Holmes Beach claims tree house threatens turtles, expert says no - WFLA News Channel 8

Holmes Beach claims tree house threatens turtles, expert says no

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A two-level tree house on Holmes Beach has been stirring up a lot of controversy and now a lot of attention.

It was featured on NBC's Today Show Thursday morning.  It's also been getting press around the world. An Australian TV network is doing a story on it next week.

It all started when Richard Hazen and his wife, Lynn Tran got verbal permission from a city official to build a tree house on their property.

But recently, the city informed them that it violates building codes and it must be torn down.

Hazen said, "I really, really don't understand what their motive is, it's gotta be some hidden motive. They won't sit down and talk about it."

Holmes Beach city officials did not respond to our interview requests, but we did learn building codes were not the only concern.

Public works superintendent Tom O'Brien sent an email to NBC News saying, "'the city is trying to protect our fragile natural dune system and the sensitive coastal environment that supports an essential sea turtle hatchery."

O'Brien says Hazen and his wife destroyed the sand dunes during construction and they are endangering the sea turtles.

Suzi Fox, the director of the Anna Maria Island Turtle Watch, has been studying the local sea turtle nests for 25 years. She said the tree house is not causing a problem.

"There's plenty of nesting area in front and that has not been compromised in any way," said Fox.

She says the city has not consulted her.

Fox said, "They're gonna need to come collect that data from me if they want to use that against the owners of the tree house."

As for those dunes, Hazen says he didn't tear them down, Tropical Storm Debby did.  He adds that  he's been planting sea oats, trying to restore them.

"If only we [and the city officials] could sit down and talk and understand each other, I would be able to sleep at night," said Hazen.

City officials say if this tree house isn't torn down soon, the couple could be fined up to $500 a day. The Code Enforcement Board will be meeting in June to decide the next course of action.

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