NORRIDGEWOCK — Lisa and John Ames have been living at 52 Depot St. since 1983 and say they’ve never had a problem with their neighbor, athletic shoe manufacturer New Balance, until recently.
Last fall, Lisa Ames said New Balance was considering putting up a boundary fence, surveyed the land and put in stakes.
Winter came and left and nothing was done to put up the fence — until last week — when the Ameses received a letter under their door saying New Balance was going to remove trees and brush and asking the Ameses to remove debris and a truck from their property.
“They never had an interest in putting in a fence before, and all of a sudden they can’t put it up fast enough,” said John Ames, 57.
The couple has 49 dogs registered on their .38-acre property, according to town office records. They are a licensed kennel and aren’t violating any town ordinances by having the dogs, although they were cited in January for other violations of the town’s Junkyard Ordinance, according to Town Manager Michelle Flewelling. She said the town office has received numerous complaints about the noise from the dogs. The backyard of the house is also within close proximity of the Oosoola Park and playground.
“The dogs are fine. We get complaints about them all the time, but there’s nothing they are doing that is wrong,” said Flewelling.
The Ameses also aren’t opposed to the idea of a fence. They planted spruce shrubs along the property line as a barrier and years ago constructed a rock wall separating the properties, but they do have a problem with how New Balance is carrying out the idea.
While the property was surveyed last fall and stakes were placed showing the property lines, the Ameses are contending that New Balance, who hired the surveyor, has moved the property line.
“It’s just a small strip of land between us and their parking lot and it really gains them nothing, but they’ve moved the property line in from what we believe it to be,” said Lisa Ames, 55. “We didn’t have much notice to get an attorney. They just said we’re going to cut the trees and brush that are in our way, and we didn’t know what they were going to cut because they didn’t specify.”
Almost all of the trees along the property are tied with yellow ribbons in honor of the Ames’ son, Joshua, who is returning from military service in Afghanistan later this month.
Last week the Ameses received a letter saying that the shoe factory plans to construct a fence between two and three feet tall along the property line.
“We are asking for your cooperation to remove all debris, dog houses, stone wall and vehicles off the New Balance property prior to installation of the fence. We will assist you in setting the stone wall onto your property and adjacent to its current location” reads the letter from Lewis Devoe, New Balance Facilities Manager for Maine.
On Thursday, Lisa left her job as a custodian at the Mill Stream Elementary School because New Balance had begun cutting trees and took down the stone wall that had been separating the properties. “They removed everything that would be in their way,” she said. “It was like they were bullying us.”
Carrie Garfield, a New Balance spokesperson, issued a one-sentence statement on the situation, saying: “Prior to starting our work on the New Balance property in Norridgewock, our property boundary was confirmed by a professional surveyor.”
Devoe would not comment further than to say that the town and the code enforcement officer are aware of the situation and have talked to the Ameses about cleaning up their yard in the past. According to Flewelling, they were cited in January for having car bodies, truck bodies and various vehicles in their front yard.
They have an agreement with the town to remove the old vehicles by May 30, she said.
Dave Huff, the town’s animal control officer, said that although the dogs can be noisy, they are all registered and up to date on shots.
“I believe the thought process is that by putting up the fence the flow of traffic out of New Balance each afternoon will not instigate the dogs into hours of barking,” said Flewelling.
New Balance’s Norridgewock factory is one of five facilities the company runs in the United States, including others in Skowhegan and Norway. They have been at the Depot Street location since 1982, according to property records.
The company prides itself on manufacturing 25 percent of their shoes sold in the U.S. in the country and is looking to add jobs following a change in Department of Defense policy that will require American military personnel to wear American-made shoes. Recent visitors to the factory have included U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
John Ames said he thinks that an anticipated need for increased parking has prompted the construction of the fence. He and his wife have operated a kennel since the 1990s and Ames said they take good care of the dogs. There have been no major problems with New Balance, he said.
“Over the last few years they’ve redesigned their parking lot in every shape possible. They just got awarded this military contract, which means they will be adding employees, and where are they going to park?” he said.
The Ameses have hired a lawyer and are seeking a court order preventing further action from being taken.
Rachel Ohm — firstname.lastname@example.org