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March 08, 2016

Bucks man fined $261K for cutting down trees to improve view

Homeowner claims he misread property blueprints, says action was 'reckless'

A Bucks County man faces a quarter-million dollar fine and community service for cutting down 22 trees on a neighboring property to get a better view from his backyard.

Prosecutors announced Tuesday that David Topel, 62, of Solebury Township, has been ordered to pay $261,211.07 to the township, serve five years probation and perform community service for hiring an arborist to chop down the trees in the fall of 2014.

Topel said he'd submit a check for the full amount of the fine, which authorities say represents the cost of the trees.

Topel recently moved to his new house in Solebury from Florida and wanted a more scenic view from the back deck of his home.

According to the Bucks County District Attorney's Office, Topel, a retired lawyer, told the man whom he employed that he believed the trees, some of which were 100-150 years old, were on his property.

The trees, however, were on a wooded area owned by 11 members of a local home owner's association, authorities say.

Topel's lawyer said he misread a blueprint of the land, but the judge said he had a hard time believing that claim considering no trespassing signs were posted on the property.

A homeowner discovered the axed trees while performing a routine survey of the property. Some of the trees were more than 100 feet tall.

Topel, now a Zumba instructor, said he told the homeowners he would do whatever it took to right the situation once he was informed of his mistake, adding in court on Tuesday that he was "reckless" and his action was out of character for him to harm anyone, particularly his neighbors.

After pleading no contest to criminal charges, Topel was also ordered to pay for 220 replacement trees and allow access to his property for replanting work.