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Solebury Man Pays $261K in Restitution for Illegal Tree Cutting

March 8, 2016


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Kathleen Byrne, 215.348.6366, kgbyrne@buckscounty.org

A man who illegally felled 22 towering old trees to improve the view from his new home on Solebury Mountain was sentenced this morning to five years of probation and ordered to pay restitution of $261,211.07 to Solebury Township.

David Topel, 62, a former lawyer turned Zumba instructor, pleaded no contest to felony criminal mischief before President Judge Jeffrey L. Finley. In addition to the restitution, which reflects the value of the destroyed trees, Topel was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, pay the cost for 220 replacement trees, and allow access to his property for the replanting work.

“Taking down trees that are 100 to 150 years old; none of us here are going to live to see a full restoration,” Finley told Topel in accepting the plea agreement.

In the fall of 2014, Topel had hired an arborist to cut down the trees in order to improve the view from the back deck of his new home. He told Finley that he was still in the process of moving from Florida to the 16-acre property he had purchased earlier that year, and had believed that the trees were on his land.

They were not. The trees were part of a densely wooded, 36.6-acre tract owned by 11 members of the Sage Meadows Homeowners Association. They were further protected by preservation easements belonging to Solebury Township and the Bedminster Regional Land Conservancy.

“My client misread a blueprint he had of the land” and had thought the trees were his, said Topel’s attorney, Jeffrey Solar.

“I’m having a hard time grasping the mistake,” Finley responded. “How does one mistakenly cut down a no-trespassing sign?”

A neighboring homeowner discovered the crime in November 2014, while hiking the perimeter of the preserved property. He was conducting a routine check to make sure that the area was properly posted with no-trespassing signs.

The homeowner “stumbled upon a large clearing where 22 mature trees had been cut down in a single area,” Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Byrne told Finley. “A number of the trees had originally been in excess of 100 feet tall. The trees had clearly been cut by some type of saw and did not fall due to natural causes.”

Topel said that when he was informed of the mistake, he immediately contacted his neighbors and told them that he would do whatever they asked to set things right. He was criminally charged after an investigation by the Solebury Township Police Department.

“I clearly was reckless and shirked my responsibility by not hiring a surveyor,” Topel said. “It is so out of character for me to harm anyone, especially my neighbors.”

Topel and Solar presented Finley with a long list of public service and charitable work that Topel has been involved with over the past 30 years. Topel said that he would submit a check today for the entire amount of restitution.

Approved for release by Mark J. Furber, Deputy District Attorney.

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