Supreme Court denies tree house owners’ plea

Tree house
After years of wrangling, the Gulf front tree house in Holmes Beach may really have to come down. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – It may be the end of the road for Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen’s beachfront tree house.

After local and state court rulings found in favor of the City of Holmes Beach and removal of the tree house, Tran and Hazen appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Justices reviewed the case, along with many others, in a closed session on Jan. 5 and released a list on Jan. 8 of denied appeals. The tree house appeal was denied.

“I don’t know what to do next,” Tran said. “I don’t know what we can do.”

While she hopes to hold onto her beloved tree house, Tran said she’s unsure if there are any more avenues of appeal to pursue to keep the structure aloft in its Australian pine tree perch supported by four posts disguised as tree trunks on the beach in front of Angelinos Sea Lodge. She and Hazen plan to discuss any available options with their attorney before taking any action.

Mayor Bob Johnson said the ruling was what city leaders were expecting to hear from the Supreme Court.

“I’m glad we’re at the point of closure,” he said.

From the city’s perspective, it’s time the tree house comes down. He said the plan now is to begin discussions with Tran and Hazen about how to move forward.

Tran and Hazen constructed the two-story tree house in 2011 for about $20,000. When planning the structure, Tran said the city’s building department was consulted. The couple was told they didn’t need a permit for a tree house, she said. After the structure was completed, it was determined that a permit was needed, and an after-the-fact permit could not be released because the structure does not meet Florida building codes. The location of the tree house also is problematic as it is partially located over the erosion control line where construction is not allowed to take place without a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Building Official Jim McGuinness reviewed the structure as late as January 2017 and determined there was no way to bring the structure up to current codes. He refused to issue an after-the-fact building permit, recommending the structure be torn down.

After the courts ruled in favor of the city, a fine of $50 per day for every day the tree house remains aloft was imposed on Tran and Hazen. That number has climbed upwards of $50,000 plus a fixed fine of $4,271 along with many thousands of dollars of legal fees on the part of the couple and the city.

In order to bring down the tree house, Tran and Hazen will need to apply for a demolition permit from the city.

Johnson said he hopes the situation “will end in an amicable way.”

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