Treehouse owner seeks DEP permit, city waiver

There’s a new wrinkle in the ongoing saga of the Angelinos Sea Lodge unpermitted, two-story beachfront treehouse.

    Built in 2011 in the beachfront backyard of the lodge that includes a home and four vacation rental units at 103 29th St. in Holmes Beach, the treehouse was once under a removal/modification order from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, but in December the owners were allowed to apply for an after-the-fact permit.

    As expected, owners Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran applied for the DEP permit, as required of structures built seaward of the coastal construction control line to protect the beach and dune system.

    But not expected is the owners’ Feb. 12 request to the DEP to waive the required no-objection letter from the city of Holmes Beach, providing evidence the treehouse complies to the city’s setbacks, zoning and building codes.

    The waiver request was part of an after-the-fact permit application and letter sent by the owners’ attorney, David Levin, of Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen & Ginsburg, P.A., of Sarasota.

    City building inspector David Greene said Levin’s office requested the no-objection letter in January, but the city declined because the treehouse is not compliant with city code. Greene said the city had not received a copy of Levin’s letter, waiver request or application.

    DEP spokeswoman Dee Ann Miller said the DEP received the application Feb. 12 and it is being reviewed.

    In the application letter, Levin told the DEP that the no-objection letter was impossible to obtain because “the only person competent to provide such evidence has declined to do so.”

    He wrote that he approached city planner Bill Brisson with the request. But Brisson replied Feb. 1, directing Levin to send the no-objection letter to the Holmes Beach building department.

    Levin disagreed. He told the DEP that Holmes Beach was without a building official with the necessary certifications and authority to interpret the city’s land development code.

    Although the city is contracting for Manatee County’s building department services, Levin claims the city-county contract doesn’t cover LDC interpretations.

    But on Feb. 11, temporary building official Tom O’Brien received a provisional one-year building code administrator certificate from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, enabling him to act as a building official, according to the DBPR spokesperson Beth Frady.

    Greene said a DBPR certified building official can interpret the city land development code.

    Holmes Beach code enforcement officer, David Forbes, advised the owners in December 2011 before the city could consider a letter of no-objection, it required a survey, engineering and information on materials and certain facts to indicate the structure meets hurricane-force wind regulations.

    While the owners have submitted an as-built survey, no engineering, materials lists or construction methods have been provided, according to Greene.

    Levin’s Feb. 12 letter was the most recent in a year-long string of correspondence between Angelinos’ owners, their attorney and engineers and the DEP’s Bureau of Beaches and Coastal System environmental manager Jim Martinello, who first warned of possible DEP violations. Field representative Steve West reported the violations in November 2011 included the 17-by-17-foot elevated, wood-frame deck and roof, supported by four concrete-type foundation posts, as well as dune area alterations.

    The owners appealed to the DEP in September 2012 to save their “unique and beautiful double deck in the tree” and, in December, Martinello gave the owners 45 days to submit an application, including the city’s no-objection letter, adjacent property owner information, evidence of their ownership, a sealed survey, a site plan and final foundation plans and specifications.

    In recent correspondence, Levin emphasized that in addition to the Australian pine trunk, only two posts, 12 inches in diameter, support the structure. He contended the structure is a minor activity exempt from DEP regulations, and said he was submitting the after-the-fact-permit application under protest.

    In addition to the no-objection letter waiver, Levin’s Feb. 12 letter requested exceptions from final foundation plans and specification requirements because the foundation was already buried in the ground, and the structure was not built according to detailed specifications.

    As part of the application, Levin provided an as-built survey, and asked that the site plan requirement be waived.

    The owners also submitted a $300 fee, applicable to a “minor structure,” even though Martinello’s December letter said the DEP’s fee would be determined upon further agency review.

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