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HB petition to allow tree house gains momentum

By Rick Catlin and Mark Young, Islander Reporters

Sunbathers rest on the Gulf of Mexico shore in front of the tree house at Angelinos Sea Lodge in Holmes Beach. Islander Photo: Rick Catlin

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection asserted in December 2011 that there had been an “alteration of an existing dune system by creating cleared pathways and viewing areas” seaward of the Angelinos Sea Lodge tree house as well as the construction violations. The DEP suggested voluntary removal within 30 days. Islander File Photo

Rather than fight Holmes Beach City Hall, Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran, owners of the now viral tree house at 103 29th St. N., have decided that rather than fight city hall, they will legislate to keep the structure.

They began circulating a petition authorized by Holmes Beach commissioners June 11 among registered voters calling for a vote on a special ordinance to allow them to keep their tree house.

The tree house was built in 2011 and approved verbally at that time by building official Bob Shaffer, who is on record as having given that permission. However, it has not been clarified as to whether or not Shaffer understood the extent of construction that occurred and the resulting tree house.

If the couple gets 10 percent of the city’s registered voters — 332 — to sign the petition, it goes before the city commission, which then must set up a special election on the ordinance.

The commission, at its June 11 meeting, approved the petition with Commissioner Marvin Grossman moving for the approval. Commissioner David Zaccagnino seconded the motion, which passed 5-0.

However, Zaccagnino wanted clarification on the process. Anna Maria attorney Jim Dye, sitting in for Holmes Beach attorney Patty Petruff — both principals in Dye, Dietrich, Petruff & St. Paul, P.L. — said it’s a multi-step process.

“The petition committee has to get the required signatures, then the commission has first opportunity to pass the ordinance allowing the tree house,” Dye said. “If it doesn’t pass, then it goes to a referendum and voters decide.”

Zaccagnino expressed concern over the cost of a special election and asked if the matter could be placed on the regular election ballot in November.

Dye said the city’s charter requires a referendum within 90 days if the commission votes down the ordinance.

“If that time frame falls within the regular election, then yes, it can be put on the general ballot,” he said. “But that’s only if the supervisor of elections has the time to get it done and if there is room on the ballot. If not, then it comes back to a referendum.”

Tran thanked the commissioners for approving the petition, but also wanted a response to their attorney’s request to suspend “or at least postpone a June 20 code enforcement hearing” on the tree house violations outlined in an April letter by building official Tom O’Brien.

Commission Chair Jean Peelen said she would try to get Tran an answer as soon as possible.

Petruff said June 13, that the code enforcement hearing “would likely be postponed,” but was unable to provide confirmation.

Petitions were made available to the public at city hall at the beginning of the June 11 meeting and many of those attending signed the petition supporting the tree house.

Tran is confident she will garner the support needed to bring the matter before the commission for a vote.

Tran said the special ordinance is about correcting a wrong done to her and her husband after they had acted in good faith based upon the advice of a city official in 2011.

“At this point, it is not all about right or wrong. This is not about blaming and debating over a long list of allegations in court or before a code board hearing,” she said.

“It is about finding a win-win solution and a happy ending for all. After all, the tree house is a fun and fond childhood dream for all who love fairy tale stories and something unusual and extraordinary,” Tran said.

If voters approve the ordinance, it will “stop needless legal debates and further loss of time and resources that could be used for better purposes,” she said.

Also at issue is whether Shaffer had the authority in 2011 to approve the tree house construction without a plan, or whether current city officials are correct in claiming the tree house was built illegally.

Tran said Shaffer approved the tree house and she and her husband heard no more of the issue until someone apparently called the Holmes Beach code enforcement office to complain. In 2011, the building department determined the tree house violates setbacks and other regulations as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s requirements for construction seaward of the coastal construction line.

Letters between the city, Angelinos Sea Lodge and its attorney, David Levin, and the DEP indicate there are issues to be dealt with at the state level regardless of the city outcome.

Jim Martinello, environmental manager of the DEP Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, in a letter dated Dec. 14, 2011, requested the owner voluntarily remove the wood-frame deck structure and restore the affected areas within 30 days.

The DEP letter described the tree house construction as an “elevated post-supported, enclosed wood frame deck, with roof viewing deck.” The tree house and “alteration of an existing dune system” without a permit are deemed “possible violations” of state statute, according to the letter.

Tran and her husband have garnered media attention in their fight to keep the tree house. They’ve been featured on NBC’s “Today” show, an Australian TV station and most all Tampa Bay-area media outlets.

