09/20/18: FALL TREE HOUSE UPDATE:
Ward 6 Cub
Scout, Daisy Scout and Brownie Scout leaders, contact the Psychas-Yees if you'd like to bring your troupe to the tree house for fall Birding Activities! firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to everybody in the neighborhood who stopped by the 3rd annual 4th of July open house, the best yet. Almost 200 people of all ages turned up 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" 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 of this year. 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:
Ellen Psychas and Bing Yee, longtime Hill residents, ask DC permiting officials which building authorizations would be required to build a backyard tree house on their lot at Archibald Walk SE, just south of
Eastern Market. The proposed kids fort would jut 20 inches over a mulch-covered public-private tree box abutting an alley from which vehicles have long been banned. 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 tree house platform
will be 30 SQF).
August-September 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 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.
October-November 2015: A
neighbor complains to the permitting agencies that the tree house was built in a public tree and constitutes a public nuisance (both untrue). A senior DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) inspector visits the alley and directs
the parents to apply for a construction permit for the fort to extend slightly into public air space over tree roots. The parents do as instructed, quickly securing the permit. DDOT 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.
December 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 ANC and the City's preeminent zoning commission, the Public Space Commitee (PSC), review 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" 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. Later, in October 2017, the parents lodge a complaint about the hacking with the FBI Internet Crimes Center.
Predictably, the PSC denies the "renewal application," the agency's crude attempt to take an administrative shortcut to revoking a closed permit after neighbors had complained about the tree house. No permit revocation documents are served.
At heated ANC hearings and a PSC hearing, City officials dodge Bing's questions about the status of the original permit.
2016-November 2017: The parents appeal the 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 the agency now refuses to recognize. The City fines the parents $8,000 for not "abating" the tree house from public space, with several 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 NOVs/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 shenanigans, threatening a homeowner's right to due process, Bing, a lawyer with the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (but not a litigator), and
Ellen sue DDOT. The parents represent themselves in 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 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. The Federal complaint can
be found under Castle Paper Trail, along with other documents probing City construction permitting dysfunction.
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 Court of Appeals dismisses the City's motion to throw out the appeal, and
refers the case to mediation. DC lawyers now argue that there was never a "permit renewal" process. DDOT makes the inventive claim that the parents had actually applied for a second permit, a (mythical but mandatory)
"public space occupancy permit," which the PSC denied.
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 Bing and Ellen. The Federal case is assigned to busy Judge Amy Berman Jackson, the Obama appointee who's hearing the DC Manafort case in the Mueller inquiry.
May-August 2018: Office of the Attorney General-DC attorneys and the parents take turns filing motions in the Federal suit. By now,
SEVEN SENIOR CITY ATTORNEYS, one with DDOT and half a dozen with the DC AG's Office, have been assigned to the tree house case over a three-year period. None of these lawyers has been able to bring about the structure's
"abatement from public space" (destruction). The City's campaing to wreck a legal homemade kids fort, built for about $1,500, has already cost DC taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Clearly, the District's war
on a tree house has been designed to dissuade other homeowners from challenging everyday permitting abuses.
September 27th, 2018: An oral arguments hearing at the DC Appellate Court, before a 3-judge panel, is fast approaching. Contact us for more information if you'd like to