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John Hasnas
Associate Professor
McDonough School of Business
Georgetown University

The Distinction Between Theory and Practice

(posted August 31, 2010)

Every once in a while, events from everyday life illustrate abstract principles. This summer, something that took place in my local homeowner community that provided a remarkable illustration of the extent to which practice can diverge from theory. I recount it here for purposes of illumination.

Our community surrounds a small lake, Lake Barcroft. The community has its own Yahoo internet group, Lakelink, that allows any resident who registers to post messages. I include below a selection from a series of postings (from which I have removed identifying information) that tells an interesting story. It begins with residents taking actions that they believe to be necessary to uphold the rule of law.

Posting #1:

[LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

Today (Sunday) was a pretty sad day.

From the water, I saw a Pinetree waterfront home chain sawing 2 or 3 huge and

healthy 40 foot trees in their backyard.

 

We went to the property to see what was going on and see if permits had been

pulled. They had not. The owner claimed she had lived there for many years and

there were no rules or regulations about cutting down trees at Lake Barcroft

(imagine that!). She could do as she pleased, and without any permission

required from anybody. Apparently she was putting in a greenhouse.

 

Even the workers knew it was wrong. Saying "Don't blame us, we just cut what she

told us." I wish I knew who they worked for, but they didn't use official

company trucks. And they took off without finishing the last tree. (maybe they

will come back tomorrow)

 

Too bad I was only able to stop them from cutting down one massive tree. The

rest are toast. I suppose the fine will be a couple hundred bucks. It isn't like

the trees can be replaced.

 

I can't figure out how to attach photos here, so here is an online album:

www.flickr.com/LakeBarcroftCom . I plan on getting more photos later off my

other camera, and I will add it to that link. The other photos have some of the

workers in them. If you recognize the workers, it would be great to get them

blacklisted. They knew it was wrong, but tried to get a quick buck.

 

I also plan on reporting them to the County (2 others are already doing this as

well). I suggest you do as well.

Posting #2:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

I am not a lawyer, or any sort of land-use manager or professional. I'm just filling in some more details since I had such a hard time figuring them out myself. All I know of the situation is what I've read here on LakeLink and have therefor not talked at all with the owner and haven't heard their side of things.

If the address is (address removed) as stated in another LakeLink email is correct, then the lot number is 801.

I went to the Fairfax County Digital Map Viewer here: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/gisapps/pdfViewer/ (as linked to originally by Aysegül) and requested the Chesapeake Bay Map for the grid being discussed (61-4 Pinetree Terrace is in the upper left corner) you can see that there is a Resource Protection Area (RPA) that covers about 3/4ths of lot 801 up from the lakeshore. So it is certainly in a Resource Protection Area and would require additional permission prior to doing more than maintenance.

After a brief scan of the Chesapeake Bay regulations (http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/chesapeake_bay_local_assistance/documents/act_regs/regs_9-4-08.pdf), I found two points that I think apply in this situation:

1) Tree Removal: 9VAC10-20-130. Development criteria for Resource Protection Areas, Page 15 (emphasis added by me):

5. Permitted modifications of the buffer area.

a. In order to maintain the functional value of the buffer area, existing vegetation may be removed, subject to approval by the local government, only to provide for reasonable sight lines, access paths, general woodlot management, and best management practices, including those that prevent upland erosion and concentrated flows of stormwater, as follows:

(1) Trees may be pruned or removed as necessary to provide for sight lines and vistas, provided that where removed, they shall be replaced with other vegetation that is equally effective in retarding runoff, preventing erosion, and filtering nonpoint source pollution from runoff.

2) The FAQ at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/navbar/faqs/rpa.htm talks about constructing "Accessory Structures," more specifically sheds, in an RPA (emphasis added by me):

Are sheds allowed in Resource Protection Areas?

