The city says a Lowry Hill neighborhood boy's tree house that overhangs a neighbor's yard must go, but his father is appealing the directive to an obscure city zoning board.

Zoning Administrator Steve Poor has determined that the tree house exceeds the allowable height for an accessory structure and is too close to the lot boundary at 1812 Emerson Av. S.

The Board of Adjustment will hear an appeal on Thursday by homeowner Clement Pryke on his son's behalf. The matter arose when a neighbor filed a complaint two years ago shortly after the tree house was built. Pryke submitted a save-the-tree house petition signed by 13 other neighbors.

According to the appeal, which cost $449.78 to file, teenager Daniel Pryke had wanted a tree house when he lived in Chicago, but his home there lacked a big enough tree and his father was tied up remodeling a house there.

But when the Prykes moved to Minneapolis, Daniel said in a letter accompanying the appeal, he renewed his request. This time, he said, his father consented and in 2012 devised a "cunning plan" to span the space between two trunks of a multi-trunked box elder tree. It's the only tree on the property suitable for a tree house.

The elder Pryke contends that the tree house is a high-quality structure made out of cedar, and said it will be taken down when Daniel leaves for college in 2019.  Daniel said he and friends have spent the night in the tree house several times without issues.

"It has years of fun left in it and I would really like love it if it didn't have to be taken down right now," Daniel said in a hand-printed letter to the city.

Tree houses don't require a building permit, and  aren't explicitly referenced in the city's zoning code. but Poor determined that they are substantially the same as a playhouse, which is treated as a structure ancillary to the dwelling. The height of such structures is generally limited to 12 feet, but can go up to 16 feet in certain circumstances, according to a staff report.

The city measured the height of the tree house at 22 feet, and said that even under a variance the height would need to be 18 feet. However, Clement Pryke contends that the tree house height should be measured from its base in the trees rather than from the ground. Poor said that would set a bad precedent that could lead to even loftier tree houses.

One big problem for the Prykes is that new city measurements made this week found that the tree house extends 15 inches over the adjoining property line. City zoning requires a five-foot setback.  The city also measured the tree house at a mere 10-1/2 feet from the neighbor's house. It looks into a bedroom window.  

The elder Pryke acknowledged that that's close to the neighbor but said the house is used in the summer when leaves screen the view. However, photos show that the front-yard tree is sparsely leafed at the tree house's height.

Treehouse