Actually, that is not totally true, because some tree houses are pretty, um, rustic. But the one that went under the microscope of Denver’s Board of Adjustment yesterday was far from that: It has a strong contemporary design, but it does not have any permits — and thus the hearing to figure out what happens next.
It helps that the designer of the tree house, a respected artist named Donatello Fodness, also had recruited his young daughter to work on the tree house project in their side yard. He told the Board of Adjustment, which handles zoning appeals, that he wanted his daughter to learn some things and be proud of her work. He had been told that a tree house under 100 square feet did not require a permit. The structure has no electricity or water.
The tree house is a place for family to gather in a place up in a cedar tree. Fodness said that the tree runs through the tree house, and there are two posts that also help support the structure.
There also was a question that the tree house reached over the neighbor’s property line, though the neighbor wasn’t worried about that, which was in writing. Letters from four registered neighborhood organizations (RNOs) sent letters of encouragement. A representative from one of the RNO’s, the Berkeley-Regis Neighbors, spoke to offer support. After all, she said, people in the neighborhood were concerned about the changes in that part of Denver. “We are a family-friendly neighborhood.”
At the end of the hearing, city attorney Adam Hernandez asked the board several times about the provision in the rules about “hardship,” which would allow a variance addressing the tree house.
The answer was twofold: The artist said it would be an “extreme hardship to my daughter” if the tree house came down. There was a discussion of how building codes should be considered. It was pointed out that three homes across from the tree house were scraped to build an apartment building with no notification to residents across the street regarding demolition or construction.
The upshot? The board voted for a variance, a semi-reprieve. The board chairperson, Penny Elder, said, “I’m a supporter of tree houses.” Inspectors will examine the tree house, and Fodness will need to apply for permits. So this issue is not totally complete, but it’s a start. The process began a couple of months ago, which is why a photograph taken in August (by me) shows a tree shielding the tree house.
Later in the day, I wondered how many problematic tree houses appear before the Board of Adjustment. After all, the board meets every week, and it’s clear that with so much new construction in Denver, there will be complaints and issues.
City attorney Hernandez, at a later meeting that day, said there might be two a year over the past five years. They are “uncommon.”
The only link to this post is to a page that explains the city’s Board of Adjustment, which hears and decides cases about Denver’s Zoning Code: