Billings board grants variance for brothers' treehouse

2012-12-05T20:03:00Z 2014-08-25T08:18:35Z Billings board grants variance for brothers' treehouseBy ED KEMMICK ekemmick@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Logan and Dillon Olson will be allowed to keep their treehouse.

After hearing personal appeals from both boys and their mother Wednesday night, the city Board of Adjustment voted 6-0 to grant the family a variance from setback regulations.

The seventh member of the board excused himself from the vote and deliberations, saying he had a conflict of interest. He is the boys' grandfather, though not the grandfather who helped build the treehouse.

It would have taken a hard-hearted board to deny the boys their treehouse after they read from handwritten statements during a public hearing on the request.

Logan, 8, said it was "important to me because it was a gift and my grandpa spent a lot of time and money on it." He also confided that "sometimes my cat even comes up there."

Dillon, 12, told the board: "We all spent a great amount of time and it is a great deal of fun." He concluded his remarks by saying, "I have been praying and hoping we could keep it."

The boys' other grandfather offered to build the treehouse for Logan on his birthday last April. The whole family pitched in on the project, building an 80-square-foot house among the branches of a linden tree in the Olsons' front yard at 1907 Beverly Hill Blvd.

Because the treehouse was rather large and the linden not terribly big, they also supported the structure with four posts.

It was the posts that got the family in trouble. Someone originally reported the structure as a code violation for not having a building permit, but zoning coordinator Nicole Cromwell determined it was too small to need one.

With the support beams, however, it qualified as an "accessory structure," which must be set back at least 20 feet from the property line. One post is only 5 feet, 5 inches from the front property line.

The family requested a variance, and Logan and Dillon, with help from a few friends, spent three days walking the neighborhood to gather 61 signatures on a petition supporting the variance.

Their mother, Kacey Olson, told the Board of Adjustment that she and her husband, Scott, "encourage outdoor exercise as much as possible" and that none of their immediate neighbors had any complaints with the structure.

"We learned that we live in a wonderfully supportive neighborhood," she said.

Cromwell recommended that the board grant the variance, saying nine similar setback variances had been granted in the area. She also suggested several conditions, which the board accepted.

One is that the family secure the treehouse so people can't access it without permission. Kacey Olson said the boys already keep it padlocked when it's not in use.

The other main condition is that if the treehouse is damaged by more than 50 percent of its replacement value, it cannot be rebuilt.

Dillon will find the treehouse quite useful, judging from his testimony.

"I would love to keep it as it also provides a good place to sleep," he said. "Me and my friends can get away from adults, too."

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