The administrative waiver available for minor additions is not available for construction of detached accessory structures such as sheds. Accessory structures are specifically prohibited in the state regulations from consideration as minor additions. However, the construction of small sheds that do not require a building permit (the current limit under the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code is 150 square feet of building area) constructed over existing maintained grass lawns can be considered to be an inconsequential modification to an existing use and may be permitted. As a general rule, sheds should only be located in RPAs when there are no reasonable alternatives for locating the shed outside of the RPA. Sheds should be designed so that they do not inhibit or alter surface flow. Locating a shed in an undisturbed RPA area is more problematic because there would normally be at least some other place on the lot that the shed could be located without encroaching into the undisturbed area of the RPA and should be discussed with county staff. The construction of multiple small sheds in the RPA also is problematic and should be discussed with county staff.

If Frank is right and the property owner is planning on constructing a greenhouse (presumably detached), that is also prohibited by the regulations, unless it's less than 150 square feet and even then it will need a waiver.

Posting #3:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

So, where is the prosecution and penalties? To date, it seems anyone can do anything, cut trees, build houses beyond code -

Each of these transgressions lessen the values of our individual properties and of the lake as a whole.

If someone wants live on a barren property, they should look elsewhere. When are we, and our local government, going to stand up for the interests of most instead of the lawbreakers?

Posting #4:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

I wonder: is there a law in place which would address the water frontage footage which may come under the protection of the environmental agency which in turn can enforce and penalize and most importantly requires permission before any tree or significant vegetation be removed ?

Also , I was told by a neighbor who also has sadly witnessed the removal of trees (right by the lake, next to her property) that even hefty fines do not deter those homeowners who apparently can afford to pay those fines and go on do what they want to do! So the question remains, should anyone not complying with the law in place (if any) can get prosecuted?

Posting #5:

Re: [LBA] Fwd: Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

Hi all: I find this kind of behavior absolutely abhorrent. Kevin or George: are there no regulations/laws being violated here? Is a lawsuit possible or pursuit of a criminal violation for lack of permit? This person, whoever she is, has lowered every lake resident's quality of life. I'm all for ownership rights, I live on lakefront, too. But I would never, ever consider doing something as selfish and destructive as this. And we should send a signal to anyone else who might consider doing so. Please respond. Thanks!

Posting #6:

More cutting? Twitter Re:Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees W/o Perm (pix)

 

I just got an email that the Pinetree house is doing more cutting now.

 

Perhaps it is to cut up the stuff that already fell.

 

But my big question is if they will cut down the one tree I stopped them from

cutting. I will head over now on the boat. I will post updates with videos and

photos on my TWITTER account. @LakeBarcroftCom

Posting #7:

RE: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

Hi, all: I just received a call from Penny Rood at the Dep't of Land Development Services/Office of Public Works who says she received a lot of emails and phone calls from Barcrofters but not until after 4:30 yesterday. She has been in court all morning along with the relevant inspector.

She is sending him out to the Pinetree house this afternoon (between 2p and 5p.) If those who know the law and may have pictures of the illegal tree-cutting could please go to try to meet the inspector there this afternoon, that would be extremely helpful.

She apologizes that she will not be able to return calls or emails until next week. She asks that everyone please bear with her but she is very concerned about allegations of people breaking environmental laws and will examine every complaint. She is in touch with Penny Gross' office as well.

PLEASE TRY TO BE THERE TO LET THE INSPECTOR KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE FIRST-HAND KNOWLEDGE.

Thanks!

At this point, a dissident voice entered the discussion.

Posting #8:

RE: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

Where is the voice of reason? I don’t think that all the blame should lie on the homeowner." Don’t blame us we just cut what she told us" is lame! Why didn’t the "professional" tree cutters insist on getting permits before doing the work if the law states that a permit is required? Every legitimate contractor knows what permits they need for what they are asked to do. They had every right to say they would not cut down the trees without a permit. I hate to say this but I didn’t know I needed a permit if I lived on the lake to get a tree cut down. How does a homeowner on the lake get this information? Everyone that lives here doesn’t subscribe to lakelink. Most people that own homes outside of a gated community believe they are free to do what they want with whatever grows on their land. My sweet elderly neighbors across the street have never been on Lakelink and they’ve lived here a long time. Honestly, why couldn’t it just be ignorance on the part of the homeowner?

