Building codes for a tree house?

Thursday, February 12, 2009
Photo/Amanda Powers The city of Highland has asked Melissa and Brian Shackelford, residents of Highland, to tear down the tree house they built for their children. According to the Shackelford's the tree house is very popular among the neighborhood children and parents. However, Ralph Sharp, Highland's code enforcement officer, said the structure is illegal, an eye sore and dangerous.

It is understood by most who live inside of any city limits that there are rules and regulations that are to be followed. If a person plans on constructing a new deck, an addition to their home or even a storage shed, it is usually required that they submit plans to their local planning and zoning commission for approval and purchase a building permit. But, who would have ever thought such a procedure was required when it comes to a tree house?

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."

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  • More useless city involvement. Let the kids play so they won't get involved in illegal activities. One more city government that needs to be unincorporated.

    -- Posted by troutman on Thu, Feb 12, 2009, at 12:45 PM
  • What is Highlands' problem? First they are not happy to have businesses rebuilding, they have to look pretty & need "gingerbread", now a tree house?! When we drove through Highland last week we did not see one building that looked bad or ugly. Guess City hall is talking about itself too, they will also need to add some "gingerbread" to their building, because it is just plain. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Be proud that any of the businesses rebuilt, and that families want to live there!

    -- Posted by ktay5875 on Thu, Feb 12, 2009, at 10:45 PM
  • I think people need to learn to mind their own business in this area. I think the tree house is very nice idea for their kids, plus they let the other kids come and play, there is nothing in this area for kids to do. It gives the kids a safe place to play and they are staying out of trouble. It is probley cranky old people with nothing better to do then cause problems for people who are trying to make the neighborhood a safe place for the kids.

    -- Posted by super1nova on Sat, Feb 14, 2009, at 8:04 PM
  • I think this is a shame! I am a mother of two and I personally would like to say thank you to these childrens parents. We need more parents like them in our community, and shame on highland for trying to take something away from them babies! If you want to knit pick something how about making the streets safe from preverts that harm our children or constructing something for these children to do. I cannot believe you would try to shove authority on to these people just because you can, really what is the world coming to we all have so much to worry about then what is in someones yard! This is truely when people need to mind their own business! I say this if they do not like it and it is such an eye-sore then look the other way when driving by! The neighbors enjoy it and everyone else needs to just get over it! Let the kids enjoy it, you old people would had loved to have it when you was a kid and probally did, now how would you like to explain why they had to take it down? Where is peoples heart? As far as saving a life the parents might just have by keeping their children home instead of running the streets! Well that is how I feel God Bless you all and Highland I pray you make the right choice for them children!

    -- Posted by FOLLOW_JESUS! on Tue, Feb 17, 2009, at 6:06 PM
  • -- Posted by JUST FOR YOU on Tue, Feb 17, 2009, at 7:00 PM
  • I'm flabbergasted by the pettiness and stupidity of city government. I agree with other bloggers--there should be more parents and citizens like the Shacklefords. It looks pretty sturdy to me, well-built, and certainly not an eye-sore. Does anyone really think that drivers-by have really complained of it being an eye-sore? C'mon, folks. Politicians, you are right--the Shacklefords' kids and other kids in the neighborhood should play out in the streets where they are more vulnerable to one of the MANY area sex offenders, not in their sturdy, cute treehouse in their own fenced in backyard. Idiots.

    -- Posted by conventional1 on Wed, Feb 18, 2009, at 10:50 AM
  • Just what we need - more "condo commandos" in city government.

    is mr sharp elected?

    Who's his boss and is he elected?

    I trust this article will still be available in the online archives around election time.

    -- Posted by oldjimh on Wed, Feb 18, 2009, at 9:41 PM
  • How could Sharp get sued? This treehouse is not on his property. If there is anyone complaining it is from someone saying it is lowering the value of their property and they are not going to sell it anyway. Let the children play in a safe place. It is great that the Shackelfords think that much of their children and other children as well. Look at the building codes again.

    -- Posted by JUST FOR YOU on Mon, Feb 23, 2009, at 5:22 PM
  • How ridiculous!! Don't these people have anything more important to deal with than to mess with some children's treehouse that is obviously safe, constructed by a father that knows what he is doing? Does anyone really believe that people driving by think it is an eyesore? Then go another way, ok? To me this fringes on harrassment, and I hope the Shacklefords continue to fight it. Let them have their adorable tree house, God knows there is nothing else to do around here for young people but get into trouble! Maybe put some of these gestapo tactics into that!!! Geez, what else??

    -- Posted by Sharin728 on Thu, Feb 26, 2009, at 5:50 AM
  • I read your story and I also have a very nice treehouse maybe a little to nice no power or water and cant even see it if you didnt know it was there but a nosey neighbor saw me packing wood in called the city on me.When the inspector came out he just about fliped telling me it has to come down. I explained to him its only a treehouse for my daughter and her friends to play in. He said it was to big so I ask him to please show me where in the code book dose it give a squar footage. When he left he said he would check and let me know. If anyone has any help me save my treeh0use please Respond

    Thank You Rick

    If people would just mind there own business me and my tree would be just fine.

    -- Posted by chomper on Sat, Oct 13, 2012, at 10:27 AM
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