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Board of Adjustment denies variance request for tree house

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

(This story replaces the original, which was erroneous.)


After serious consideration, the Board of Adjustment has denied a variance to a property at 823 West 11th Street, leaving the future of a 12-year-old tree house at that location up in the air.


The tree house sits in a 39.5-inch diameter live oak heritage tree. It encroaches into the rear setback of the property, which is bordered by an alley and garage offices.


“It’s probably one of the best… tree houses that you’ll ever see,” said owner, engineer, and builder of the tree house, Dwight Monteith.


“As a young architect, like six or seven, I used to love building tree houses and I certainly know the joy of having a tree house. But I am concerned that we have sort of manipulated the situation so that the tree is then used as the reason to grant the variance, yet the treehouse is impinging on the tree,” said Chair Jeff Jack.


Board Member Michael Von Ohlen noted that the two were literally connected, saying, “If the tree house is not in the tree, then it is not a tree house.”


“Actually, I think (the) hardship is the tree is located where it is. There is no place else to locate the tree house,” said Von Ohlen.


Von Ohlen also reminded the board of their mission.


“I want to be clear that what we are addressing here is the encroachment, not the tree. Not the structural integrity of that tree house, or whether he’s throwing parties up there and running naked. I don’t care. What we’re addressing is that he has that deck up in that tree, and it is encroaching into the back setback,” said Von Ohlen.


The applicant had the support of city arborist Keith Mars and independent Tree Clinic arborist Jerry Pulley, both of whom said the tree would be least compromised by leaving the tree house in place, rather than disturbing the canopy in order to remove it.


“Basically, across the board, everyone is saying, ‘don’t touch it, leave it alone’,” said Kari Blachly, who was representing the owner.


“I understand your point that taking it out may require some subtlety and finesse,” said Jack. “But certainly relieving the tree of the weight of the tree house couldn’t be anything but a benefit to the tree, assuming that you take it out carefully.”


“Actually, Jerry Pulley felt like touching the tree house at all would be detrimental,” said Blachly. “The way I remember him saying this is it’s become part of the tree now, and it should just be left alone and not disturbed now.”


“The tree is in good health and, looking back, if he would have been brought on site before it was constructed, he might have said, ‘no, lets not do this,’ possibly. But at this point, it’s there… the health of the tree would be prolonged if its not disturbed,” said Blachly.


Vice Chair Heidi Goebel voted in favor of the variance, but added a friendly amendment that the tree house could not be expanded to any further. “I am concerned that this thing is at some point it’s going to fall apart, or God forbid, a limb’s going to break off and take half of it down.”


The Board of Adjustment voted 5-2 for approval of the variance, with Alternate Will Schnier sitting in for Board Member Melissa Hawthorne. Board Members Susan Morrison and Bryan King voted against the variance.


 At 5-2 outcome was not enough to grant the variance, which requires at least 6 votes.

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