In Falls Church, Va., preservation is important to city administrators. But the impulse to preserve recently conflicted with the interests of a local resident. Resolving that conflict is going to prove costly for Falls Church.
Dennis Tolliver, a computer engineer who bought property in the small Washington suburb three years ago, is expected to cash in this week over the ordeal. Tolliver knowingly ignored the city's strict rules on cutting trees when he chopped down two white oaks in his own yard to make space for cranes that were installing his new modular home.
"I was told I couldn't go in that area and do anything," Tolliver said. "It was protected area, the trees were protected, and that property for the duration of my building the house was not mine to be used."
Falls Church is dubbed "Tree City USA," a designation first bestowed on the town 22 years ago by the National Arbor Day Foundation to honor the town's efforts to preserve its towering oaks and pines. The town even pays an arborist to enforce the laws on tree cutting.
When Tolliver started developing his property, a neighbor called the city to complain about his construction project.
"The arborist told the contractor to stop, and I came out and told the arborist to arrest me for it. And we went down to City Hall," Tolliver said. At City Hall, Tolliver was fingerprinted, fined $2,000 and charged with a criminal misdemeanor.
The conflict is reminiscent of one involving a golf range owner in nearby Fairfax, Va. In that case, John Thoburn battled his local zoning board over trees and shrubs on his range and spent 98 days in jail over the ordeal. In the end, he came out with more than $48,000 in fines and a lien against his property.
But Tolliver met a happier fate than Thoburn. He never spent any time in jail and eventually an Arlington County Circuit Court judge ruled in his favor, declaring that the city tree ordinance, which allowed no appeals, was unconstitutional.
The city has since updated its tree ordinances, reducing penalties on violators and instituting an appeals process. It has also fired the tree commission's senior member.
Tolliver also decided to sue the city. The town is expected to make a financial settlement with him for an undisclosed amount. The city government refused to comment on the case until the suit is finalized.
But Tolliver said the settlement vindicates a fundamental principle.
"Freedom. This is my property and it's my choice. I'm not opposed to laws that are equally applied to other people that are reasonably understood and have a proper appeals process," he said. "But, as an American citizen, my rights were violated."
-- Fox News' Sharon Kehnemui contributed to this report