Christmas Tree Farmer’s Charity Defies City Code, Could Be Shut Down

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A Christmas tree farmer from Waynesboro is trying to fight city hall. Christian Critzer has been selling trees, and even giving them away, outside his home on Rosser Avenue. But the location is a problem.

Using his tree-farming expertise, Critzer has been raising money to buy custom wigs for women who've battled cancer and undergone chemotherapy. But Waynesboro's zoning laws won't allow him to sell Christmas trees from home—or even give them away—and his time has just run out.

Buying a fresh-cut tree from Critzer has meant helping the "Fight Like a Girl" campaign for cancer survivors at Martha Jefferson Hospital.

"This has the potential of being a wonderful fundraiser, and also a wonderful way for people who can't afford a tree to get one," said Critzer.

It turns out, it's not that simple. Critzer's small tree lot is in a residentially zoned area that does not allow commercial operations. After a brief shutdown, Critzer reopened with a new strategy: giving away trees, but accepting donations for his cause.

"People are hurting; a free tree is a blessing. So we decided we'll offer them for free. If people can afford a donation, that's what we'll give to the cancer center, and problem solved," said Critzer.

At least, he thought the problem was solved.

"We've issued a notice of violation," said Jim Shaw, assistant city manager of Waynesboro. "In fact we did that more than a week ago. And so we're asking that he would come into compliance."

Shaw says he has received questions and complaints, and that Critzer's charitable intent does not change his obligation to follow the city code.

"There are many charitable organizations that operate this time of year, and sell Christmas trees in fact, and they do it on commercial properties," said Shaw.

Critzer said, "There's a lot going on in this town that needs attention. I don't think it's my cancer charity."

The city gave Critzer until 5 p.m. Tuesday to cease and desist, or possibly face a fine. At last check, he wasn't sure whether the trees would still be there by the next the morning. But next Christmas, Critzer says he'll likely set up shop outside Waynesboro.