Holmes Beach fights suit filed over treehouse fate, fines

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Owners of the treehouse built in an Australian pine on their beachfront at 103 29th St. in Holmes Beach have been fighting city hall for eight years to retain the structure. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

A new chapter has opened in the long-running saga of the treehouse owners.

In this new effort, a petition from the owners dredges up matters already in court or decided at trial and in appeal.

That is the Holmes Beach view of the new case opened in 12th Circuit Court by treehouse owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen, according to motions filed Jan. 3 by attorney Jim Dye, of Dye, Harrison, Kirkland, Petruff, Pratt & St. Paul, for the city.

Dye filed motions to dismiss, to request a more definite statement and to strike the owners’ petition for a temporary injunction.

Dye criticized the owners’ petition in his filing, describing it as “a free-flowing attempt unconnected to a proper lawsuit to enjoin the city from doing undescribed actions.”

The owners’ filed the petition pro se — without an attorney — in mid-December, asking the court to end the daily fines and prevent the demolition of the treehouse. It names the city and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection as respondents.

The DEP was served Dec. 20, 2018, but had not responded as of Jan. 4.

In 2016, the city ordered Tran and Hazen to remove the treehouse and comply with the land-development code, imposing a fine of $50 a day as of July 22, 2015.

The owners’ petition states that some $65,000 in “illegally excessive and unfounded” fines have accumulated, but they are seeking to halt the fines going forward, not the accrued fine.

Asked about whether she will seek to reduce the accumulated fine, Tran said Jan. 4 that “For now,” she is not asking to have the fine forgiven. “I will eventually.”

Tran and Hazen built the treehouse in 2011 without permits required by the city and state for the beachfront property 20 feet west of 103 29th St., where they live and operate short-term rentals known as Angelinos Sea Lodge.

An anonymous tip to the city about beachfront construction resulted in a referral to the DEP and the city refused to waive its 50-foot setback.

Tran and Hazen have brought a number of challenges related to their treehouse through attorney David Levin of Icard Merrill of Sarasota.

Prior litigation included city code board appeals as well as a bid to allow a citywide vote on the fate of the treehouse, which the owners took to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court declined to review the case and allowed the trial court decision to stand.

In addition to owners’ new petition, there are two pending treehouse actions in the 12th Circuit Court.

In February 2018, the city filed a case seeking to enforce the 2016 city magistrate order.

And a 2013 challenge to the constitutionality of the city’s setback rule was reinvigorated in 2018 by Levin before it was set by the court for dismissal due to inactivity.

The opposing motions in the code enforcement case are coming up for a hearing before Judge Lon Arend after press time Jan. 8.

2 thoughts on “Holmes Beach fights suit filed over treehouse fate, fines

  1. Olen rhoades

    You say accepted by the party’s involved, well you are the party involved, your tax money is being squandered by the city’s willingness to fight out of what you call judged , in your eyes you see it as adjudicated, then you mention individual rights ,the whole principle is that your not supposed to as a citizen fight or disagree or oppose the laws or powers to be, if you have to have to have a permit to do things on your on property then you could always move into a subdivision where your grass can’t be over 4 inches or no one can visit you because there not aloud to park a car in your driveway, my point being is our code inforcers did not have a particular permit for this issue so they brought in other issues like set backs and so fourth,I am a 6th generation Floridian I’ve seen the ridiculous regulations placed on everything that is already there older houses all the while letting new developers building right into the water causing a much bigger environmental impact than a little old treehouse on privet property that is for the owners personal use what really caught my interest was the city said the structure must withstand hurricane which really don’t make any sense when all the boats sitting in people’s yards are not tied down and believe me I’ve seen boats sitting inside of and on top of houses so what’s next the tie your boat down police ,the powers to be at the city simply got angry cause they were challenged an let me tell you no law code or permit is absolute especially when it cuts into your libertys as a tax paying legal citizen, those people who own that property should fight as as long as they feel they should,that’s what liberty is all about,if it wasn’t doing any obvious harm leave be the owners of that particular property bring in a lot of revenue for the city all the while having by far the most beautiful piece of real estate on that part of the island which kind you I grew up there an have been a patron of this property for 20 years now ,one of the only pieces of property I might add that didn’t cut down all the damn trees,.if the morons or the powers to be had the intellectual prowess of a retarded oyster they should have simply inspected the structure an told the owners what they needed to do to bring it in to code issued or by by all accounts sold them a permanent and then reinspected after work is completed then then could have inspected it on an annual base you a and the city a whole lot of time grief and money,and of course I’m speaking from a logical point of in a world where common since no longer seems to apply, they are doing exactly what you said there trying chande it ,you can except it if want ,in my eyes it’s simply a vendetta by the city an abuse of power an extreme wasteland of money.

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  2. Bob Rogers

    A lot of time, money and energy has been spent on this issue, and it needs to end. I understand that there is a principle involved and I respect individual rights, but there are more important battles to fight. No law is perfect, and they can be imperfectly enforced, but the courts have given their judgments, and those decisions should be accepted by all parties involved. If the law is wrong, set the wheels in motion to change it.

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