How was the homeowner approached? Could they have been put on the defensive? If I were confronted in an angry accusatory manner I’d shut down immediately and tell the accuser to mind their business. Then it becomes a matter of control. I keep cutting on my property and the accuser gets angrier. Then we have scorched earth and an endless feud. Cool heads prevail! A couple of calls to the proper authorities would have done the job. Do we really need so many people involved? To what end? How badly do you want to punish? Aren’t monetary fines enough? Do you want to put your neighbors in jail or do you want to prevent this from happening again?

Do what you feel you must do to make this right. It’s sad and wrong that a few old healthy trees have been cut down but I really believe that everyone is barking up the wrong tree. The tree cutters role is key in all of this. They must be held accountable too. Don’t be so quick to place ALL the blame on the homeowner, our neighbor.

Does the board/homeowners association give homeowners a welcome package of some sort that includes information about Lake Barcroft, permits, rules, laws, etc., or do they have to search for this information on their own? Maybe something to consider…

This posting set off an interesting exchange.

Posting #9:

RE: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

that has to be one of the dumber arguments I've read in a LONG time.

Posting #10:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

Mr. (name removed), were you just trying to be rude, or will you tell us why that was so dumb?

Posting #11:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

Let's see, the contractor is at fault for doing what the homeowner knows is illegal activity?

Posting #12:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

Very diplomatic. Or not.

Posting #13:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

Not meant to be diplomatic.

Meant to stir the pot; this kind of 'blame some one else' garbage should not be acceptable in our community.

Every time some "independent" land owner decides to take the law into their own hands, we all are impacted. Negatively. Dollars.

Why would someone buy here if the intention is to remove the value of the community? To clear cut, damage the lake (owned by all of us, not one individual), why buy here?

Why should the community accept such practices? Why does the county fail to enforce its own laws?

I'd enjoy reading (name removed)’s or (name removed)’s explanation of why it is ok for some one in the community to disregard the law and lessen my (and your) property value?

Posting #14:

RE: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

"Meant to stir the pot" is quite evident. I have nothing to explain to you. I trust that the proper authorities will deal with this situation accordingly. It’s very easy, as we can all see, to sit back, make assumptions and throw stones. I’ve not seen that the homeowner has been given the benefit of the doubt nor have I seen anyone come up with a solution to avoid a similar situation in the future. Part of protecting this community also includes looking out for each other. To say that homeowners should know all the laws pertaining to property rights, especially laws that pertain to living on a lake or any other similar special place, is unreasonable and absolutely ridiculous. It is unfortunate that all too many times homeowners learn about these laws when they accidentally break them.

Posting #15:

RE: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

When one buys a home in the Lake, there is a large binder that is given to you with much information about the Lake; I believe that there is information included about the watershed, and the special obligations we have as homeowners. Might be wrong, but as I’m traveling right now I can’t check. If there is not clear information included, I hope it will be now.

The larger point is that we ARE required to know the laws of the community in advance, AND to obey them. We expect drivers to know, and obey, the traffic laws. We expect professionals to know, and obey, the rules governing their professions.

Ignorance is never an effective defense, and it should not be allowed to become one. Sadly, the popular adage that "it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission" seems to be taking hold in the public at large as a humorously acceptable excuse for knowingly selfish behavior.

I’m not saying that this was or wasn’t such a case, but it seems even more information and education up front is required to safeguard our Lake (and our property values). Perhaps any fines levied by the LBA in this instance could be used for a special informational mailing to all residents about their duties as landowners in the Lake.

Posting #16:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

As a member of a family that has owned a Lake Barcroft home since 1953, I wanted to acknowledge the email by (name removed). I was at beach 4 for my evening swim last night looking at the house on Pine Tree and in my opinion the removal of trees has lessen the value of the property, regardless of what they should or should not have done.

When my family was planning to buy a lot in Barcroft, one of the considerations was lakeside ownership. It was made clear to us that these lots came with unique responsibilities. Major tree removal in Lake Barcroft is not new; we all remember the Dearborn drive issue. It was mentioned that the Pine Tree property owner was a long time resident, how could they not remember the community sentiment about Dearborn.

