Cute Treehouse. Now Tear It Down.

DIY Toronto treehouse built by hand and shaped as large boat or ship

Courtesy of John Alpeza

TreeHugger naturally loves treehouses and has shown many of them. We love backyard garden sheds and we even love kids. So what's not to love about the treehouse John Alpeza built for his kids in Toronto?

For one thing, it is way too tall to comply with the city of Toronto bylaws and towers over the neighbors's back yard. So in 2014 the City told Alpeza to apply for a variance from the City Committee of Adjustment, where you go when you want to do something that doesn't comply with the bylaws. Alpeza didn't, so the City recently gave him an order to comply and a week to tear it down.

Of course then everyone says this is terrible, why are the fun police after him, it's a work of art, where is Rob Ford when you need him to stop this bureaucratic excess. There is even a petition to save it. Even the Mayor is on the case.

But there is more to this than meets the eye. Could it be a sort of "spite house," one of those structures built specifically to annoy a neighbor? Edward Keenan writes in the Toronto Star:

For one thing, this particular treehouse blocks all the sunlight to the backyard flower garden of Alpeza’s neighbour, Marita Bagdonas, whose daughter (who lives on the same block) filed the formal complaint against the treehouse. Bagdonas, as it turns out, filed an OMB [Ontario Municipal Board] complaint in 2008 that prevented Alpeza from building a third-storey addition on his home. This background raises the uncomfortable possibility that the treehouse was built, at least in part, as an act of revenge. Alpeza strongly denies the suggestion he might have been trying to irritate his neighbour in building the treehouse.

There is a big back and forth about whether he needed a permit and in fact, the law is pretty clear: buildings under 108 square feet do not. But they also cannot be more than 13 feet high. Looking at the photo above, it appears that he already has a backyard garden shed, so Alpeza, who is a contractor, would no doubt know this.

Most of the twitterverse and commentaria are with this guy, saying that he should be allowed to keep it. After all, he says he didn't know you needed a permit. Personally I find that hard to believe; when you look at the website for Alpeza General Contracting, it notes that his firm is "a general contracting company employing professional Project Managers, Engineers, Estimators and Site Superintendents" and that it builds "parks and playgrounds, water treatment plants, sewage pumping stations, radio control tower antennas, ice skating rink, nuclear facility, Bailey bridge, roads & sewers, railside work, educational institutions, as well as numerous commercial and residential projects." He has built enough stuff to know how City Hall works and how to read a bylaw.

Now I am the first to complain about stupid laws. I also rail against restrictive rules that make it impossible to build back lane houses and tiny homes. But I also know that if someone built this next to me I would be fighting it tooth and nail, right up to the top. And as an architect, I have always resented how people do these things and get away with it; that's why you should hire a professional first. So perhaps I am just a self-interested hypocrite, I don't know.

What do you think? (Lots of photos in the Star and Post here)

What should happen to this treehouse?