“Becoming a celebrity is not what we want. We want to go back to our quiet, peaceful life on the beach and operate the resort for all our friendly guests” Tran said.

13 Responses to HB petition to allow tree house gains momentum

  1. Mike Scruggs says:

    The tree house is done in good taste and is on private property where no one should be. It is not an eyesore. Why has it been this long and only looked at when someone complained? Check it out and if it is safe, certify it or whatever you do and look for more important things to correct.

  2. Leslie says:

    I think they should be able to keep it. It’s less offensive than some of those “tenement looking” houses that have been erected of late.

  3. Angie Hobden says:

    The tree house is a stunning structure and actually enhances the beach frontage at Angelinos Sea Lodge. It is about time for everyone concerned that this matter be resolved, common sense prevails and Angelinos is allowed to return to it’s peaceful and beautiful self. I hope the outcome is that the tree house stays and future focus is directed towards some of the “less attractive” buildings along the beach. The owners should be praised for their sensitive and imaginative design.

  4. Barbara Kibler says:

    I watched the tree house being built. Richard and Lynn work very hard to keep their property clean and comfortable. Leave it alone and let them enjoy it.

  5. JoanMaser says:

    If it on private property no one should bother them. I don’t understand how people in code feel they can tell you how to live, how to keep your lawn and what you can keep in your backyard. If you own your property you should have a right to keep it how you want, you pay for it and you pay taxes on it . Live and let live. I think the treehouse is very well built and adds to the area, the turtles and dunes run all up and down our state, they can share a bit, leave them alone.

  6. Patrick says:

    How about expanding the referendum to include more than just this issue? How about one that lets property owners take back their own land and make common-sense decisions about the things they own?

    The high-density rental props are ugly because “ugly” is required by law on this island. The unreasonable setback and coverage requirements result in no design and no creativity – it is literally a case of putting a tight square on tall stilts and calling it a house.

    Everyone says they want to protect the old florida feel of AMI, yet the councils do nothing more than push laws that make it ever more impossible to renovate, correct or even replicate the homes of old. It is literally the case that they have built laws that require construction of the very thing they claim to hate.

    Dumb, dumb, dumb.

  7. Paul myers says:

    I love the tree house. I feel it was done in very good taste. The people who want it taken down are just jealous. I am jealous too….but in an envious way, not in a negative way! This man has worked hard. Let him enjoy his dream!

  8. Ann Chappell says:

    I have seen numerous new homes built to reflect the Old Florida feel. Not every home recently built is ugly. Old Florida Feel homes probably require a creative architect. Many of the houses that look the same are built next door to each other and are by the same builder thus saving on architect fees. Many builders are requested by the property owner to create more bookable rental space (i.e. bedrooms and bathrooms) and do not care what the home looks like on the outside.

  9. Paul James says:

    I feel so badly for these nice people with their beautiful treehouse. How can the officials involved take this away from them?? Coldhearted??? Mean spirited??? Guys keep fighting. If you need money start a facebook account & put your story out there you will be pleasantly surprise of the support. Social sights & have the ability to assemble so many people at one meeting place. Social sights have been instrumental in the overthrow of dictators so don’t ever think that your problem is just yours. I am 72 years old & will be more than happy to demonstrate along with other people to help you keep your little piece of paradise. Keep positive & fighting with every resource out there.

  10. KH says:

    I can certainly understand the city’s concern about setting a precedent. Let’s face it, not everyone has such beautiful visions to guide their DIY projects! But fortune smiled when the official gave the o.k. Thanks to his blunder, the city has the opportunity to be magnanimous and make an exception for THIS TREEHOUSE ONLY, then promptly draw up clear laws to prevent others from willy-nilly following suit & potentially disrupting the ecosystem.

  11. Ann Chappell says:

    So the secret is to tell the city your building a tree house and then build whatever you wish as long as there is a tree nearby?

  12. MozB says:

    Feed the hunger, homes for the “houseless” , etc…
    Leave the people alone! It’s not an eye sore ) > ;. It’s a real attraction, unlike theme parks. Be Blessed, MozB

  13. Gary McMullen says:

    Leave the tree house alone! The city officials have shown themselves to be petty meglomaniacs. O’Brien cannot accept the will of the people. The petition indicates that the public has no problem. Holmes Beach will have a nationwide black eye for it’s official’s stubbornness.

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