Maybe it's time to make an example of this type of conduct, but if we do we must stop ignoring other flagrant violations in this community, on and off the lake. Our association needs to look at a more effective way to handle individuals that have lost perspective on the privilege of being a Lake Barcroft property owners, especially when it creates a negative impact on their immediate neighborhood and the community as a whole.

At this point, another dissident voice entered the discussion.

Posting # 17:

RE: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

 

With all due respect to all that have expressed their opinions about this...Is

this America, or the Soviet Union? Do we still have the right to private

property or are we subjects to the communal wishes? As sad as it is to see

healthy trees being cut down, from my understanding of the Constitution and the

Bill of Rights (yes, I have read them), that it is the right of the property

owner to do as it wishes within his property. Please correct me if I am wrong.

This kind of policing between neighbors reminds me of the block coordinators in

Cuba or Venezuela.

It would be fair to say that, initially, this intervention was not well-received.

Posting #18:

RE: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission (photos)

It is not merely a question of tree lovers unhappy with healthy trees being cut down - but a violation of ordinances and laws in our democratic country that were put in place in our democratic country for some good reasons. I've certainly learned a lot in the past two days about RPAs!

Posting #19:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

I do indeed hope this is a joke because it is both risible and tragic. Risible in its complete misunderstanding of American property law, rights, and restrictions; tragic in that it was stated by a Lake resident who one would hope would have a greater understanding of the interconnectedness of our environmental gem of a community.

Posting #20:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

 

I find it interesting that keeping waterfront trees intact was compared to

policies in Cuba and Venezuela. Especially given that my parents are both Cuban,

and had their homes taken from them. Oh, and I was born in Venezuela.

 

The main difference is that in those countries this discussion would lead to

jailtime. So I actually love that you expressed your opinion, as it creates a

dialogue that can fire up others to help preserve the lake. And maybe in the

process there can be some education that might just make those with opposing

views, perhaps not change their mind, but at least think twice.

 

Sure people own land and can do as they please, but the line is drawn when a

homeowner's actions effect other people. You might agree that a homeowner can't

just change their car oil and dump it a foot from the lake, right? Well cutting

8 trees as old as 100 years old will directly effect the lake and thus directly

effects me. Do as you wish on your land, unless it effects me. Call me selfish.

 

INSPECTOR

Anyhow, today I met with Antonio Torrico (along with 2 other residents), the

Fairfax County RPA Case Investigator. He seems to be taking it very seriously

and also said the judges take these matters seriously. He was flooded with

complaints (good job).

 

(MY) SUMMARY OF DAMAGES

A total of 8 trees were cut. Most were healthy, some were up to 100 years old.

There were 2 more trees that Nason Contracting was planning on cutting, but we

were able to stop them. One huge one in the front yard and one near the

waterfront. All 10 trees were to be cut to make way for a greenhouse.

You can watch a video of a walk through showing the 8 cut trees on my Twitter

account www.twitter.com/LakeBarcroftcom (I will keep this account updated with

progress reports).

 

FINES AND PENALTIES:

This could handled as a criminal misdemeanor. The maximum fines are $2,500 per

person "involved." Maybe no big deal for a homeowner that was trying to sell

their house for $2.5M in 2005. But that fine can also include the contractor. I

wonder if that could also extend to each employee so that the fines can reach

over $15,000 and finally have some teeth (most likely the employer or homeowner

would have to pay for it all).

 

Antonio also said that penalties can be as severe as 1 year in jail. My guess is

this verdict is highly unlikely, because the judge will probably want to see

proof of knowledge of wrongdoing (but who knows).

 

On top of the possible fines, supposedly an engineer is hired to do an impact

report and then require replacement trees to try and make up/fix the damage.

 

MOVING FORWARD

Nason Contracting- Boycott them. Don't even add them to the Contractor list

(they weren't already on there). I did my part by writing a nice little blog

post on them. It now appears higher then their main site when you search for

them on Google. Hopefully that will warn others from using them. (Another

resident told me the BBB wouldn't take a complaint like)

 

Residents- Discussions like this will help people understand the laws. I believe

this topic will be written about in the newsletter and maybe paperwork can be

added to the official HOA docs which are delivered at the time a home is

purchased. Then it will be harder to say "sorry I didn't know."

