On December 14, 2011, before we can complete the survey and the drawings for the after the fact permit, we received the “Warning Letter” from the State FDEP Manager, Mr. Jim Martinello. The letter cited POSSIBLE violation of section 161.053(2), Florida Statutes. The letter stated that a FDEP permit has not been applied for the construction of the tree house. “It appears unlikely that the Department could issue an after-the-fact permit… pursuant to Rule 62B-33.005, Florida Administrative Code.”
The letter concluded “In order to resolve this matter, you may voluntarily agree to remove the wood frame deck structure… within 30 days of your receipt of this Warning Letter.” Then the letter asked us to respond within 14 days of receipt, advising of our intentions in this matter.
On December 14, 2011, we saw the article on the Islander, our local newspaper, “Jim Martinello, environmental manager at the DEP in Tallahassee, said the department would be looking at whether the tree hut is exempt from DEP permits.”
We immediately look for an attorney, as the letter sounds very onerous, even though it stated “Warning/Possible Violation“. We retained attorney David Levin within a week. We definitely did not want to voluntarily destroy our tree house.
On December 19, 2011 – The City wrote on their Action Report: The City received a copy of FDEP letter. “The matter is now between Mr. Hazen and the State of Florida…”
On December 27, 2011 – Our attorney requested FDEP for a 30-day extension to review before he can advise and respond. Request was granted.
In summary, in 2011, Mr. Shaffer told Richard there are no codes, no permit needed. He told the press that he gave a verbal OK thinking it’s a small child’s tree house. He told the code enforcement officer he gave a verbal OK for a tree hut. Two years later in 2013, he testified that he thought that a tree house would be something like his tree house for deer hunting, and technically he didn’t give an approval as there are no regulations for tree houses.
The Code Enforcement Officer called it a tree house observation deck, and said it could be considered as an “accessory structure”. The local press called it the “Swiss Family Robinson” tree house and a two-level tree hut. The public advised us to call it a tree fort, a lifeguard station, a bird house, and many other names. The State DEP called it a wood frame deck structure. This is all before we consult with our attorneys.
By the end of 2011, after the tree house is 95% completed, we found out that the city building officials may have missed the state’s laws for coastal construction. The beach tree house was cited for possible violation of Florida Statute 161 and Florida Administrative Code for a permit that we may not be able to get after-the-fact. But there is hope, the Florida Statute also allows for exemption and the Warning Letter was not yet final. So stay tune for next post.