TREE HOUSE UPDATE, APRIL 2021: Welcome to the Capitol Hill tree house blog, which has attracted over 73,000 views since its inception five years ago. 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 via four news stories and a couple opinion pieces. Media coverage came as a real surprise.
The whimsical tree house has survived
despite the fact that the DC Dept. of Transportation (DDOT) worked assiduously to get the fully permitted structure torn down from fall 2015 to summer 2020. Our legal appeals of
the decision of the early 2018 DC Public Space Committee's to compel us to "abate" the fort from 20" of public air space went on for years. The District's decison to push the tree house out of a tiny sliver of public space--read destroy it--cost District
taxpayers dearly in lawyers' time as the case slowly wended their way through the lower courts. The tree house case landed in the US District Court of DC eventually, before settling in court mediation in fall 2020.
CBS 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 treehouse saga on
November 24th 2020, the fourth and final installment in a series of articles. The newspaper reported that, against long odds, the castle off an historic mews at 516 Archibald Walk SE, built in our elm tree in 2015,
can stay where it is for several more years. The Post alluded to DDOT's permitting malfeasance, incompetence and intransience in the tree house matter, which ran District taxpayers a hefty sum in senior litigators' hours.
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. Archibald Walk SE, paved in tinted concrete, loops off F St. Terrace, paved in gray stamped pavers.
A team of DC government attorneys came at our permitted tree house year after year,
even though the small group of neighbors who'd pushed for its destruction in the fall of 2015 had abandoned their campaign by late 2016. The tree house case agreement, reached under the auspices of mediation at the US Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit,
preserves the structure until our young daughters will have outgrown it.
We're pleased that the tree house has survived to see Covid19 restrictions as a wondrous play space for cooped-up kids. Unfortunately,
we had to cancel our Mothers Day 2020 open house during the shelter-in-place period, along with last summer's July 4th open house. But the castle made the Uncommon District photography blog last spring, featured in "Photographing While Social Distancing, Part 3." During the pandemic, a growing number of young families with homes nearby have been playing socially distanced games around the tree house, e.g. badminton,
freeze tag and street hockey.
There's a simple reason that our girls' tree house remains in our elm off a hidden alley enclave, years after DDOT first ordered us to demolish the play castle.
DDOT issued us with a public space construction permit under a DCRA construction code (not as a temporary public space rental permit as agency lawyers
claimed) 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 destroy the tree house. In court filings, the District argued 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.