Property Rights

Georgetown 'Tree Killer' Fined $53,000 for 'Excessive Pruning' on His Own Property

The homeowner was working to preserve a historic building



The Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation (DOT) is fining the owner of a Georgetown mansion more than $53,000 for the "excessive pruning" of two of his own trees.

Accu-Crete CEO David Hudgens, the homeowner hit with the fine, says the trees were interfering with the maintenance of the Newton D. Baker House, named for the secretary of war who lived there from 1916-1920. Built in 1794, the house was once owned by former First Lady Jackie Kennedy, then Yolande Fox, a singer and socialite who died in 2016. Hudgens is the current owner, and his preferred method of maintaining the property has outraged his neighbors in Georgetown.

At least five trees have been removed or trimmed. The Washington Post reported earlier this month:

Neighbors say the trees began to disappear soon after Hudgens, who owns two other houses on the street and lives next door, bought the home. In January, the city removed three trees in treeboxes along the street, then last month he cut down a magnolia on his property and trimmed branches off another.

It's the latter two trees that Hudgens is in trouble over. "When the current owner of that property 'trimmed' the two trees to a very large extent, thereby removing much of the volume of the trees, the Georgetown community expressed its outrage," reads a resolution passed by the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) late last month. "Appropriate sanctions should be imposed to preserve the trees in Georgetown both for ourselves and for future generations."

The DOT has now acted, fining Hudgens $53,611.20, according to the Post. DOT spokesperson Terry Owens explained why in a statement to Reason. "The fine was for the excessive pruning of 2 magnolia trees. Both trees are legally protected under the Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002," he said.

Owens added:

One tree measured 100.794″ in circumference, making it a heritage tree. The other tree was smaller, measuring 77.91″ circumference. The fine for "removing" a heritage tree is the same as that for removing a special tree. In both cases, the law establishes a fine schedule of $300 per inch of circumference.

Hudgens did not respond to Reason's request for comment in time for publication. However, he told The Georgetowner for a story published earlier this month that the trees needed to be dealt with. "The front wall was being pushed by secondary growth and needed a root dam," he said. Hudgens also said he paid for the trees' care while former owner Fox, who he was friends with, was still alive. In total, he claimed to have spent about $150,000 on what the Post described as "landscaping, tree removal and repairs."

The land and trees in question don't belong to the city or to Hudgens' neighbors—it's his own private property. And yet Hudgens appears to have no intention of changing the property for the worse. As he told The Georgetowner: "One hundred years from now, this will be a preserved structure."

"I've done nothing with these trees without the advice of multiple arborists," he told the Post. "I've cut no tree down without the authority of the city."

This past Halloween, some neighbors set up signs next to his property in an attempt to bring people's attention to the issue. "Tree Killer Lives There," read one sign, while another said: "Save our trees." A fake tombstone even had the words "Beloved magnolia 1840-2018 destroyed R.I.P."

After consulting a bevy of tree experts and the city, Hudgens should have consulted the hyperbolic busybodies next door.