Private property

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

The homeowner was working to preserve a historic building

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Flickr/NCinDC

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.

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  1. David Hudgens should be fined AND put in jail for excessive pruning.
    Now the poor tree is half naked and will get cold in the winter.
    Now all the other trees in the neighborhood will make fun of this excessively pruned tree.
    Now the tree has to live with the shame of excessive pruning and probably will commit suicide later as studies on trees by the EPA has shown time and again.
    Mr. Hudgens has the tree’s blood on his hands.
    Now you know why all sane people are in favor of pruning control.

    1. Mr. Hudgens has the tree’s blood on his hands.

      And as everyone knows, when you have tree blood on your hands, it’s . . . hard to get off.

      1. Yeah, he’s a real sap.

        Can’t believe y’all left that one for the rest of us to make.

        1. “copper nails” “kill trees”

          http://www.hunker.com/13424362…..pper-nails

          If any of y’all encounter the tree police, here is a method of secretly killing your trees ahead of time, torture them to death slowly, it is what Government Almighty demands of us, before we can mess with THEIR trees on OUR property……

          If your tree is DEAD, it is a falling-down hazard, and THEN your busy-body neighbors will be demanding that ye cut ‘er down!!!!

        2. “Yeah, he’s a real sap.”

          Y’all’s BARK is up the WRONGED TREE!!!!

      2. This guy is not all bad. He may be a tree murdering monster, but he always shows his ID when purchasing a box of Froot Loops or Count Chocula. So, he is good at other things. Nobody is perfect.

  2. The land and trees in question don’t belong to the city or to Hudgens’ neighbors?it’s his own private property.

    No it isn’t. He rents it from the people he sends his property tax check to.

    1. Which is shockingly low in DC (but I doubt it is for this property).

  3. outrage!

  4. The land and trees in question don’t belong to the city or to Hudgens’ neighbors?it’s his own private property.

    You still don’t get how this works?

  5. “Beloved magnolia 1840-2018 destroyed R.I.P.”

    There must have been something really wrong with that tree if multiple arborists suggested taking it down.

    1. Yeah – big, old trees can be dangerous. We have a terrible problem with eucalyptus trees in the Bay Area. They grow hundreds of feet tall and drop limbs randomly, in addition to being chock-full of extra-flammable oil. But we have a rabid movement to save the eucalyptus trees because Global Warming and Diversity (they’re non-native).

      1. You mean you don’t pay someone to trim the deadwood after every growing season? No wonder the city has to constantly tell you how to manage your property.

        Do eucalyptus even have a growing season?

        1. You mean you don’t pay someone to trim the deadwood after every growing season?

          At this point most of them are on public land, so no. I have only one left, whose destruction is being plotted.

          Do eucalyptus even have a growing season?

          Their growing season is Time Itself. A blend of spring and fall in one perpetual, glorious pain-in-the-ass of constant mess of peeling bark and falling leaves. But the buzzards love them.

          1. But the buzzards love them.

            Well, if they’re hundreds of feet tall, I can see why.

            1. Yeah – the one thing I miss, actually, about the two that we’ve already gotten rid of (one on purpose, another downed in a storm) is that we used to have about seven buzzards living in our backyard. Now we hardly see them anymore.

              1. I notice more roadkill around lately, too.

    2. 1840-2018

      There’s no way a magnolia made it to 178 years old. These busybodies don’t even bother to do their homework. They’re only pretending to care because it gives them a reason to arbitrarily punish another human being.

    3. Arborists are only concerned with the health and safety of a few tress. Their opinion is irrelevant and not a defense.

      His mistake was not consulting the city, the neighborhood historical association, HOA and probably some other busybodies. All of them are butt-hurt because they weren’t asked permission.

      And they are all vindictive bitches, which is why they have the job.

  6. He should have carved the Rebel Flag into them.

  7. You know, last time I was in that area I didn’t notice a shortage of trees. Did something change?

    1. Did you notice a shortage of assholes?

      1. And they’re still flooding in by the trainload.

        1. Pretty sure DC is at capacity. You’re just seeing the turnover. Northern Virginia, on the other hand…

      2. Did you notice a shortage of assholes?

        No – I did not, now that you mention it.

  8. This is why we can’t have nice things. The Federal government does lots damage to liberty because it can hit everyone in the country all at once, but local governments specialize in singling out individuals for focused abuse.

  9. the Georgetown community expressed its outrage,

    When you live among snakes, you gon’ get bit.

    1. 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.”

      Nice.

      1. “our” trees?

