Market Street resident and Charlottesville Tree Commissioner Robin Hanes sat against the trunk of a doomed spruce at the corner of Market and 18th streets in the Woolen Mills neighborhood.
On Wednesday morning, the towering tree was a stump.
There's something about Market Street, something that seems to prompt otherwise law-abiding citizens to embark upon civil disobedience despite the prospect of getting hauled off in handcuffs. Several times over the past five years, it's been resident Louis Schultz, who fought for– and eventually won– the right to let "weeds" grow tall as a riparian buffer. On Tuesday, April 10, Market Street resident Robin Hanes was arrested after refusing to move from the base of a towering spruce that was facing imminent destruction.
"It just hit me; I couldn't handle it," says Hanes of the moment she realized that the tree at the corner of Market Street and 18th– two blocks from her home– would be coming down to make way for the planned construction of two new houses.
"They could build the house 10 feet down the hill," she says, "and leave the tree."
Hanes isn't a garden variety tree-hugger; she sits on the Charlottesville Tree Commission, a City Council-appointed board created in 2010 to advise the city on its urban forest.
While she acknowledges that she has no legal right to make demands of someone else's property, Hanes (who is the significant other of the Hook's "Black&White" photographer Bill Emory, who also sits on the Commission) says the felling of a tree she estimates to be at least 75 years old offends not only her personal sensibilities but also her civic view. She contends that despite Charlottesville's already high percentage of tree canopy for an urban area, there's room for improvement and public education.
"People need to recognize that these big trees are part of our history," says Hanes. "They're as valuable as architecture."
Her protest ended after land owner/developer Joe Milby called police. Warned on several occasions by Charlottesville police, Hanes sat firmly against the spruce's trunk for two hours thereby blocking contractors from doing their work. At approximately 2:45pm, after Milby himself arrived to demand that Hanes vacate the property, officers handcuffed her and charged her with trespassing, a class one misdemeanor.
Milby declined comment, but apparently did not experience a change of heart based on Hanes' protest. On Wednesday morning, April 11, the old spruce was felled.
Hanes will appear in Charlottesville General District Court on April 17. If convicted, she faces up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.