Lynn Tran addressed Holmes Beach commissioners April 23 in an attempt to open a dialogue over the city’s April 5 notice of violation issued for a treehouse built at her home and lodging facility, Angelino’s Sea Lodge, at 103 29th St., Holmes Beach.
The structure was built around an Australian pine tree, a tree considered to be an invasive species in Florida, and has two supporting 12-inch posts concreted into the ground in front and an additional 6-inch post in the rear.
Tran and co-owner Richard Hazen approached the city in 2011 about building the treehouse and were given an informal verbal approval from former building official Bob Schaffer.
Following a 2011 Islander report about the completed treehouse, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued a possible notice of violation due to the structure’s location seaward of the coastal construction control line.
DEP informed Tran and Hazen that if the city issued a letter of no objection, they could apply for an after-the-fact permit.
Tran said she has tried to schedule a meeting with building official Tom O’Brien to discuss the letter of no objection, but O’Brien said a meeting isn’t necessary.
“DEP has never said they would issue an after-the-fact permit,” said O’Brien. “They simply explained the process to them. They took it upon themselves to build a structure without a permit. It’s not my fault. I’m just the one with the unpleasant task of doing something about it.”
The city issued a notice of violation via email April 3 and followed it up with a certified letter dated April 5.
O’Brien said the matter now has to be addressed by the code enforcement board and, if the notice of violation stands, the city will begin fining Tran and Hazen $500 a day until the structure is removed.
Tran apologized for a recent bout of emails that were critical of the city in tone, but said, “I’d like to ask you for your time to review this. I don’t want to lose the treehouse and don’t want to pay the heavy fines moving forward.”
In a prepared statement to the city, Tran wrote the proposed fine is “harsh and unfair” and a “waste of both ours and the city’s resources and disputing issues that have been examined and evaluated by both legal and DEP for over a year.”
O’Brien said the city has continued attempts to communicate that DEP has not guaranteed issuance of an after-the-fact permit and, because of the location of the treehouse, it also would not qualify for a variance.
“And it’s a safety issue,” he said. “It’s not a kid’s treehouse. They basically have a four-unit resort and have the public use the treehouse, so that elevates the standards of public safety.”
O’Brien said the notice of violation would not be discussed.
“It needs to come down,” he said.
O’Brien provided an update to city commissioners at an April 25 work session. He said Tran and Hazen want the city to sign a letter saying they are not in violation of the 50-foot erosion control line setback requirements.
“We refused to author that letter,” said O’Brien. “I had to make a determination that yes, they are in violation.”
Commission Chair Jean Peelen said she didn’t understand why the issue was being “kicked back and forth between the state and the city.”
She wanted to know why DEP hasn’t handled the situation since the erosion control line is a state matter.
O’Brien said the issue isn’t going back and forth and that the city is handling it because the treehouse violates the land development code and because it was built without a city permit.