‘This will not grow back in my lifetime’: Olympia homeowner puts himself between old tree and developers with chainsaws

OLYMPIA, Wash. — When Andrew Hannah moved into his rural Olympia, WA property on Allen Road SE, the 150-foot tall red cedar tree that is now dominating his attention was one of many he could see beyond his property in the once-heavily wooded area behind his home.

Weeks ago, this view changed. A developer’s plans to build a new neighborhood included clearing out many old trees, including the large red cedar which stands on the boundary between the two properties.

“The majority of the tree is on his property, and only a portion of it is on my property,” Hannah said.

Washington State law is clear that if two property owners share even part of a tree on a property line, then both sides have to agree about what happens to it. So when someone from the construction company came to cut it down, Hannah said he stood in the way.

“I said ‘I own part of that tree, you have to have my permission, and you don’t have it.’ To which the foreman replied, ‘Well, I can cut it down from my side without ever entering your property.’ And I said, ‘Well, can you do that with me leaning against my side of the tree?’ And he said, ‘No, but I can call the police,’” Hannah said.

The police came and left, and the City of Olympia sent an engineer and an arborist, who determined that the root system on the construction side likely wouldn’t survive. An independent arborist told Hannah the City is failing to protect his rights. Olympia intends to stay out of this personal property dispute, but the City of Olympia’s tree protection ordinance encourages preserving trees whenever possible.

“This will not grow back in my lifetime,” Hannah said. “The foreman told me he was going to cut it down, and he was going to love every minute of it.” Calls made to the developer, Hansen Construction, were not returned Wednesday.

Hannah said without an agreement, the fate of the tree could end up in court.

“It’s not because necessarily that tree has to stay,” he said. “It’s because people should not be pushed around in this way.”