HOLMES BEACH -- A judge has ruled in favor of the city of Holmes Beach in connection to a deeply rooted dispute with the owners of a tree house.
On Sept. 16, Circuit Judge Janette Dunnigan released an opinion that sides with the city against couple Richard Hazen and Lynn Tran, the owners of a tree house in an Australian pine at Angelinos Sea Lodge, 103 29th St., Holmes Beach. Located on the beachfront, the house that's been compared to a "Swiss Family Robinson tree home" is supported by other pilings in addition to the Australian pine tree.
According to a document, the city code enforcement board found the couple in violation of multiple sections of Holmes Beach's land development code on July 30,
2013. The board also said the couple failed to fulfill building-code permit requirements.
Two years prior, Hazen spoke with his wife about his idea to build a tree house in the Australian pine on the waterside of their property at 103 29th St., Holmes Beach. He approached the Holmes Beach Building and Zoning Department with the idea and, according to a document, was informed by then-Building Inspector Robert Shaffer the city had no regulations involving construction of a tree house. In May 2011, Hazen began construction on the house.
"At no time prior to construction did Appellants (Hazen and Tran) discuss their ideas with city officials or submit sketches for the tree house to the City," Dunnigan's opinion states.
Six months later, the couple received a notice of violation, which halted their construction project. By then, Hazen and Tran had already spent $30,000 to $50,000 on the house.
The Holmes Beach City Code Enforcement Board's final administrative order July 30, 2013, ordered Hazen and Tran to do the following by Aug. 28, 2013, or pay a fine of up to $250 per day: Pay the city all fines and penalties due as a result of constructing the house without a building permit, contact the city's building department and begin the process for removing all violations or, if the structure could not be constructed in accordance to code, remove it and pay the city's cost in this action in the amount of $4,271.
The couple, who argued the board didn't rely on substantial evidence in its findings, appealed the order.
In her opinion, Dunnigan stated while it's true some structures may be allowed under Florida statutory law that would be prohibited under the city code, the couple's tree house is prohibited under both laws because it does not count as a "shore protection structure, minor structure, or pier."
In the document, it also states the court found it "unreasonable" for Hazen and Tran to "have taken this informal, verbal statement by a city official as a blanket approval to build any type of tree house -- especially one so elaborate."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.