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.