07/12/18. JULY UPDATE. Welcome to the tree house web site.
Many thanks to everybody in the neighborhood who came to our 3rd Independence Day
open house, the best yet. Around 175 people of all ages stopped by for cake and lemonade after the Capitol Hill Community Parade on 8th Street. More than 80 arboreal travelers, ages 3-10, collected stamps in "tree house passports" up in the elm, and some fired off nerf arrows on the south arm of Archibald Walk. The atmosphere was joyous - what a morning to remember! See Community Events (below) and Photo Gallery.
Did you hear? The tree house case landed in the US District Court of the District of Columbia in January. The Washington Post Metro Section ran
this surprising report, after finding the lawsuit via Pacer Legal filings:
The story about
the Federal suit was scooped by none other than the DC Urban Turf blog. Their report emphasizes that the tree house builders are challenging DDOT's denial of due process in construction permitting.
TREE HOUSE CASE TIMELINE:
July 2015: Ellen Psychas and Bing Yee, longtime Hill residents,
ask DC permiting officials which construction authorizations would be required to build a backyard tree house on their lot at 516 Archibald Walk SE, near Eastern Market. The proposed kids fort would jut
a foot and a half into public air space over the public-private tree box abutting an alley from which vehicles have been banned for decades. The creative design would enable them to use a fence with posts laid in concrete as supports,
minimizing the drilling of giant lag bolts into their century-old American elm tree. They discover that there is no reference to tree houses or play forts in the DC Municipal Regulations (DCMR) or Historic Preservation
Rules. They show officials project plans and are told that DC does not permit kids forts with footprints of less than 50 SQF (the fort will be 30 SQF).
2015: The homemade tree house is built for the Yee girls, then ages 3 and 5. Immediate neighbors are left notes telling them that a non-permitted fort will go up in the family's tree. None react.
The new structure does not extend over a paved surface or obstruct any form of travel, and cannot be viewed from any street.
One neighbor complains to the permitting agencies that the tree house was built in a public tree, and constitutes a public nuisance (untrue). A senior DDOT inspector visits the alley and directs the parents to apply for a construction
permit for the tree house to extend into public air space over a tree space. The parents do as instructed right away, quickly securing the permit. A DDOT City-wide permitting manager chooses the permit
type and length. The permit closes on Nov. 20th. The parents are not real estate professionals and this is their first public space permit.
2015-January 2016: A dozen neighbors living near the tree house sign a tree house tear-down petition, addressed to Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B. The City's preeminent zoning commission,
the Public Space Commitee (PSC), reviews a permit "renewal" application the parents did not submit for a "proposed tree house" that has stood for months. The "renewal" is of a closed "balcony" construction permit
under a Dept. of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) code, clearly in a different category than a limited-duration "public space rental" or "occupancy permit," e.g. for a street festival or parking. No DC official had advised that
the family's permit was temporary, or that City review was required, and nothing was put in writing.
A DDOT official goes into Ellen's permitting account to apply for the "renewal," unbeknown
to her, and changes her password. He memorializes the hacking in an email. Predictably, the PSC denies the "renewal application," the agency's crude attempt to take an administrative shortcut to revoking a closed construction permit after
neighbors had complained about the tree house. No permit revocation documents are ever served. At two heated ANC 6B hearings and a PSC hearing, City officials dodge Bing's questions about the status of the original permit.
February 2016-November 2017: The parents appeal the PSC permit application "renewal" denial at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) and the DC
Court of Appeals. DDOT ignores the parents' requests for clarification of the status of the original permit, which DDOT refuses to recognize. The City fines the parents $8,000 for not "abating" the tree house from
public space, with all these Notices of Violation served in the wrong homeowner's name, to a "Mr. Lee" vs. a "Mr. Yee." The notices are served via certified mail, meaning that US Post Office staff will not release them to Bing.
He's unaware that he's being fined for a year after DDOT improperly serves the first NOV.
November 2017-January 2018: DDOT refuses court mediation
at OAH, even though the lead judge has lined up a mediator. The agency withdraws the fines, to re-serve them in the correct name. The Office of the DC Attorney General begins representing DDOT, with a current Deputy AG working on the
case. After more than two years of being on the receiving end of abusive administrative errors and permitting malfeasance, threatening a homeowner's right to due process under the 5th Amendment, Bing, a lawyer with the U.S. Dept. of
Homeland Security (but not a litigator), and Ellen sue DDOT, representing themselves. The suit is the first complaint they file in any court of law. The case is brought in U.S. District Court under the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act
(CFAA), and other causes of action. The parents sue pro se right before the two-year statute of limitations on various causes of action is to expire, with the goal of simply keeping the tree house while their
girls are young. You can read the Federal complaint and Court of Appeals filings under the Castle Paper Trail header.
February 2018: The City argues that the Federal lawsuit is "not ripe," illogically, after having argued that the case "is moot" at OAH. A 3-judge panel at the DC Court of
Appeals dismisses the City's motion to throw out Bing's appeal, and refers the case to mediation.
March-April 2018: The City
files a motion get the Federal case dismissed. Mediation fails at the DC Court of Appeals after the City feels the need to send a team of five senior officials--several attorneys, and two division chiefs--to a full
day of mediation with Ellen and Bing. The Federal case is assigned to busy Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the Obama appointee who's hearing the Manafort cases in the Mueller inquiry.
May-June 2018: Office of the Attorney General attorneys and the parents take turns filing motions in the Federal suit. By now, SEVEN DIFFERENT
SENIOR CITY ATTORNEYS have been assigned to the tree house case. None has been able to bring about the structure's "abatement from public space" (destruction). The City's wasteful campaign to demolish a legal backyard
child's fort, designed to dissuade other homeowners from challenging the permitting agencies, has already cost DC taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.