House, treed

A Falls Church man can’t build a treehouse without government intervention. Someone call the Tea Party:

[Mark W.] Grapin, 51, said he only wanted to give his sons the kind of hideaway he knew as kid growing up in Redondo Beach, Calif., when he and friends built a treehouse using bent nails, apple crates and whatever else they could scavenge.

First, Grapin checked with the county’s building department. A friendly employee told him that, no, he did not need a building permit and to have a nice day.

So off he went to the hardware store for the materials to construct a 58-square-foot treehouse — painted red, with a pitched roof and orange window shutters and braced with stilts — around the only sturdy tree on their Falls Church property.

What Grapin did not realize was that because he lives in a corner lot at Marc Drive and Parkwood Terrace, he would need a variance to build any such structure in what the zoning code considers a front yard. Responding to two anonymous complaints, a county inspector went around to have a look. Soon, the Grapins received notice that they were in violation of Section 10-104 (12C) of the county zoning code.

“Because of the location on his lot, he does have to follow the zoning code,” said Merni Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the county. “It’s no different from a shed or a garage or any structure.”

Photo by Mike Madden