What went up must come down

When Patty Dean moved to Ashland in 2006, the only requirement in her housing search was a tree in the backyard large enough to support a tree house. She found the perfect willow tree on Scenic Drive, moved in and forked over $6,000 to a contractor to construct her childhood dream.

The result was a 10- by 15-foot retreat 20 feet off the ground, complete with a Plexiglas window in the floor to watch the honeybee nest below.

Dean never expected the city to ask her to take it down just under a year later.

"What kind of a world is this when you can't even build a tree house?" she asked. "It doesn't have a foundation; it doesn't have any electricity or plumbing. Who would think you would need a permit to build something like this?"

Dean said she checked in with the city before beginning construction and was told it was allowed as long as there was no public access.

After construction, she learned that it failed two conditions of the Ashland land use code. Ordinances require structures to be no more than 15 feet high, as measured from the ground, and at least — feet from the back and side property lines.

Two neighboring property owners complained that the tree house invaded their privacy and their property lines, prompting the city to take action.

"This is too substantial of a structure to be ignored by the building department," read a letter sent earlier this month by Dean Walker, a code compliance specialist for the city. The letter asked that Dean remove the tree by Aug. 15 or provide an alternate removal schedule.

"I see no way to have it down before Christmas," Dean wrote back. "This will be a major undertaking for me, physically, emotionally and spiritually."

Dean went on vacation shortly after receiving the letter and the city agreed to give her more time. Christmas could be acceptable if she agrees not to let visitors into the tree house where they can see into the neighbors' yards once the leaves fall, Walker said. If she doesn't remove the tree house, she could face fines of up to $500 a day, he said, a decision left up to the municipal court judge.

"Personally I think it was beautifully done and I can sure understand her excitement about it," Walker said. "I can absolutely understand there's a heartbreak factor to a project that someone's put so much love and care into. It's unfortunate that there are other factors."

Without complaints from neighbors, it is unlikely the city would be involved.

"We definitely don't go around looking for tree houses to spoil," he said. "It's not fun. We're not trying to actively ruin someone's day."

Steve and Rebecca Pierce, who own a rental property next door to Dean, called the city when the house was first being built, wondering if there were regulations.

"It was a big tree house, and it got bigger and bigger," Steve Pierce said. "It looked right down on our tenants' deck. It didn't seem like something that would be allowed on such a small lot."

Danny Matteson, who rents a house next door to Dean, said he worried a windstorm might knock down the tree, causing damage to his property and utility lines that run in the easement between the two properties.

"I've been up it several times; it's kind of a cool-looking tree house," Mattson said. "It's just a little bit on the dangerous side."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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