Candia stuck with $10K legal bill in court fight over crabapple tree

Jennifer Heiberg and her dog, Malty, stand next to the crabapple tree on their Candia property Monday afternoon. The tree will be allowed to stay, but she and her husband will have to pay to trim it to keep the branches from encroaching on Jane Drive.

The town of Candia will have to pay nearly $10,000 in legal bills as part of an agreement with a couple who sued after the select board declared their crabapple tree a public nuisance.

The tree at 14 Jane Drive will be spared, as long as it is properly pruned.

Dustin and Jennifer Heiberg sued a year ago after town officials complained that branches were extending into the roadway and creating a hazard for passing vehicles. The Heibergs argued that the branches weren’t a problem and that town officials had singled out their tree and were harassing them. The couple also questioned whether the road was public.

“I have lived in Candia for 10 years. The tree was here when I purchased the house. Only the town knows why they chose to single out and aggressively pursue one branch on one tree in a town that is 30 square miles,” Jennifer Heiberg said Monday.

To date, the town has spent $9,923 on legal fees to fight the tree dispute, according to figures released Monday by Donna Becker, Candia’s payroll and accounting specialist. The town is still awaiting a legal bill from December.

“What a waste of taxpayer money to go through something like this,” select board Chairwoman Susan Young said Monday.

Young said she wanted to make it clear that it was the Heibergs — not the town — who took legal action.

“It’s really money that could have been spent on something that’s a lot more important. I think it was a disservice to everybody involved. I’m very disappointed that it had to come to that,” Young said.

Under the agreement, the Heibergs will pay for a certified arborist to prune the tree to remove any branches encroaching on the roadway. They must also acknowledge that Jane Drive is, in fact, a public street maintained by the town.

A county forester who inspected the tree in January 2020 found that it was healthy and that while some of the branches had begun to encroach on the road, he felt it posed minimal danger to the traveling public.

However, he advised that pruning some of the lower branches would increase clearance for passing vehicles and pedestrians.

While they didn’t hire a lawyer, Heiberg said she and her husband spent about $500 on court filing fees and other expenses related to the case. It will also cost just under $200 to hire the arborist for the tree trimming, which Heiberg said is expected to happen in February.

With the legal wrangling over, Young said she hopes that in “2021 we all become better community members and can handle things without suing each other.”