    2. Man’s mistake was in not cutting the neighbors before the trees.

  10. Department of Transportation governs first degree pruning?

    1. That’s what struck me too. What the hell!

  11. This guy knew what he was getting into when he bought the property. The restrictions on your ability to change an historic property, including in this case the trees, are known to the public and the price of said properties are discounted accordingly. Sorry, but he can’t now come back and claim some harm because he was prevented from doing something that he knew he couldn’t do when he bought the property.

    If this guy had owned the property and Georgetown passed this ordinance, then yes, he has a legitimate claim for compensation here and Georgetown either needs to pay him for no longer being able to trim his trees as he wishes and make him whole or let him trim his trees. But if he as it is likely that he bought the property knowing the restrictions, then he has to live by the restrictions. If he wants to trim his trees, he should have bought a different house where that right was part of the bundle of rights purchasing the property gave him.

    1. The restrictions on your ability to change an historic property, including in this case the trees, are known to the public

      But wasn’t he cutting back the trees in order to comply with his obligation to preserve the historic property? Such cases of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t are not at all uncommon.

      1. If it was the case that not cutting the trees would have violated his obligation to preserve the property, then yes, that is bullshit. Whatever the obligations are, they have to be consistent and clear.

      2. They issue permits for that kind of thing.

        If he were clever, he’d have poisoned the trees. Then cut them down.

  12. People are way too in love with trees. I live in an old neighborhood with old trees, all except on my yard, where we extracted the lone sapling for being too close to the sewer line and not anywhere visually appealing. We might install some in the interest of landscaping, but for now we’re enjoying a yard with actual grass on it.

    1. Trees give shade when it is most needed. They lower the summer temperature at ground level. They improve air quality when they aren’t blooming. They provide habitats for entire ecosystems of birds and mammals, many of which help keep the bug population under control. They are pretty in different ways each season of the year. There are many reasons to love trees. But to each his own.

      1. The ones surrounding my property are squirrel factories and a couple are close enough to have a target painted on my roof. Fuck ’em.

        I prefer the nice stately openness of a house surrounded by nothing, so that you can actually see it. The trees should be a ways off, nicely arranged and manicured, in the garden.

        1. You really are a control freak aren’t you?

          1. Over my own property, that’s all. I thought that was kind of a thing in these parts.

            1. I thought that was kind of a thing in these parts.

              Yet you condemn everyone else for it in the most hyperbolic terms. Strange, that.

            2. Over my own property, that’s all.

              That’s all? Not over anyone else’s?

              1. Yes I’m the only person in the world who judges other people’s lawns.

        2. Wow. We agree on something. Trees suck. I haven’t had a garden in way too fucking long because everywhere I go I’m surrounded by trees. Fucking trees. Five hours of direct sun if I’m lucky. Can’t grow anything with that.

        3. Fuck squirrels. They were horrible at my last house where I had two pecan trees (pronounced puhcahn. PeeCans are what you use on road trips to avoid rest stops). I wouldn’t cut them down so I had a shady back yard. If you want grass with trees then get different grass.

    2. I’m in agreement with you, Tony. Trees can be a humongous pain in the ass. Especially when a neighbor’s tree’s leaves blow into your recently-raked yard…

      1. Or into your pool……grrrrrrr.

  13. “Appropriate sanctions should be imposed to preserve the trees in Georgetown both for ourselves and for future generations.”

    What’s magic about *trees*? How about sanctions to preserve the mushrooms and rats in Georgetown for future generations?

    1. How about sanctions to preserve the mushrooms and rats in Georgetown for future generations?

      They already run things.

  14. Your trees, your property, your decisions.

  15. Why is the DOT involved in private property concerns?

    1. Some portion of the public right-of-way (i.e. street, hence DOT) extends into “private” lots.

      1. Sounds logical *eyeroll*

  16. This is why they make chemicals that, when poured into a fairly small hole drilled in an obscure location near the base of the tree, will kill the tree forcing the landowner to succumb to the reality that the tree needs to be eliminated before it becomes a hazard to the lovely citizens of the community. It’s sad, it was a lovely tree, and nobody wanted to see it gone but it had to be removed for the safety of the community.

    Oh, it’s always nice if you casually ask your neighbors if they know how to help save such a magnificent and lovely tree while noting that it isn’t looking as healthy as it once was. You know, so you can try to save it now “before” it dies and becomes a safety hazard.

  17. Ah, yes. Another D.C. Catch-22.

    If you leave the trees alone and they damage the house, you get fined for failing to preserve a historic structure. If you trim the trees to protect the house, you get fined for damaging historic trees and excoriated by your neighbors.

    Note, though, that when DDOT cut trees in their right-of-way fronting his property, there is no mention of complaint by the neighbors.

    One hopes that when Ms. Ocasio-Cortez finally finds a place to live in D.C., she has such neighbors.

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