01/05/2012 11:17 am ET

Fairfax County'a New Tree House Kerfuffle: Owner Told It Must Be Torn Down (PHOTOS)

WASHINGTON -- Remember last fall, when an Iraq war veteran named Mark Grapin battled the Fairfax County zoning board to keep a tree house he'd built for his sons?

The Virginia county has another heart-string tugging tree house controversy on its hands.

Phillip Blevins, an Air Force officer, told WRC-TV/NBC4 that he spent two years building an eco-friendly tree house for his sons. Now he might have to tear it down.

The treehouse, which cost "thousands of dollars" to build, is seven feet off the ground, and features vinyl siding, real doors and windows, a wooden deck, a slide and enough space for a kitchen table. It appears to be the size of a studio apartment.

Blevins finished building in the summer of 2010 and was deployed to Afghanistan shortly thereafter -- WTOP reports that two weeks after that, some two months after the tree house was finished, Blevins' wife received a letter from the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning. The letter said that the treehouse violated a requirement that tree houses be as far away from the property line as they are tall.

Blevins told NBC4 that the zoning department told him he didn't need a permit for the tree house "unless it was going to be something extravagant," and that his wife was told that the county would delay action on the tree house until Blevins was back from his overseas deployment. On Dec. 30, the Blevins received notice that they had 21 days to tear down or move the tree house.

Blevins told WUSA-TV/9News that he doesn't want to move the tree house, and is hiring counsel. He told WTOP he thinks "there needs to be clarification and a process to follow for folks who want to build treehouses."

Tom Jackman at The Washington Post, who reports that the case of the tree house appears to be headed to Fairfax Circuit Court, got the county's side of the story:

I asked Merni Fitzgerald, Fairfax County's chief spokeswoman, what the deal was. "First off, we have the greatest respect for the men and women who serve in the military," she said. But, "unfortunately, the treehouse doesn't meet what's legally allowed." It is more than seven feet off the ground and very close to the property line. Fitzgerald said to be in compliance, it had to be lowered or moved elsewhere in the yard.

She said the county contacted the Blevins family six months ago but "attempts to work with them were unsuccessful." Whenever complaints are received, as they were here, inspectors check them out and note violations to maintain everyone's quality of life, Fitzgerald said.

It's worth remembering that after a big public outcry and an administrative appeal, Fairfax County's zoning board ended up letting Mark Grapin keep his tree house.


RELATED VIDEO: NBC4 talks to the Blevins about their tree house.

Flickr photo by skampy, used under a Creative Commons license



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