October 25, 2011 Kerala Taylor

A zoning board threatens to destroy this child's tree house

A tree house in Fairfax, Va. may soon meet an untimely demise. That is, if the Fairfax County zoning board gets its way.

When he left for Iraq, Mark Grapin, an Army aviation specialist, promised his two sons he would build them a tree house when he got home. He wanted to give them a special hideaway, the kind that he had growing up, when according to The Washington Post, he and his friends “built a tree house using bent nails, apple crates and whatever else they could scavenge.”

In this day and age, Grapin knew his childhood tree house would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. So when he returned from Iraq, he invested $1,400 to build a sturdy structure and made sure to contact the county to ask if he needed any special permits. He was assured he did not. It was only after he built the thing that the county board of zoning enforcement told him he had to take it down.

Why? Because Grapin owns a corner lot, and his backyard is actually considered a front yard, meaning he has to follow the zoning code. Merni Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the county, told The Washington Post, “It’s no different from a shed or a garage or any structure.”

Well, except that it’s a tree house. It’s one of the coolest things a kid could ask for, inviting hours of imaginative outdoor play not only for Grapin’s sons but for their friends in the broader community. To destroy it over a zoning technicality sends the message that we care more about rules and regulations—whether or not they make sense—than we do about the health of our children.

Grapin appealed the zoning board’s initial ruling and on Nov. 30, he has one last opportunity to plead his case. Let’s join forces to tell the Fairfax County Zoning Board to let the tree house stay!


Photo credit: Mark Grapin, The Washington Post.

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