WELLFLEET — One month ago, on June 15, then-Wellfleet Building Inspector Paul Fowler delivered a cease-and-desist order to David and Chellise Sexton of Eastham for clear-cutting trees on their property at 420 Lecount Hollow Road, adjacent to the town beach parking lot.
Though privately owned, the Sexton property, comprising 24.57 acres, is entirely within the Cape Cod National Seashore. It is therefore subject to strict town zoning bylaws governing the National Seashore Park District, which prohibit most forms of timber removal.
One month later, tree-cutting on the Sextons’ land has apparently halted, although Dana Franchitto, who works as a beach attendant at Lecount Hollow, said he had seen earth-moving work going on there after June 15 and had reported it to town officials.
Questions about what happens next to the large cleared and bulldozed area and what the property owners planned to do there remain unanswered.
The Sextons had not filed an appeal of the building inspector’s order, said Sharon Inger, chair of the zoning board of appeals. Such appeals must be filed within 30 days of the date of the order.
Last summer, the Sextons ran a private parking operation at this same location, prompting the town administrator at the time, Maria Broadbent, to send them a letter warning them that section 5.3.2 of the Wellfleet Zoning Bylaws prohibits public parking within the National Seashore Park District and could result in fines. Broadbent’s letter also warned that the town would consider legal action if further violations of the bylaws were to take place.
The town’s Lecount Hollow parking lot became a residents-only lot last June. Wellfleet Beach Director Suzanne Grout Thomas speculated that the Sextons’ recent tree clearing was for the purpose of creating a large private parking area.
Efforts to reach David and Chellise Sexton for comment were unsuccessful. Kristian Sexton, their son, came to the door of the main house at Cook’s by the Ocean, their cottage colony at Lecount Hollow, but would say only “We’re not talking to you.” Kevin Sexton, another son, was found at a house he owns with his mother at 120 Sapokonish Way in Wellfleet, but he, too, refused to answer questions.
According to the Wellfleet assessor’s records, David, Chellise, and Kevin Sexton together own at least 10 separate parcels of land in town, totaling nearly 55 acres, and with a combined assessed value of more than $5.8 million.
National Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom said in June that the tree removal at Lecount Hollow clearly violated the Seashore’s policies on land conservation, adding “we’re watching it closely.” In cases like this, however, the National Park Service has few enforcement options. Seashore administrators could recommend that the Secretary of the Interior revoke the Sextons’ certificate of suspension of condemnation for the property, which would enable the government to take it by eminent domain. That would require paying the current owners fair market value for the property, a highly unlikely outcome.
Because the Sextons operate a business on their Seashore holding, it is possible that the Park Service could revoke or decline to renew their business license. The Seashore threatened to do just that in a similar case involving the Adventure Bound Campground in Truro. That case is currently in litigation.
Carlstrom said that the Seashore prefers to work with towns to take enforcement and remedial action. Wellfleet could order that land be restored to its previous condition or levy fines in response to zoning bylaw violations, but recent turnover in Wellfleet town offices and the town government’s focus on fixing its current financial mess seem to have relegated action related to the tree removal case to the back burner.
Interim Town Administrator Charlie Sumner could not be reached for comment before press time, and Assistant Town Administrator Rebecca Slick said the building department would normally be in charge of the town’s response to a bylaw violation.
The problem is that Building Inspector Paul Fowler resigned effective July 6 and the position is currently empty.