Tree house owner to DEP: Reconsider removal order

Angelinos Sea Lodge, ordered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to remove or modify a beachfront tree house built without permits, appealed the directive in an Aug. 30 letter from its attorney.

        David Levin of Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen & Ginsburg, P.A., Sarasota, wrote on behalf of Angelinos owner Richard Hazen to DEP regulator of coastal construction James Martinello, noting “critical errors which would substantially affect the Department’s assessment of the structure.”

        Levin reiterated Hazen’s engineer’s report indicated the deck is structurally supported by two wooden piles, 12 inches in diameter, and, two additional six-inch piles did not provide structural support and could be removed.

        “In contrast,” Levin wrote to Martinello, “your letter dated Aug. 6 states ‘the tree house structure, in addition to being partially supported by an existing Australian pine tree, is also substantially supported by four 12-inch diameter wooden pilings and two six-inch wooden pilings.’”

        He continued, “It would appear that the department staff’s assessment was based upon the false assumption” regarding the tree house’s structural support.

        Last week, DEP spokesperson Dee Ann Miller wrote in an email, “We are currently reviewing and will be responding in the near future.”

        Martinello, environmental manager of the DEP Division of Water Resource Management Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems, previously concluded the tree house may not be exempt from the department’s permitting requirements.

        The state requires permits for building seaward of the coastal construction control line to protect the coastal system from improper structures that can destabilize or destroy the beach and dune system.

        While the Martinello Aug. 6 letter identified two six-inch pilings as part of a description of what supports the structure, a similar description in Martinello’s April 4 letter said no such pilings were included.

        Martinello’s most recent letter warned Hazen if he chose not to resolve within 30 days, the department may remove the tree house.

        The DEP’s August letter followed a series of letters between Hazen’s attorney and engineer.

        Levin contended in February that the structure constituted a minor activity, with no measurable impact on the coastal system because the structure, but for four wooden pilings, was supported by an Australian pine tree.

        In April, Martinello responded that the structure is supported by four 12-inch diameter wooden pilings with concrete-type foundations and invited Levin to submit information from a professional engineer in support of the owner’s position.

        The tree house was first reported to the city of Holmes Beach last November.

        The city referred the complaint to the DEP and advised the owner of its engineering and survey requirements if Hazen would seek permitting from the DEP.

        The city’s concerns over the construction relate to the building’s stability, safety and ability to withstand hurricane-force winds.

        Angelinos includes four vacation rentals and, according to Hazen’s wife, Huong Lynn Tran, the tree house was built as a private place to read, write, relax and dine.

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