Article Courtesy of The
Daytona Beach News-Journal
By Jessica Gresko
Published January 9, 2018
A Florida couple will have to take down their beachfront treehouse after the
Supreme Court declined to get involved in a dispute over it.
The Supreme Court on Monday declined to take the case brought by Lynn Tran and
Richard Hazen, who live on Anna Maria Island on Florida’s west coast. The couple
built a two-story treehouse on their Holmes Beach property in 2011 after being
told they didn’t need a permit.
The previous story:
WASHINGTON — Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen
built a Florida beachfront treehouse that would be the envy
of any child. It’s got two levels, hammocks and windows
looking out on the Gulf of Mexico.
But the hangout has cost the couple a handsome sum: about
$30,000 to construct and probably five times that in legal
fees as they’ve fought local authorities over it, Tran said.
Now, they’re at their last stop, the Supreme Court. Unless
the high court intervenes, the treehouse must be torn down.
The justices had their first opportunity to consider taking
the case at a closed-door conference Friday, and a decision
on whether they will weigh in could come as early as Monday.
The couple’s lawyer, David Levin, acknowledges the case is
unlikely to be accepted by the justices, who only hear
argument in about 80 of the thousands of cases they’re asked
to take each year. But he argues that his clients’ rights
were violated when a Florida court “rubber stamped” a ruling
proposed by the city of Holmes Beach without any evidence of
Tran and Hazen haven’t been willing to give up on the
structure she calls their “getaway.”
“Part of me still believes there’s got to
be justice out there and we didn’t do anything wrong,” Tran
said in a telephone interview.
Tran and her husband run a rental property called Angelinos
Sea Lodge on Anna Maria Island on Florida’s west coast. They
have a house on their property and four rental units.
Lynn Tran and her husband Richard Hazen pose in their
Australian pine treehouse Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, in Holmes Beach,
Fla. The couple is hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will hear their
case after city and state officials ordered the treehouse removed.
Before they began constructing the
treehouse around an Australian Pine on their property in 2011, Hazen asked
the city whether they needed a permit. The answer: No.
So, with some help from the internet, Tran dreamed up the structure, which
took six months to build.
Soon, however, the city got an anonymous complaint about the treehouse.
After an investigation, the city found the couple did actually need to go
through the permitting process. And it turns out the treehouse was in an
area where building is prohibited because of a city setback. The couple
hoped to get around that by having local voters weigh in, but courts told
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson noted in a telephone interview that courts
have sided with the city and he called the continued legal wrangling “quite
honestly a waste of time.”
“For some reason these people have this fixation on it,” he said.
Tran says she never expected such a drawn-out fight and that in hindsight
the couple could have taken the money they’ve spent on the treehouse, gone
somewhere else and built an actual house.
It’s still costing the couple. They’re accumulating a $50 a day fine for not
taking down the treehouse, a fine that’s now tens of thousands of dollars.
Tran says she’s afraid to think about it. Until the high court acts, she’s
enjoying the treehouse on sunny days, meditating there or napping in a
hammock. The couple doesn’t have any children of their own enjoying the
treehouse and renters aren’t allowed up for liability reasons, but Tran says
guests and beachgoers often admire the structure.
“It’s kind of fun to have around,” she said.
If the treehouse ultimately has to go, there’s a lurking irony for the
couple. To take down the structure, they’ll need the one thing they didn’t
have before they began putting it up: a city permit.Lynn Tran and her
husband Richard Hazen pose in their Australian pine treehouse Thursday, Jan.
4, 2018, in Holmes Beach, Fla. The couple is hoping the U.S. Supreme Court
will hear their case after city and state officials ordered the treehouse