Treehouse owners start new year in court

Treehouse owners start new year in court
Treehouse owner Lynn Tran represents herself and co-owner Richard Hazen during a Jan. 7 hearing in front of Judge Charles Sniffen. - Kristin Swain | Sun

BRADENTON – The case of the city of Holmes Beach versus beachfront treehouse owners Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen is back in Manatee County Circuit Court.

During a Jan. 7 hearing, Judge Charles Sniffen heard arguments from attorney Randy Mora, representing the city, and attorney Lorraine Novak, representing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on both organizations’ motions to dismiss. Tran stepped up to the podium to represent herself and Hazen during the proceedings.

Sniffen said that he would review all of the material presented to him before rendering a judgment on the two motions to dismiss. He also said that the city’s motion for sanctions, which was not heard during the hearing, would need to be postponed until he ruled on the city’s motion to dismiss.

Sniffen did grant the city’s motion for judicial notice, which Tran said she had no objection to. By granting the motion for judicial notice, Sniffen is required to take into account all of the previous legal actions and currently pending cases in the treehouse case. Currently, there is one appeal pending in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida and two additional cases pending in Manatee County Circuit Court.

The treehouse case stretches all the way back to when the treehouse was constructed on the beach in front of the Angelinos Sea Lodge in 2011. According to Tran, a complaint was lodged against the construction when the two-story structure was almost completed in November of 2011 and the owners were given 30 days to remove the structure.

The treehouse is built on Tran and Hazen’s property but within the boundaries of a setback from the erosion control line. The two-story structure is for the couple’s private use and is built partially in a large Australian pine with pilings made to look like tree trunks for additional support. One of the pending cases concerns the property owners’ rights regarding construction within the erosion control line setback.

Tran said the couple spent approximately $20,000 to build the treehouse. Now the couple is facing several times that amount in legal fees and code enforcement violation fees of $50 per day that have been accumulating since mid-2013. During the Jan. 7 hearing, she said that she was representing herself and Hazen due to financial constraints.

Even if Sniffen comes back with a ruling in the city’s favor, Mora acknowledged that the fight to either save or remove the treehouse is still far from over considering the other pending litigation, including whether or not the court will order the removal of the treehouse from its Australian pine perch.

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