Tree house

The Detroit News - - News - Greg Douglas

about a tree house in my back yard that you can’t even see from the street.”

How did some­thing deal­ing with child’s play be­come so complicated? Each side blames the other.

The city of Ann Ar­bor said Boy­ad­jian con­tin­u­ally dragged her feet, missed dead­lines and failed to fol­low city rules.

Boy­ad­jian said the city was overly strict, set un­re­al­is­tic dead­lines and, when con­stantly chal­lenged by the home­owner, be­came puni­tive.

Who­ever is at fault, the re­la­tion­ship has turned un­com­monly com­bat­ive.

When Boy­ad­jian changed plans for the tree house in April, the city re­quired six in­spec­tions and im­posed 16 con­di­tions on the new work, and then re­jected the next four sets of re­vised plans, ac­cord­ing to city records.

When she missed a dead­line the same month, a city at­tor­ney tried to have her thrown into jail un­til the work was done.

City of­fi­cials won’t even call it a tree house. In city and le­gal doc­u­ments, they re­fer to it as an ac­ces­sory struc­ture, which doesn’t sound nearly as fun or invit­ing.

Kristin Lar­com, the as­sis­tant city at­tor­ney who sought to have Boy­ad­jian locked up, de­clined to dis­cuss the mat­ter. In brief re­marks, she said the city bore no ill will to­ward Boy­ad­jian and her fi­ancé, Greg Douglas.

“Who they are is com­pletely ir­rel­e­vant,” she said. “This is purely a le­gal mat­ter.”

De­spite the deep­en­ing money pit, Boy­ad­jian and Douglas vow to fin­ish the struc­ture no mat­ter what.

“Over my dead body will they get my tree­house from me,” said Douglas, a builder. “They can pry it from my cold, dead hands.”

Roots of con­tro­versy

The im­broglio be­gan with a mis­un­der­stand­ing.

When Daniel, the youngest of Boy­ad­jian’s two chil­dren, asked for a tree house, Douglas said he would build one.

He said he called the city to see if he needed a per­mit and was told there was no such thing as a tree house per­mit.

Douglas and a friend be­gan build­ing it in July 2017. It was no or­di­nary tree house.

“I knew I was go­ing to build some­thing spec­tac­u­lar,” Douglas said. “Maybe it’s my dream tree house.”

The 9-by-12-foot tree house, which is 9 feet above the ground, has a door, glass win­dows, wa­ter­tight roof and walls, and elec­tri­cal out­lets.

It con­tin­ues be­yond the oak to com­prise a 100-square-foot bal­cony with rail­ing and a wind­ing stair­case. Be­sides the tree, it’s sup­ported by 12 steel and wood posts.

Douglas had been work­ing on the struc­ture for a month when he was con­tacted by the city, which had re­ceived com­plaints from neigh­bors about it

The tree house, which sat in the cor­ner of the back yard, hov­ered over the fence, al­low­ing any­one in the struc­ture to peer into the neigh­bors’ yards.

Al Lau­zon, who lives be­hind Douglas and Boy­ad­jian, de­clined to dis­cuss the mat­ter.

“We kinda de­cided to stay out of it,” Lau­zon said about him­self and his wife. “The whole thing is get­ting big­ger than thought it would.”

This wasn’t the first time neigh­bors have com­plained about Douglas and Boy­ad­jian.

Over the years, they’ve told the city the cou­ple play mu­sic too loud, failed to cut their grass and left their trash cans out, re­sult­ing in four fines since 2015, ac­cord­ing to city records.

I

Ann Ar­bor serves no­tice

ever

When the city came to Douglas’ and Boy­ad­jian’s home in Au­gust 2017, it didn’t see a tree house. It saw some­thing more akin to an ac­ces­sory struc­ture, such as a shed, garage or gazebo.

The cou­ple re­ceived a no­tice for fail­ing to ob­tain a zon­ing per­mit and for build­ing the struc­ture within 3 feet of the prop­erty lines of the neigh­bors be­hind and be­side them, ac­cord­ing to city records.

They were given 30 days to move the tree house. In Oc­to­ber 2017, they got a se­cond no­tice. In Novem­ber, they re­ceived a ci­ta­tion.

