Remember when bellicose, Hawaiian island-buying bajillionaire Larry Ellison threw a full-on temper tantrum and waged war against his downslope neighbors over a small cluster of redwood trees that partially obstructed the views from his multimillion dollar “I mostly just throw parties here” pad in San Francisco?

Well, another rather intriguingly obnoxious residential tree dispute has erupted in Clyde Hill, a swank east-of-Seattle community on Lake Washington’s Gold Coast that’s not all that far from the palatial home of Ellison’s numero uno nemesis. I should also note that Clyde Hill, in addition to being one town over from Xanadu 2.0, apparently ranked 10th in the nation for the most landscapers hired per square mile. It also proudly boasts "park-like towering evergreens and a lush profusion of northwestern foliage on public and private property [that] are the pride of its friendly citizens and a delight to visitors." The city's official seal depicts a tree.

But I digress. The players in this tree squabble — an innocent, Chinese pine has been caught in the middle — are retired MLB first baseman John Olerud and the Rev. Bruce Baker, a Microsoft expat-turned-Presbyterian pastor-turned-business ethics professor. For a couple of years now, Olerud has been pestering asking the good reverend and his wife, Linda, if they’d be so kind as to cut down the pine as it blocks the Seattle skyline and mountain views from his $4 million custom-built home across the street (that's not the view from Olerud's home pictured up top but a similar view enjoyed in the area). Naturally, he’s offered to foot the bill for the tree’s removal. The Bakers, who are very fond of the rare specimen on their property that’s estimated to be worth in the ballpark of $18,000, have politely declined his offer.

And so, the three-time Golden Glove winner who played with the Blue Jays, Mets, Mariners, Yankees and Red Sox during an illustrious 17-season career, has taken his beef to the Clyde Hill Board of Adjustment in hopes that a tree-cutting order gained through a 20-year-old “view obstruction and tree removal” ordinance will be enacted for the first time in the city’s history. Interesting enough, the Seattle Times notes that Clyde Hill was one of the first cities in the nation to adopt a process that allowed for the removal of trees if they proved to obstruct a neighbor’s sunlight or scenic views.

And here’s where things get interesting. Previous to the tree issue, Olerud and Baker were more than just amicable neighbors. According to the Times, the two men coached their sons’ soccer teams together and Olerud and his family actually lived in the Baker home for eight months while their 6,680-square-foot home was being built in 2008 and 2009 (I’d suspect that this is when the tree issue first arose and perhaps Olerud assumed he could just convince Baker to chop 'er down when their manse was completed).

They also have a little something called Jesus in common. In addition to Baker’s background in the ministry, Olerud himself is a devout Christian and even resorted to quoting the Bible during a recent board hearing regarding the issue: “I'm just making the point that if you're willing to cut down your own trees to maintain your view and yet you aren't willing to offer that to your neighbor, how is that being a good neighbor? The Bible says, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.' That's Jesus' commandment.”

To this Baker responded: “I truly believe you're trying to be a good neighbor. That's what's so puzzling about this, that you think it's being a good neighbor to cut down a tree that's important to me that's over 50 years old, and just leave a hole there."

Nancy Dammkoehler, a neighbor who spoke at the hearing appeared to be on Team Olerud as she addressed Baker: "All they want is to see the top of the Space Needle. If you can't figure this out, boy, I tell you, you'd better find a different line of work, buddy, because you're not very Christian."


Baker has done a bit of work with the trees on his property — during the hearing, a presumably helmet-less Olerud called them “not attractive” and “the kind of tree that only an arborist would love” — in order to placate his view-deprived fellow Christian. This has included removing a redwood and trimming the offending pine. He also plans to remove a Colorado spruce located behind the pine. And, as alluded to by Olerud, he’s trimmed a few other trees to maintain his own view. Quelle horreur!

"I'm trying to do the right thing," says Baker. "Having protracted arguments with neighbors is not the right thing — I'm aware of that. And I hoped to avoid that. I also have other neighbors that I'm trying to be a neighbor to who value the surroundings here. They have trees and they don't want my trees taken down."

As mentioned above, if the Board of Adjustment sides with Olerud, this will be the first time that a tree-cutting order has been issued through Clyde Hill's tree-removal ordinance. However, two other disputes have been presented to the board since the law was created. In one, the dispute was settled before the board ruled and in the other, the board ruled to preserve a beech tree that a resident demanded be cut down. The board plans to announce its decision by November if Olerud and Baker haven’t prayed it out and reached an agreement.

What do you think? Is Baker acting in a selfish, not-very-Christian manner by wanting to save the beloved yet view-blocking pine? Or should Olerud just suck it up? Has a tree dispute soured your otherwise healthy relationship with a neighbor?

Via [Seattle Times]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Thou shalt not block thy neighbor's view: A tree dispute of biblical proportions
A beautiful but view-blocking Chinese pine has pitted two once amicable neighbors, a pastor and a Bible-thumping former baseball star, against one another in an