An Austrailan pine tree with a diameter of 50 inches at chest height and 12-inch wide pilings resembling tree trunks, support the tree house on the beach at the Angelinos Sea Lodge, 103 29th St., Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell
Referring to a tree hut on the beach as “minor activity” in a Feb. 10 letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, an attorney for Richard Hazen, owner of Angelinos Sea Lodge, 103 29th St., asks for an after-the-fact permit exemption for the tree house Hazen built without permits last year.
In December, the DEP Division of Water Resource Management, Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, advised Hazen to voluntarily remove the wood-frame deck structure and restore all affected dune areas within 30 days. The DEP warning letter advised after-the-fact permitting was unlikely.
In the letter to Jim Martinello, DEP environmental manager, attorney David Levin asked the DEP to further explain its allegation of an “alteration of an existing dune system by creating cleared pathways and viewing areas,” and for the location and extent of dune alteration.
As to the tree house, Levin states the state administrative code exempts from CCCL permitting, “minor activities which do not cause an adverse impact on the coastal system and do not cause a disturbance to any significant or primary dune.”
He said the code defines adverse impact “as an impact to the coastal system that may cause a measurable interference with the natural functioning of the coastal system.”
Levin said a a significant dune is one with height sufficient to offer the vegetative protection, and a primary dune is one with alongshore continuity to offer protection to uplands.
“It would be impossible to show any measurable interference with the natural erosion,” Levin concluded, equating erosion with the “functioning of the coastal system.”
He said the deck is supported by a large Australian pine tree, supplemented by four 12-inch diameter wood poles, “similar to those supporting other exempt structures, such as beach awnings and other shades, typically found along the beach.”
The poles are located behind an existing seawall that was buried during a beach nourishment project, according to Levin. “Given the size and location” of the support poles, he said “it would be virtually impossible for such poles to have measurable impact” on the coastal system.
“Clearly, if the sole support of the deck was the Australian pine,” Levin said, “there would be no question that the subject deck was exempt.”
Levin concluded his Feb. 10 letter to Martinello by asking DEP to consider the elevated wood deck structure as an exempt minor activity, and suggested a meeting with Martinello Feb. 21 in Tallahassee.
Following a complaint to Holmes Beach about the structure this fall, the city referred the matter to the DEP. The building official also advised Hazen that engineering plans and a survey would be required before it would consider a “letter of no objection,” which is typically required before DEP considers issuing a permit.
In December, the city received an inquiry about the required plans by phone from Hazen’s engineer, Charles Sego of Anna Maria.
The city’s concerns over the construction relate to building stability, safety and ability to withstand hurricane-force winds, according to David Forbes, code enforcement officer.
Angelinos Lodge includes four vacation rentals, and, according to Hazen’s wife, Huong Lynn Tran, the tree hut was built as a place to read, write, relax and dine.