WELLFLEET — Building Inspector Paul Fowler issued a cease-and-desist order at 420 Lecount Hollow Road on Tuesday, June 15 after reports of large-scale tree removal on the property in the Cape Cod National Seashore.
“No comment,” said Fowler when asked about the tree-cutting operation. “You can talk to the owners of the property.”
The owners are David and Chellise Sexton of Eastham. They own 24.5 acres of land off Lecount Hollow Road and run Cook’s by the Ocean, “the finest beachside cottage colony in the world,” according to their website. Their 14 cottages are advertised as having “access to the largest private beach on the outer banks of Cape Cod.” The Sextons could not be reached for comment before press time.
Though the land is privately owned, it is also within the boundaries of the National Seashore. There are about 600 such private parcels of land within the park’s boundaries.
Activities such as building, renovating, and landscaping on land in the Seashore are subject to restrictions to ensure the conservation of the natural surroundings. Enforcement of these restrictions generally falls to the towns, which have zoning bylaws developed in accordance with the Cape Cod National Seashore’s zoning standards.
The cease-and-desist order delivered last week is related to section 6.9 of Wellfleet’s zoning bylaw, which states that cutting timber is prohibited in the National Seashore Park District unless it is “for the purpose of reasonably controlling brush or trees,” “maintenance cutting in pastures,” or “cutting for clearance or maintenance on right-of-way including those pertaining to public utilities or public highways.”
The extensive tree removal on Lecount Hollow Road does not appear to fit into any of the three permissible categories.
“The principal reason the Seashore was established was to maintain the ambiance and character of the Outer Cape and its natural environments,” said Seashore Supt. Brian Carlstrom this week. Asked about the tree cutting at the Sextons’, he said, “It’s pretty obvious this is counter to that,” adding, “We’re watching it closely.”
A similar cease-and-desist order for tree cutting was delivered by the town to the owners of Great White Realty in January after they clear-cut a lot at the corner of Route 6 and Old Wharf Road. Great White Realty appealed the town’s order to halt development of the parcel before the zoning board of appeals, which upheld the building inspector’s action. Now, the company is suing Wellfleet in an attempt to overturn that decision along with the zoning board’s denial of special permits.
The 420 Lecount Hollow Road case could follow a similar path as the Great White Realty case, and the Sextons are not strangers to land disputes that end up in court. They were involved in a years-long court battle with the owner of Paine’s campground after claiming ownership to the campground’s 36 acres off Old Kings Highway. The court ruled against them in 2015.
Last summer, several property owners on Lecount Hollow Road and Ocean View Drive offered private paid parking for beach users, a side hustle resulting from the shrinking of town-owned parking lots in the Seashore due to erosion.
The Sextons were among those who ran a private parking lot last year, prompting Wellfleet Beach Director Suzanne Grout Thomas to speculate that the recent tree removal is related to a new private parking lot there.
“No one’s happy about it,” Grout Thomas said. “And consensus is unusual in Wellfleet.”