The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 15, 2013

Zone it T-1; call it 'temporary tree'

Daily Item

---- — It is a little hard to gauge from the photos in the newspaper, but John Carlson's tree house for his daughter looked like it was going to be a whopper.

And it was headed for the front yard. And it really looked more like a "stump house" than a tree house.

But from the perspective of an 11-year-old, a project built by her dad was likely to be a palace in any shape, dimension or location.

So when the early construction ran afoul of the borough zoning regulations in Selinsgrove and it looked as if young Samantha and her friends might not get to have their abode, reader reaction lit up the website and Facebook page.

Yes, yes, rules are rules and well-ordered zoning is certainly worth maintaining for the greater public good. But we are not talking about a junkyard or an incinerator.

The day will come when Samantha and her posse climb down from the stump for prom night or a driver's license, or maybe to head off to college or some other adventure toward adulthood in the wide, wide world.

In addition to a fair number of strangers who would like Mr. Carlson to be able to make a tree house for his daughter, a few neighbors mentioned that it wouldn't bother them all that much.

Who else is there that this regulation was intended to protect? Is there a safety inspector to see that the structure remains on its stump? An animal control officer to assure that unclaimed cats don't take up residence there? Maybe a health officer to see that it remains mold-free? Perhaps a fire chief would like an automatic sprinkler system?

This is not a topic for outrage. Certainly, the public reaction has been regretful, sympathetic and helpful.

Maybe the project could be scaled down to comply with zoning, one suggested. How about a temporary tree house permit -- good between now and the principal occupant's 16th birthday so long as nothing falls apart? What if all the neighbors in line of sight signed a waiver for Samantha's tree house?

If everybody remains positive, maybe the collective community imagination available in Selinsgrove can point the way to a broadly accepted solution that allows dads like John Carlson to do what everyone always says they admire and encourage in time for Father's Day.