The Fareses have been told to stop construction on their treehouse until the project can go before the Planning & Zoning Board.
Ever since Tony and Sara Farese moved into their downtown Winter Garden home five years ago, they have dreamed of building a treehouse for their three children. The giant live oak in the backyard was perfect for housing the structure.
“As soon as we bought the house — probably the first day we walked the property — which was 2015 … that moment we looked at that tree, we knew,” Tony Farese said.
The lot at the northeast intersection of Tilden and Boyd streets has been getting a great deal of attention ever since the city was notified about the treehouse under construction.
Tony Farese said the city asked him to stop building the treehouse until he requests and receives a variance on the construction project from the Winter Garden Planning & Zoning Board. The P&Z meets July 6 in the City Chambers.
Winter Garden does not have an ordinance that applies to treehouses because they typically are small, City Manager Mike Bollhoefer said. He said several people called the city with concerns about its size.
“Most treehouses we wouldn’t do anything about,” Bollhoefer said. “But because of the size and magnitude of this one … we decided to classify it as an accessory structure.”
The Fareses’ treehouse is approximately 16 feet by 16 feet. The side closest to Tilden is about 12 feet off the ground, and the top measures about 23 feet from the ground.
“It’s not your typical treehouse, it crossed the line because of its size,” Bollhoefer said. “When people think of treehouses, people think of something kids put together.”
As a builder and the owner of Transparacon Inc., Tony Farese said, he is familiar with the permitting process for construction projects. He said 99% of his work is in Winter Garden, so he frequently pulls permits at City Hall.
Tony Farese said he was talking to building official Skip Nemecek and Steve Pash, community development director, about one of his construction jobs when he inquired about a permit for his treehouse. He said he initially was told he did not need one. But after the city received the calls, officials told Tony Farese to stop construction.
According to the homeowner, the building official acknowledged that Tony Farese was told he didn’t need to take his project to the city but later told the homeowner, “We said that, but no one realized it was this,” referring to the size of the project.
“Because of its height and location, it needs a variation and has to go before the P&Z,” Bollhoefer said. “At the least the neighbors adjacent to them will have some say.”
Sara Farese said she has received positive feedback from her surrounding neighbors.
A petition was started on Change.org and shared on Facebook.
“If our petition for variance is denied, we will be forced to tear down our dream at great expense to our family,” the family wrote in its petition post.
Sara Farese said it didn’t take long to get more than 365 positive comments and dozens of private messages in support of the project.
“All the neighbors love it, kids want to play in it,” she said. “Golf carts of people I don’t even know were stopping by.”
The city asked the Fareses to collect written signatures of people in favor of the treehouse, so their friends helped gather names. A sheet also was attached to the family’s backyard fence for passersby to sign.
“In two days, I had over 200 signatures,” Sara Farese said.
Last week, the Fareses submitted their signed petition to the city.
Bollhoefer said the city is recommending P&Z approval of the variance so the Fareses can resume construction. If it is approved, they can finish their treehouse and do not have to pull a permit, he said.
Tony Farese and a few of his employees started building in May after he returned from a trip to Alabama to pick up cypress and Eastern cedar lumber for his fence and treehouse and one other job.
“It was an all-day affair,” he said. “It took six men an eight-hour day to hoist those things up in the tree and secure them up in the tree. … The only thing that’s attached to the tree is the beams; everything else is attached to the beams.”
The structure is about half completed, Tony Farese said. The joist beams are in place, the floor is down, the post rails are up, and the crow’s nest is built.
The next step is to run marine-grade rope through the posts to make the rails and add the metal roof. Tony Farese said he has enough cedar to add siding.
He said he watches “Treehouse Masters” and incorporates some of the builders’ methods on the TV show.
The three Farese children — Ellie, 5; Cecil, 9; and Abby, 12 — just want to see their treehouse finished so they can hang out with friends up there.
Cecil said he has recruited several children in the neighborhood to be security guards.
“We lived in the house when Hurricane Matthew came through, and we watched that tree and how much it moved,” Tony Farese said. “(We were) fascinated by how much it moved, flexing and bowing and waving in the wind. So I knew if we get a storm like that, those limbs that the beams are attached to — I knew it would move so I designed it to move with the tree.
“There are three massive branches that come through the treehouse … the tree’s kind of the boss.”
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