 

Google Streetview... from the lake.

How about a Google streetview type system but from the lake? Without proof of

the "before," it is hard to go "after" anybody. Aerial views are good, but not

good enough. I can do this in about 2 hours with video or photos.

 

REWARDS

I suggest there be a reward for those that report illegal cutting of trees.

Imagine how vigilant the lifeguards might become! Maybe $500 for reporting any

tree cutting that turns out to be a violation? Heck I'd sponsor that program.

 

Thanks for making it so my newborn can have a clean place to swim in a few years

(in case some missed the correlation, trees help keep the lake clean),

www.twitter.com/lakebarcroftcom (video)

Posting #21:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

Since you have asked to be corrected if you are wrong, I am happy to oblige. There is not a single word in the U. S. Constitution (which includes the Bill of Rights) about the cutting of trees on personal property. If you actually read these documents as you claim, then you would be aware of this. It amazes me when people like yourself invoke the Bill of Rights whenever they think their personal rights (as defined by their own imagination and not by any law) have been violated.

As to your questions:

1) this is America, not the Soviet Union (which, by the way, no longer exists).

2) we still have the right to private property AND we are subject to communal wishes (often identified in the form of laws). It is not an either/or situation. The list of things it is not legal to do on one's personal property is a long one, and there is a good reason for all of the items on the list. America is a nation of laws. Love it or leave it.

Posting #22:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

Roberto,

Every human living in the Americas is an immigrant or the descendant of immigrants. Even the so-called "Native Americans" are descended from people who came here no more than 12,000 years ago, a mere instant in evolutionary time. As long as you abide by the laws of this country, no one has a valid right to call upon you to leave.

But I would suggest that there might be better places for you in America than this, a community inhabited (mostly) by people who feel a common responsibility for their mutual benefit. I think particularly of a community (if so it could be called) I studied a long time ago, located in a mountainous rural area in California. Like this, it was located around the shores of a quiet, wooded lake. It had been mining country, once upon a time, but by then it wasn't much of anything, and there were no zoning rules or other infringements on the holy rights of property owners to do as they wished. Your kind of place, it seems.

The geology professor I heard all this from had a series of photos taken over a period of about 15 years. In the first one the lake was clear and blue, surrounded by dense stands of evergreens, with a cabin or two here and there. Then property owners began to exercise their rights to cut trees. They cut them to build more, or to clear trails for snowmobiles and dirt bikes, or just for the hell of it, it seemed. Structures sprawled over the shores of the lake -- houses and garages and sheds and who knew what all. Brown stains in the lake marked runoff from the scars on the land. In the final pictures the lake was largely silted in, its shores raw and denuded, many of the structures derelict, some burned out. The end state of unhindered exercise of individual property rights.

I think of it as malignant individualism.

Posting #23:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

 

Well, I did not think that stating my opinion about this matter was going to

touch such a raw nerve with so many people. I did not mean to offend anybody, or

abdicate for anarchy as I have been accused of. I merely was trying to state my

opinion to provide some balance to the arguments being made. But this kind of

response was unexpected to say the least. It makes you think about speaking

out...probably not worth it. If this community only sees one side of the issues,

and does not allow anybody with an opposing view, it is probably reflecting the

general trend in the larger society. My apologies. I am a naturalized citizen of

this country, and I always thought that things were different here. But I have

received mail from my neighbors inviting me to leave. I guess dissenting voices

are inconvenient. I was never abdicating breaking laws or rules, because I am

educated enough, I hope, to know that that is the foundation of an orderly

society. But the kind of policing, taking pictures, and stalking that apparently

has been going on is unamerican in my view. Maybe I am wrong, and for that I

apologize again. This is my last post on this matter or any other in this group.

Thanks.

