New filing in tree house case

New filing in tree house case
For now, the tree house is still aloft in its Australian pine perch in front of the Angelinos Sea Lodge in Holmes Beach. - Cindy Lane | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – A new battle is beginning in the ongoing war between the city of Holmes Beach and tree house owners Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran.

A summons was received at Holmes Beach City Hall March 27 informing city leaders that they have 21 days to respond to a new suit. According to the summons, Hazen and Tran have filed a case against the city and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection alleging violation of civil and constitutional rights.

The suit, filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa division, says the owners allege the violation of their rights due to the ongoing attempts by the city to remove the tree house and prohibit the construction of future similar structures on their property. The suit also alleges a violation of the couple’s rights due to ongoing efforts by the city to claim damages and relief for the ongoing legal fees incurred because of the case.

Due to a previous code enforcement board ruling, daily fines are stacking up against the tree house owners. Currently, those fines exceed $65,000 and are a part of the financial recompense city leaders are seeking from Tran and Hazen.

The two-story tree house was built beachfront near the Angelinos Sea Lodge in 2011 by Tran and Hazen and cost approximately $28,000 to build. Issues between the city and the owners arose when it was discovered that the couple did not get a permit from the city to build the tree house. The owners argue that they contacted the city’s building department and were told a permit was not necessary. When trying to get an after the fact permit, their application was denied by former Building Official Jim McGuinness because he said the structure could not be brought up to current codes and made ADA compliant as it is. The tree house also is located on the erosion control line, the line across which construction is not allowed without an FDEP permit.

On different matters in the tree house case, three trial dates have been set for Tran and Hazen versus the city beginning in mid-April in Manatee County Circuit Court.

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