TREE HOUSE UPDATE, FEBRUARY 2021: Welcome to the Capitol Hill tree house blog, which has attracted more than 70,000 views since its inception in early 2016. We, the tree house-building parents, Ellen Psychas and Bing Yee, created this site with help from supporters during the alley media blitz in early 2016. Our little blog has gained steam over the years, mainly due to Washington Post coverage
of the tree house saga through four news stories and two opinion pieces. Media coverage came as a real surprise.
At Thanksgiving, the Post reported that, against
long odds, the little castle off an historic mews at 516 Archibald Walk SE, built in our elm tree in the summer of 2015, can stay where it is for several more years. Our children's tree house has survived despite the fact that
the DC Dept. of Transportation (DDOT) worked assiduously to get the fully permitted structure torn down for five years. Our legal appeals of the DC
Public Space Committee's decison to compel us to "abate" the fort from 20" of public air space, back in early 2016 ran until fall 2020. The tree house case slowly wended its way through the Federal court system for several years before settling in mediation
If you're a tourist on Capitol Hill who likes getting off the beaten path, come find the castle-styled tree house that caused all the fuss. Our play fort's
exterior is easily viewed from Archibald Walk, a "U"-shaped public alley looping off F Street Terrace. The historic alley network is located a couple blocks south of Eastern Market, extending between 6th and 7th and E and G Streets, a world unto itself
that's worth exploring.
A team of DC government attorneys came at our permitted tree house year after year even though the group of neighbors who had pushed for the castle's destruction over the
winter of 2015-2016 had abandoned their campaign by late 2016. Fortunately, we reached an out-of-court settlement with the District in fall 2020, in federal court mediation. The agreement, reached under the auspices of the US Court of Appeals,
D.C. Circuit, preserves the tree house until 2024, by which time our young daughters will have gone on to middle school, and outgrown playing in the small fort.
WUSA Channel 9 produced an upbeat 1-minute clip on the resolution of the saga at Thanksgiving. The camera crew showed the treehouse from a child's prospective. This has been our favorite local media story, because is depicts the castle just as it is,
nothing more than a whimsical, temporary play space for kids sticking out a few inches over a mulched, wood-enclosed tree box off a residential alley, blocking nothing.
The Washington Post reported on the end of the 5-year-long treehouse saga on November
24th (on-line) and 27th (print), the 4th and final story in the series. The Post alludes to DDOT's permitting malfeasance, incompetence and intransience in the tree house matter, which cost DC taxpayers a hefty sum in city litigators' hours.
Our arboreal play fort is situated off a narrow U-shaped back alley near Eastern Market. Archibald Walk SE loops off F St. Terrace between E & G and 6th & 7th Streets. Our legal appeals of the DC Public Space Committee's decison to compel us to "abate" the fort from 20" of public air space, back in early 2016 ran until autumn 2020. The tree house case slowly wended its way through
the Federal court system from January 2018 to this fall.
This past Independence Day was the first since the tree house was built that we couldn't host a community open house, due to the Covid19 crisis.
Next year; stay safe.
We're pleased that the tree house has survived to see Covid19 restrictions as a wondrous play space for cooped-up kids. Of course we had to cancel our Mothers Day open house during the DC shelter-in-place
period. Even so, the castle made the Uncommon District photography blog in the spring, featured in "Photographing
While Social Distancing, Part 3." During the pandemic, young families with homes nearby have been playing socially distanced games around the tree house, e.g. badminton, handball and street hockey.
There's a simple reason that our girls' tree house remains in our elm off a hidden alley enclave, long after DDOT first ordered us to demolish the play castle, in October of 2015. DDOT issued us with a public space construction permit under a DCRA construction code (not as a temporary public space rental permit) in November 2015, and let that authorization close out the same month. With a closed permit in hand,
we were in a position to push back against the City's campaign to push the tree house of of 20" of public alley air space. DDOT alleged that the play fort must go because it "blocks travel," but can see that the plywood structure doesn't overhang
a paved surface. Moreover, the alley in question, Archibald Walk SE, has been closed to vehicular traffic for decades.
Over the winter of 2015-2016, after our permit had already closed out, eleven residents
of nearby streets signed a petition to get the tree house torn down, addressed to Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) 6B. In mid 2016 we realized that neither of the zoning commissions that had come at the tree house to appease the
objecting neighbors--not the (ANC) 6B Planning & Zoning Committee nor the Public Space Committee (PSC)--had the authority to overrule permits. At that point--please excuse our gall--we decided to spread the word that City permitting agencies are known to demand that
homeowners demolish structures covered by valid permits. Fail to comply with an unlawful permit revocation attempt and face enormous fines: DC homeowner beware.
In early 2018, we COUNTERSUED DDOT in the US District Court of DC, representing ourselves. In fact, we did all of our own legal work. We sued to challenge DDOT's denial of our right to due process in permitting in order to save
the castle for our girls while they are still in elementary school. Our countersuit was such a low-priority matter for the courts that judges were in no hurry to hear the case. Meanwhile our children, who were tiny tots when the tree house was
built in 2015, are now 8 and 10 years old.
On 12/28/18, the popular DCist: News, Food, Art & Events blog RAN
A FEATURE on Not-in-My-Back-Alley squabbles. Deane Madsen, architectural writer, brings readers up to date on the castle with the first media report poking fun at DDOT''s incompetent permitting work. The witty Madsen notes that
DDOT sent citations to a "non-existent Mr. Lee" (vs. to our Mr. Bing Yee) fining him $8,000 for failing to tear his tree house down.