Posting #24:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

 

Plenty of us understand exactly the sentiment that Roberto (name removed) took the

time to express and share with the lakelink community link. The way he

expressed it and his passion against overbearing action in the name of the good

of the community may not be everybody's cup of tea, but malignant individualism

it is not Mr. Toohey. In struggling with difficult modern issues of environment

and economics this community is not different from millions and millions of

communities inside and outside the United States (totalitarian states aside).

However, it is different in that our geography, collective good will and yes,

the lakelink allow us to be closer to our neighbors if we choose to and enjoy the

benefits of good neighbors and sharing. When I need to mulch my beautiful trees

(those that I have not had to remove because of nature's own battle with us),

[Roberto] kindly lets me borrow his truck sometimes for days. His son has

been helping us with our computers for years. Mr. Oneil let me come to look at

his barge when we were renovating ours. Mr. Gommersal brought his to our dock.

Mr. Jafari lent me his fan for months. Mr. Haymore, Mr. Howe, Mrs. Washington

respond to every dumb question I have on home improvement, wild animals and

plants. I could go on and on, as you know. If you do not want to hear people

smart, dumb, or divergent opinions -- don't: skip the ones with the headings

that you know will upset you. If you want to report a neighbor for something

you think it is against the rules go ahead. Rules are broken everyday in the

millions of communities across the world -- some violations are pursued some are

not it all depends on the passion of the community for tolerating the violation

vis a vis everything else going on in that community and the budget and

political will to do so. We are all free to pursue our desires within the

boundaries of law, regulation and decency. Roberto is a decent,

caring, upstanding member of this community. If you are inviting him to leave,

we are inviting him to please disregard your invitation as dumb, offensive,

mean, not widely-shared, and perhaps a bit of malignant individualism.

Posting #25:

RE: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

I believe what Mr. (name removed) was pointing to was that many "Immigrants" have lost their way of why they came to the USA. Many take it for granted the freedoms that we have. He is suggesting you remember those freedoms as you go and butcher each other.

You suggesting that he look at other communities because he does not share in the disdain efforts of posting pictures, getting a mob to march and protest etc before the facts are completely known is very undemocratic and un-neighborly. And just because you only hear the voices you want, does not mean that those are the only voices here. There happens to be a quiet consortium, obviously we are not among the quiet.

Why don't you all put your verbal stones and pitchforks down, take a deep breath and let the proper authorities deal with this issue. I am sure the homeowner, and the rest of the community will enjoy a break from your commentary.

Posting #26:

RE: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

At 08:38 AM 7/15/2010, (name removed) wrote:

> I believe what Mr. Bermudez was pointing to was that many "Immigrants" have lost their way of why they came to the USA. Many take it for granted the freedoms that we have. He is suggesting you remember those freedoms as you go and butcher each other.

Oh, really? I read him as comparing those of us who might suggest infringement in the slightest degree on the absolute and unhindered rights of property to Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Gengis Khan is really more my speed.

> You suggesting that he look at other communities because he does not share in the disdain efforts of posting pictures, getting a mob to march and protest etc before the facts are completely known is very undemocratic and un-neighborly. And just because you only hear the voices you want, does not mean that those are the only voices here. There happens to be a quiet consortium, obviously we are not among the quiet.

Woow! I meant no more than to suggest that there were other places in our fair land that might come closer to his ideal than this. I cannot see how any sensible person of goodwill could possibly take offense at my efforts to provide a neighbor from foreign parts with information regarding the options open to him elsewhere in America. It certainly seems to me that the lake community I described comes much closer to his expressed ideal of absolute unhindered exercise of property rights than this one does.

All in good spirit. One of the advantages of LakeLink is that we have the option of not even opening messages when we see subjects not of concern, or the names of senders whose views we do not find of interest. Very different from sitting in a public meeting, or being cornered at a gathering.

Posting #27:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

All,

I am another regular quiet reader of LakeLink who feels this and other recent dialogues (tree cutting, beach party and others) have crossed a line of civility that is unbecoming of this great neighborhood.

