a basis for “code enforcement action.”

“The Town of Yarmouth ordinances do not provide town jurisdiction over timber harvesting in the (Shoreland Overlay District),” Tupper said in an email to residents. “The state of Maine through the Maine Forest Service exercises that regulatory control. It is our understanding and belief that all the timber harvesting in the (Shoreland Overlay District) is proceeding under approvals or permits granted by the Forest Service.”

Haley affirmed that on Monday, Feb. 12. He said DeLorme completed all the permitting required by the state for timber harvesting in shoreland areas prior to the cutting and has complied with all of its standards.

“Representatives from the Maine Forest Service helped create the tree harvesting plan,” Haley said. “Someone was on site through the cutting as recently as Feb. 8.”

Had the cutting been part of a landscaping project or application to clear for development, Tupper said DeLorme would have had to gain approval from the town, which, he said, may have been more difficult in a Shoreland Overlay District.

Neighbors said the trees served as both a sight and sound buffer to the town’s commercial district, and the cutting has disrupted the wildlife habitat.

“Prior to (the former DeLorme) building being approved, David’s attorney stood on my back deck and said ‘You will never see this … we’re going to protect Sisquisic Trail from seeing this commercial building,'” Elisabeth Kay said.

She and her husband, Bruce, live at 193 Sisquisic Trail. From their back porch, they can now see the Garmin building and cars driving past on Route 1 and Interstate 295 through a layer of trees.

“We support the business,” Kay said. “They’ve been great neighbors up until this point.”

In 1995, DeLorme applied for Zoning Board of Appeal approval to add 15 feet to the commercial district’s standard height of 35 feet to enclose the 42-foot diameter globe, Eartha. In the application, DeLorme’s attorney at the time, Terrence DeWan, stated that the additional height would not be visible to “any of the surrounding residential neighborhoods to the south,” noting specifically, Sisquisic Trail.

“I can now see Eartha from my back windows,” Leslie Wagner said. She lives next to the Kays, at 197 Sisquisic Trail.

A commercial photographer, Wagner said she always sees deer, fox, and coyote in her backyard, as well as turkey, owls, eagles, and other birds nesting in the trees.

“Resource protection means to me that you’re protecting your resources,” Wagner said. “… They started pushing the trees they cut into the water and the bank of the estuary is a fairly steep pitch, so the damage there will make it tough for anything to grow back. That whole forest was just decimated … it’s devastating.”

Haley said DeLorme hasn’t discussed any further plans for the property. It was not clear why the landowner decided to cut the trees.

Tupper said the town was not encouraging the cutting, but simply had no grounds to stop it unless it was explicitly documented that none of the trees on the parcel of land behind the 11-acre parcel would ever be cut.

“I want to be respectful to (neighbors’) concerns, while also being respectful to private property interests, which DeLorme has,” he said.

Tupper went on to explain that in reviewing the 1995 site plan approval for the development of the 11-acre parcel housing DeLorme’s commercial building, there is no condition that limits or affects DeLorme’s right to cut trees on the wooded parcel behind the building.

According to Haley, the tree cutting did not take place on the parcel of land that the building sits on.

In a Feb. 11 email to Tupper, however, residents argue that the land was not subdivided and that the town has “ample basis … to take action against this violation of the approved Site Plan.”

“We believe that at the very least all the portions of the property … should be replanted with substantial trees to provide the required buffer,” the email said.

On Feb. 12, Tupper said he had forwarded the residents’ email to the town’s attorney for review before responding.

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Read this story in The Forecaster.