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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Defends Tree Farmer Cited for Giving Away Christmas Trees in His Front Yard in Exchange for Donations to Raise Money for Cancer Victims

WAYNESBORO, Va. — The Rutherford Institute has come to the defense of a Christmas tree farmer threatened with fines and other legal action by the zoning board of Waynesboro, Va., for setting up a charitable Christmas tree donation drive on his property. Christian Critzer, a Christmas tree farmer, began a Christmas tree donation drive as a means of raising money for the Martha Jefferson Hospital Cancer Center Foundation, based in Charlottesville, Va., with the specific intention of raising money for custom wigs for those battling cancer and its after effects. Critzer, whose wife recently won a battle with breast cancer, hoped that by collecting donations for Christmas trees and giving the money to Martha Jefferson hospital, he would not only be demonstrating the spirit of Christmas but providing much-needed Christmas trees to low-income families in the area. However, the zoning board claims that Critzer’s donation drive violates the city’s zoning ordinances, calling the fundraiser a “retail activity” not suitable for an area zoned for single family homes.

In response to threats from the city to both himself and his landlord, Critzer has ceased the tree giveaway for fear of losing his home. Rutherford Institute attorneys are challenging the city’s interpretation of its zoning ordinances, pointing out that Critzer’s tree giveaway cannot be considered a retail activity as the proceeds are intended for charity.

“This year has certainly been plagued with its fair share of Scrooges and Grinches disguised as government agents, threatening individuals with fines and arrest for such simple acts of kindness and charity as distributing free bottled water to the thirsty, giving away free food to the hungry and destitute, and making thermal shelters available to house the homeless during cold winter nights,” said John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute. “It’s our hope that Waynesboro officials will focus on solving the many real and pressing problems plaguing their community rather than creating problems where there are none.”

Christian Critzer, a Christmas tree farmer who lives with his wife and two children in Waynesboro, wanted to give back to the community by raising money for cancer patients. His wife had recently won a battle with breast cancer and, wanting to do something to inspire hope in those still fighting their own battles and dealing with the aftermath of cancer, decided to use his skills as a Christmas tree farmer to raise money for the Cancer Center Foundation at Martha Jefferson hospital where his wife underwent her treatments. He raised the funds with the intent that the money would buy custom wigs for cancer patients and survivors grappling with the after effects of chemotherapy. His project was soon thwarted by the Waynesboro zoning board.

On November 26, 2012, a zoning official showed up on his doorstep to inform Critzer that he was not allowed to run a retail business out of his home, because the area was zoned for single family homes. Critzer explained the intention of his tree drive, that it was not a retail activity but a charity drive for a local hospital. The official persisted however, and gave him a citation. In order to oblige the seemingly arbitrary zoning ordinance, he began giving the trees away for free while also accepting donations to be sent to Martha Jefferson hospital. Despite his best efforts to make clear that this was an act of charity, not a commercial activity, the zoning board demanded that Critzer cease and desist his tree giveaway, or else they would pursue legal action against his landlord for the zoning violation. Not wanting to cause his landlord hardship, and not wanting to be a burden to his wife and two children, Critzer regretfully ended his charitable giving. In coming to his defense, Rutherford Institute attorneys are demanding that the City rectify its erroneous interpretation of the zoning code so that Critzer can continue his charitable activities.

Case History

Click here to read The Rutherford Institute’s letter to the City of Waynesboro.


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