LYME – The owner of Eightmile River Farm on Hamburg Road lost his bid Thursday to overturn a town order that he stop cutting trees along the farm’s namesake river to restore the land to agricultural uses.
David Potts had argued that farmland is exempt from town regulations prohibiting such clearing within 100 feet of the river, which advocates are seeking to protect as a federal Wild & Scenic Watershed and describe as pristine and an important habitat for fish and wildlife.
He had been issued a cease-and-desist order earlier this year by the town’s zoning enforcement officer, Russ Byrne, that listed several violations centering on his “land-disturbing activity” within the Eightmile Overlay District adjoining the river without obtaining required permits.
Potts and his lawyer on Thursday argued to the Zoning Board of Appeals that his clearing efforts are proper due to what they called vague language in town regulations regarding the Overlay District and their assertion that the acreage in question had been farmed decades ago and so is free from any such restrictions.
“This activity cannot be regulated – it’s exempt,” land-use attorney David Sherwood, representing Potts, told the board at the Town Hall meeting.
Potts declined to specify what type of farming he had in mind.
“We plan on agricultural activities in all aspects that the law allows,” he said under questioning from the board. “The land we want to farm down there has the highest-quality soils in the state.”
Sherwood also contended that the overlay district restrictions do not apply to the property because it is considered wetlands, which under separate town regulations are also allowed to be used for agriculture without prohibition.
Board Chairman David Lahm said he was “troubled” that the language in the rules is unclear, but added that its intent to protect the river from such clearing is not.
“It’s almost like you’re asking us to throw out the overlay,” Lahm said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Anthony Irving, a town resident representing the Eightmile River Wild & Scenic Watershed advocacy group that has for years sought federal protection for it, agreed with Lahm.
“The overlay zone was our number one priority for protecting the river,” he said.
The group’s website describes the river’s watershed as “an exceptional natural and cultural resource” with “large areas of unfragmented habitat, an array of rare and diverse wildlife, scenic vistas, high water quality, unimpeded stream flow, and significant cultural features.”
The board eventually voted 3-2 to overturn the cease-and-desist order — one vote shy of the four votes required to actually revoke it.
Potts made it clear during the meeting that he would likely take the matter to Superior Court if he lost his appeal Thursday, saying he was “saddened” that would produce unnecessary legal bills for the town.
“This is tremendously unfair to taxpayers,” he told the board.
After the vote failed to overturn the cease-and-desist order, Potts quickly left the meeting, saying loudly: “Thank you very much. We’ll see you all in Hartford again.”