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Treehouse faces demolition in dispute with Fairfax County

Monday - 10/10/2011, 5:05am  ET

treehouse512.jpg
The treehouse Mark Grapin built for his sons sits in his Falls Church backyard. In a dispute with Fairfax County, he may be forced to remove it. (WTOP/Hank Silverberg)
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Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

FALLS CHURCH, Va. - It seemed like a great idea -- build a treehouse on his property for two growing boys. But for one local man, it's turning into a big, expensive lesson in government red tape.

Mark Grapin thought his two sons would love the treehouse.

He called Fairfax County before starting to find out the rules for the Broyhill Park neighborhood in the Falls Church area of the county.

"The guy in building permits laughed me off the phone," Grapin says. He was told it's a treehouse and not built to any code.

So Grapin went to the local home improvement store, bought $1,400 worth of supplies and spent six weekends building the treehouse.

It has red clapboard siding, shingles, a slide, a pull-down ladder, two climbing ropes, closed windows and shutters.

It is wrapped around the tree but stands free, not touching the tree. It stands to the side of his house.

Grapin says his immediate neighbors had no complaints, but someone did complain anonymously to Fairfax County.

Grapin was told he had to treat it like an addition to his house and get a zoning variance. He spent more than $1,800 getting the proper forms and going through a hearing.

The home sits on a corner lot and Zoning Board Chairman John Ribble says that means what Grapin thought was a side lot is actually the front lot.

The variance was rejected.

Grapin says he has an appeal scheduled for Nov. 30, but if he loses that he will have to remove the treehouse.

"I don't have the heart for it," he says. "I'm gonna go pay some day laborers and hide in the house while they take a saw to it."

If that happens, what will he tell his kids?

"Daddy makes mistakes. We tried our best. I made a mistake by not knowing enough."

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)