As I look back over these postings, there seems to be a recurring theme: those who would disparage our neighbors, or deny them normal rights to property, or the benefit of due process, feel they are justified because other neighbors don’t feel a "common responsibility" or because "they are rich and trees are better then a greenhouse" or because "Lake Barcroft is better than Culmore. "

Doesn't it trouble some of you posters just a bit to say, "I am entitled to ostracize you, or deny you your legal rights because I am morally superior to you"? Especially when you are addressing people we all live now and for years to come? That's kind of a sad misunderstanding of the way our community and government are supposed to work.

My apologies to Mr. (name removed) and others on behalf of the quiet ones.

Posting #28:

Re: [LBA] Roberto (name removed) Belongs in this Community

I don't know whether anyone is counting me among those "inviting Mr. (Name removed) to leave". Just in case, let me be clear: I am sure Mr. (name removed) is a fine man, and the only invitation I have for him is that he understand that laws are intended to be obeyed. What prompted me to write in the first place was his implication that the "Bill of Rights" somehow means that people can do as they damn well please without regard for the rule of law. This, of course, is not true. The Bill of Rights guarantees a small set of specific rights to all Americans. The Bill of Rights does NOT give any American the right to violate any law. That is my only message to Mr. (name removed) (and anyone else who thinks the Bill of Rights says more than it actually does).

This is really a very straightforward issue. A law has clearly been broken by those responsible for cutting down these trees. To defend this action is to condone the breaking of laws. Simple as that.

Posting #29:

RE: [LBA] Roberto (name removed) Belongs in this Community

No one is disputing the fact that an illegal act has occurred or that the homeowner should not be held accountable for the illegal act. What you are obviously missing along with a few others is that many American homeowners do not realize they are breaking a law when they do things like cut down trees on their property when living on protected land. Ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law when one is aware that a law exists. Many believe that they own their land and everything on it to do with as they please. A prospective homeowner is not mandated to take courses in property rules and laws the same way a driver is required to learn the rules and laws of the road when they want to get a drivers license. Mr. (name removed) beliefs are not that different from mine and the majority of American homeowners. I was ignorant to the fact that living alongside a lake comes with extra laws and rules. So were several other LB residents. Of course I would have enough common sense not to dump in the lake if I lived on a lake but I would have never thought that I could not cut down a few trees. You would be very surprised to hear what many homeowners believe their rights are when it comes to their property. Their beliefs are not that different from mine and Mr. (name removed).

Posting #30:

Re: [LBA] Roberto (name removed) Belongs in this Community

>> Ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law when one is aware that a law exists.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't being unaware of the existence of a law, by definition, "ignorance of the law", and therefore not an excuse for breaking it?

Posting #31:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

 

There has been a lot of discussion over trees this week. Let me provide the facts as I know them.

Facts:

*

Fairfax County has issued a Notice of Violation for the removal of trees in a Resource Protection Area (RPA) at 3528 Pinetree Terrace.

*

Ms. Gross, the County Supervisor, has notified me that she will let me know when she has more information on the violation.

*

Mason District Urban Forester and Fairfax County Code Enforcement have told Nason Contracting not to cut anymore trees. The contractor may also be held liable for fines under the Chesapeake Bay Act.

*

A water quality impact assessment study of the site where the trees were taken down will be performed at the owner's expense.

*

A formal investigation is open. Preliminary findings indicate 8 large oak trees were recently cut down on this property and within the RPA. One of them appears diseased and would probably have been approved for removal had the resident filed a permit and followed the proper procedures.

*

Cutting trees down within a RPA without proper authorization is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $2500 and up to a year in jail. Remediation may be required to correct the situation with an appropriate number of indigenous over and understory trees and shrubs, planted densely to help replace the functionality of the recently cut trees.

 

More updates as I get them.

 

Thanks to all of you who are interested in preserving the natural beauty of Lake Barcroft and cared enough to inform your State and County elected officials of what had happened. While these alleged violations are not under LBA jurisdiction, LBA will continue its efforts to educate and inform the community on the value of the urban forest to the health of Lake Barcroft, and in an effort to protect our home values as well.

