YORK, Maine — With a stop-work order looming over his Route 1A business, Josh Gammon of Gammon Lawn Care said this week that the past year “has been hard on me. It’s hard on my family. This business was started by my father back in 1989. He told me recently, ‘I would take it back if I could just so you don’t have to deal with this.’”
The town issued a notice of violation last week to Gammon and ordered him to shutter his York Harbor business until he successfully filed paperwork complying with a Planning Board order of last December.
On Friday, Gammon’s attorney Matt Howell submitted documentation he said meets the Planning Board and town requirements. As of Monday afternoon, the stop work order was still in place, said Code Enforcement Officer Amber Harrison, who was waiting to receive an opinion from Town Attorney Mary Costigan.
At issue is violation of a Planning Board decision issued last Dec. 8, stating Gammon does not have enough property to meet the town’s minimum lot size requirements for nonresidential use in a shoreland zone. He needs to have 60,000 square feet and his lot is 50,693 square feet.
Following a March Notice of Violation, Howell in May submitted a purchase and sale agreement between Gammon and Ronald and Susan Peris for 30,000 square feet of land. The land does not directly abut Gammon’s property but abuts property owned by Diane Marcuri. Her late husband Peter sold Gammon the original parcel where he located his lawn care business.
In that filing, Howell included a “property agreement” between Gammon and Marcuri. Howell said under terms of the agreement, Marcuri and Gammon would swap land to allow for the connection between the Peris parcel and Gammon’s.
Costigan, in a late June letter to Howell, said the agreement was insufficient and that Marcuri must enter a purchase and sale with Peris and Gammon that “conveys right, title or interest.” On Friday, Howell delivered an addendum to the purchase and sale agreement that appears to accomplish that goal.
The stop work order issued July 12 stipulates if Gammon doesn’t abide by terms of the order, the town could seek court action to include fines and reimbursement of costs. The fine is $100 to $2,500 per day, beginning on the day he receives the notice. Howell said Monday that he advised Gammon to continue working during this period. If fines were levied, he would pay for them, he said.
“This is a matter of supporting families. I believe in this man and I care about him. I put this on my shoulders. I’m not going to let him lose money,” said Howell. “We’re talking about someone’s livelihood, so I’m more than happy to take it on the chin.”
Gammon said he has worked out of the Route 1A location for five years, and didn’t have a problem with neighbors until he purchased the property several years ago. One of the key sticking points raised by neighbors is that Gammon’s use became intense over time, with more trucks, noise and dust. He said the business has grown during that time, and he now has six employees and more trucks than he did when he started out. “I’m not a big conglomerate. It’s not like I have hundreds of employees. We’ve slowly grown, adding one employee here, one there.”
Howell noted that over time, the state Department of Environmental Protection has been called to the site, but found no violations; York police found no violation of the town’s noise ordinance, either, said Howell.
Gammon lays a lot of his current woes at the feet of abutter Dan Raposa, who has led efforts by Gammon’s neighbors to stop the operation. Raposa only began to raise issues once Gammon bought the property, and Gammon said he “seems willing to throw anything and everything against the wall and see what sticks. To be honest, when this started I didn’t think it would go on as long as it has. He’s a bully. I’m the victim.”
Raposa said Tuesday he was “not interested” in responding to Gammon’s claims. Rather, he said, “my entire effort has been to ask the town of York to hold this businessman accountable. What are the ordinances governing the way this land is used? From the beginning, I’ve asked the town of York to hold the process sacred.”
Raposa argues a notice of violation should have been issued by the code enforcement office shortly after the Planning Board ruled last December, and the office and in particular Harrison has failed in her responsibilities. Howell contends Harrison and Costigan have been “constantly moving the goalposts” in terms of what they want from Gammon and Gammon has tried to comply.
Harrison’s decision to file the Notice of Violation last week did come six months after the Planning Board’s decision, which caused Raposa to tell selectmen at a recent meeting that she “has been sitting on her hands.”
Harrison said she has been “following the town attorney’s advice, which included working with the owner to get voluntary compliance. I strictly followed the guidance of the town attorney on timing, language and correspondence” — especially given, she said, a separate Superior Court case on the same issue is pending.
Meanwhile, Gammon said many people have told him to stay the course. “There has been an outcry of support throughout the community — especially from people who have family roots in this town. I want people to know I appreciate that.”
Still to be decided is a separate court case involving a Board of Appeals decision in July 2016, overturning Harrison’s ruling that Gammon’s business is substantially the same as Peter Marcuri’s excavation business and therefore grandfathered.