Highland residents Melissa and Brian Shackelford live on a corner lot in the Hidden Valley addition. After fencing in a portion of their front yard, Brian decided to build the kids a tree house to give them more to do when they are outside. He chose a sturdy tree that stands in the corner of the fencing to build the tree house.
"I am, what some might call, an overly protective parent," Melissa said. She went on to explain that she frequently worries about the volume of sexual predators and drug dealers in the area so having a play area that is fenced makes her feel at ease when her children are outside.
Melissa said she feels her children are safer when they play inside of the fenced yard. "No one can come inside of the fence without us knowing," Melissa said. "And the kids can't wonder off." The Shackleford's chose to fence their front yard, even though it is smaller than the back yard, so they can see their children at all times.
Brian said one day while he was working on the project Ralph Sharp, the code enforcement officer for Highland, stopped and asked him what he was doing. According to Brian, he told Sharp he was building a tree house and Sharp said he would allow it as long as he didn't receive any complaints, so Brian continued construction on the tree house.
Brian works in construction and he explained that the tree house is very sturdily built. It has floor joists and supports for the roof. "The materials I used were extra from job sites but they were all new. I didn't use any rotten or unsafe materials," Brian said. "And, the materials we had to purchase, we bought locally."
The tree house has a set of stairs leading up to it with railings on both sides. The upper deck of it also has railings all of the way around. Brian said he kept the safety of his children in mind at all times while he was building the tree house.
The couple said as they were building the tree house, people would stop and ask how it was coming along and make comments on how neat they thought it was. Now that the tree house is nearly complete, minus some esthetic touches, Melissa said all of the neighborhood kids come over to play on it. "We even have a neighbor who's grandchildren come from Hardy to play in our tree house," Melissa said.
But, last week the excitement of the tree house was interrupted by a letter the couple received from the city of Highland. The letter starts by citing some city codes and ends with a hand written message that says, "This tree house which you have constructed in no way meets any building standards for the city of Highland. You must stop this building and return the property to its former condition."
Brian said after the ice storm hit he was out helping clear debris from the roads and driveways in his area. "I got home from voluntarily working to help the city when Melissa showed me the letter," he said. "I thought it was ridiculous."
Included with the letter was a copy of the bill of assurance for the Scott Addition to Hidden Valley. Highlighted were several subdivision restrictions, which the city says have been violated. One of the highlighted phrases says, "Nor shall anything be placed, constructed or maintained that would in any way constitute any eye sore or nuisance to adjacent property owners, residents, or to the community."
"No building shall be erected, placed or altered on any lot until the construction plans and specification plans showing the location of the structure have been approved by the architectural control committee as to quality of workmanship and materials, harmony of external design with existing structures, and as to location," was also highlighted in the bill of assurance.
The other phrases highlighted stated, "No building shall be erected or moved to any lot of this subdivision which does not conform to the following restrictions of use, area, setbacks and other restrictions herin setforth. Set back restrictions shall apply to all structures constructed and erected on said property as follows; Corner lots-25 feet from front and 15 feet from side."
According to Melissa, after receiving the letter from the city, she contacted her neighbors and asked if any of them were offended by the tree house. All of them said they were not, and many of them went on to say how much they enjoyed the tree house. Next, the Shackleford's contacted the president of their homeowners association.
According to them, he too said there was no problem with the tree house. Melissa said the homeowners association had just held a meeting, and according to the president the tree house was not even mentioned. The Shacklefords said they then showed the president of the homeowners association the bill of assurance that came with the letter.
He told them that he thought the city had made the assumption that the fence line in the Shackelford's yard was their property line, which would make the tree house illegal according to the measurement requirements. But, since the Shackleford's have several feet of property outside of the fence they measured from the tree house to the roadway and found that their tree house does meet the measurement requirements, with room to spare.
Melissa said she contacted Sharp concerning the letter and he told her he received complaints that the structure was an eye sore from people who drive by it. "I am willing to extend our fence if we have to or buy a building permit and pay late fees," Melissa said. "We just don't want to have to take this away from our children, they won't understand."
"It (the tree house) is an illegal structure," Sharp said. "Someone could fall out of it and get hurt, and if I did nothing I could get sued."
"I would have loved to have it (the tree house) when I was a kid," Sharp said. "If they had put it in the back yard where it didn't stick out like a sore thumb, maybe I could have let it go."
Melissa said while they will do what is necessary, they just hope the city will change their mind and allow them to keep the structure. "If it becomes unsafe -- we'll tear it down, its just that simple," Brian said. "But, the tree is sturdy and so is the tree house, it is not unsafe."