 

(Name removed)

President, Lake Barcroft Association

Posting #32:

Re: [LBA] Fairfax County Takes Action over Tree Removal

Some may see these as the actions of an oppressive dictatorship, but to me they sound like those of American local government as it has been time out of mind. In particular it appears that the homeowner and contractor will receive due process, which as I understand it has not been a notable feature of the regimes of Messrs. Castro and Chavez.

Posting #33:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

 

I would like to invite anyone to come inspect our dead tree that we would like

to remove (but please don't walk on our driveway, which was just sealed). Our

Lot # is 615. The bottom third of our Lot is in the RPA (see Map 61-1) - we

have water access but no water frontage. I believe it is clear that our very

dead tree, easily identified with no leaves, lies well outside the RPA (and is

well over 100 feet from the waterline). Thus, I don't believe I need anyone's

permission to remove my dead tree. Does anyone think otherwise?

 

Please let me know directly within the next few days - the "open comment period"

for community input on my tree - so that I do not face the prospect of being

reported to the County when the removal begins.

 

Also, please let me know if you are interested in this red oak for firewood.

Free to anyone who can split and remove.

Posting #34:

Re: [LBA] Waterfront Home Cuts Down Massive Trees Without Permission

 

The real question as I see it is why would anyone want to move into a

neighborhood where we have groups of people encouraged to be vigilantes running

after a neighbor with such ill will, or following vehicles down roads and

blocking them in, or sending the police to family gatherings? Who wants to be

in a neighborhood like that? You're worried about property values? Why don't

you worry about the impact you have not only on each other, but as role models

for the rest of the community?

 

I cannot tell you how disappointed I am in the adults in this neighborhood. You

talk about what a great place this is, what a wonderful community we live in and

then you treat each other with the disdain a grouchy grandfather might have

changing a dirty diaper. (My apologies to grandfathers everywhere, grouchy or

not.) We are all human, we all make mistakes. A person with honor tries to

make good on their mistakes. People of honor do not act as vigilantes or the

secret police. I now know why I have to teach people skills and character

traits to young students.

 

LakeLink's reputation is well known outside of our community. If you are

worried about your property values, then I would be concerned about how this

community is perceived. Even the friendly officers from FCPD bristle when

LakeLink or Lake Barcroft are mentioned. We are not good citizens who make good

choices, we are bashers and zealots and find it incredibly hard to take care of

ourselves, let alone each other.

 

For me, I am signing off LakeLink. This will be my second time. I wanted to

give it another chance because this technology can be used as a wonderful

resource and tool for the community. But that is not what it has become. So if

you see my dogs running free, or my kids driving too fast, or one of our cars

driving slowly through the neighborhood without a LB sticker on the bumper, feel

free to do what you think is necessary. In the meantime, Jake and I will be

swimming without leashes and enjoying life.

 

I would send all of you to time out until you realized that you are acting like

second graders--and that is an insult to many seven year olds I know.

Now, this exchange raises many issues. Within it, I can find discussions of the antinomies between 1) protecting community (and property) values and preserving personal property rights, 2) upholding the rule of law and doing justice in the case/having compassion for one’s neighbor, 3) democratic governance and individual liberty, and 4) freedom of speech and the obligations of civility. I can also find discussions of the principle that ignorance of the law is not an excuse and the meaning of the Constitution. I confess that one of the first things that came to my mind when reading the initial postings was the 1960 Twilight Zone episode, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street."

But none of these considerations prompted me to post the exchange. Rather, what I found most fascinating was the issue that generated no comment at all. The first posting contained a reference to photographs taken of the offending homeowner's property. This was later supplemented with a video. Please take the 30 seconds necessary to view this video by clicking here.

Notice that to take the photographs and make this video, the photographer had to intentionally enter the property of the homeowner without permission–to trespass. Yet, in all the advocacy about the need for stricter law enforcement, the duty to obey democratically-enacted laws, the denial of ignorance as an excuse for legal violation, and the claim that respect for the law is necessary to attain the common good, no one seemed to have noticed that trespassing is itself a legal violation. I would be hard pressed to come up with a better example of how practice can diverge from theory than this.