Treehouse gets city ‘boot,’ owners stall, look to high court

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The fight to retain the beachfront tree house built in 2011 without permits at Angelinos Sea Lodge in Holmes Beach may go to the U.S. Supreme Court — if the owners have their wish. Story page 3. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

A letter from Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson giving the treehouse “the boot” was met with yet another step of litigation.
But the tree house still stood tall on the beach this week.

“It is now your duty to comply with the code enforcement board order of July 30, 2013, requiring complete removal of the treehouse,” Johnson wrote in a letter hand delivered July 28 to owners Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran.

The owners’ attorney, David Levin, of Icard Merrill, Cullis, Tim, Furen & Ginsburg, responded by letter dated Aug. 10, saying he was preparing a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The mayor’s letter states the owners are expected to apply for a demolition permit by Aug. 10.

But Levin’s response states the demand is premature “under the circumstances.”

Tran and Hazen built the two-story beachfront treehouse in an Australian pine tree in 2011 at 103 29th St., Holmes Beach, where they reside and operate Angelinos Sea Lodge.

Since an anonymous complaint reported the elaborate structure, built without permits, the treehouse has gone before the city code board, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the courts, including two cases that went up to the state 2nd District Court of Appeal.

The last legal foray ended with the 2nd DCA denying a request for a rehearing and written opinion requested July 17 by attorney David Levin, of Icard Merrill of Sarasota, for Tran and Hazen.

They had hoped to bring the fate of the structure to a citywide vote but their effort was denied by the court.

“They have a long, long, long road,” said attorney Jim Dye Aug. 11. Dye of Dye, Deitrich, Petruff and St. Paul has handled the ongoing tree house cases.

The owners have 90 days to file an appeal, which is limited to appealing the 2nd DCA’s one-sentence denial, according to Dye.

“I don’t think any lawyer would have expected” a U.S. Supreme Court appeal of a state court decision that said simply the appellate judges declined to hear or consider it, Dye said.

Throughout proceedings, the city has maintained the structure violates its land-development code, including a setback for the state erosion control line — a winning argument in the 2014 court decision, which the 2nd DCA affirmed in 2015.

The July 2013 code board removal order included a fine of $50 per day starting July 22, 2015. The fine is still accumulating.

Johnson’s letter also states the fine continues to accrue.

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