The city also noted the deck and stairs had been built with­out a build­ing per­mit and is­sued a ticket for those as well.

In April, District Judge Karen Valvo fined the cou­ple $500 for the zon­ing code vi­o­la­tion and $750 for the build­ing code one. She gave them un­til the end of the month to bring the project up to code.

When they failed to do so, Valvo found them in con­tempt and fined them $5,000, sus­pend­ing the levy as she ex­tended the dead­line to Aug. 31. When the work still wasn’t done, she or­dered them to pay the fine.

But the cou­ple said the city made it im­pos­si­ble for them to meet the Aug. 31 dead­line.

Douglas said he couldn’t work on the struc­ture un­til the city ap­proved the plans and the city didn’t do so un­til Aug. 1.

“The city took 10 of the 12 weeks to ap­prove the per­mit,” he said. “There’s no way I could have fin­ished the work weeks.”

The city had fi­nally ap­proved the orig­i­nal plans in March only to have Douglas and Boy­ad­jian change the plans be­cause a fire pit was in the way of the pro­posed stair­way.

When the city re­ceived the new plans in April, it im­posed 16 con­di­tions on the work and, for the next three months, re­jected four sets of re­vised plans, ac­cord­ing to city records.

One con­di­tion, that the struc­ture’s dry­wall ex­te­rior be fire-re­sis­tant, isn’t re­quired by city or­di­nance, said the cou­ple’s ar­chi­tect, Gio Lav­i­gne of Birm­ing­ham.

An­other con­di­tion, that an en­gi­neer ver­ify the soil can sup­port the posts hold­ing the tree house, is rarely re­quested by other cities, Lav­i­gne said.

“It just seems like overkill,” he said about all of the re­quire­ments. “They’re over­reach­ing. I don’t know why.”

Lav­i­gne said he never ex­pe­ri­enced such scru­tiny dur­ing decades of de­sign­ing man­sions, med­i­cal clinics or of­fice build­ings. This is his first project in Ann Ar­bor, and his first tree house.

He won­dered if city of­fi­cials were tak­ing their strug­gles with the home­own­ers per­son­ally.

“Build­ing of­fi­cials nor­mally work these things out,” Lav­i­gne said. “I never went to court for a real build­ing let alone a tree house.”

Mike Lemieux, the city build­ing in­spec­tor who worked on the project, didn’t re­spond to emails or phone calls ask­ing for com­ment.

in two

Home­own­ers don’t re­lent

De­spite the grow­ing fines, Douglas and Boy­ad­jian have no in­ten­tion of back­ing down.

Af­ter their lat­est court loss, when Valvo or­dered them to pay the $5,000 fine in Septem­ber, they’ve hired a new at­tor­ney.

Their for­mer lawyer, Ju­lia Gil­bert, with­drew from the case, telling the judge there was a break­down in the at­tor­ney-client re­la­tion­ship and the cou­ple no longer wants her. Gil­bert de­clined to be in­ter­viewed.

The cou­ple also are on their se­cond ar­chi­tect.

The first, Tim Ni­chols of South­field, was re­placed in April. Boy­ad­jian said he quit be­cause he was frus­trated with his deal­ings with the city.

Con­tacted by The Detroit News, Ni­chols said he left be­cause he was fin­ished with the work. Asked about Boy­ad­jian’s re­mark, he de­clined to com­ment.

“I don’t want to em­bar­rass Ta­mar. She’s a lovely per­son,” Ni­chols said.

With the Nov. 2 court hear­ing and pos­si­bly more fines loom­ing, Boy­ad­jian and Gre­gory still need to pass a flurry of city in­spec­tions.

Mean­while, re­la­tions the neigh­bors re­main raw.

Gre­gory moved a set of drums into the tree house for the kids to play. He joked he may add more.

Lau­zon, the neigh­bor, has a for-sale sign in his front yard. The name of the real es­tate agency: Tree House Realty.

with

The brouhaha be­gan when Daniel, the youngest of Ta­mar Boy­ad­jian’s two chil­dren, asked for a tree house.

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