A zoning board in Fairfax County, Va., is standing firm in its decision to order a war veteran to destroy a tree house he built for his two young sons.
County officials determined Mark Grapin, an Army aviation specialist, violated zoning regulations when he built a tree house in his backyard.
“The boys wanted a tree house,” Grapin told Fox News Radio, explaining it was a promise he made to his 8-year-old and 10-year-old sons before he left for Iraq. “It was a commitment I made to the boys and, frankly, we should do our best to keep our commitments to our children."
So when Grapin returned home, he followed through on that promise and headed off to the local home improvement store. He said he contacted Fairfax County and was given assurances that he didn’t need any special permits to build the $1,400 tree house.
But it turns out – that wasn’t exactly accurate.
“I was up on the roof of the thing when I found out the county board of zoning enforcement had left a notice on the front door,” he said.
It turns out Grapin didn’t need a permit – he needed a zoning variance. That’s because his house is on a corner lot. And in the eyes of Fairfax County – Grapin has two front yards.
"Because of the location on his lot, he does have to follow the zoning code,” said Merni Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the county told the Washington Post. “It’s no different from a shed or a garage or any structure.”
Grapin acknowledges that he made a mistake.
“We just didn’t connect the dots to all the offices that needed to be contacted to build a tree house,” he said.
But he still made a promise to his sons – so Grapin decided to appeal the ruling. He said the board of zoning appeals denied his request for a variance – but offered him one last chance to plead his case, on Nov. 30.
In the meantime, Grapin has had to pay nearly $1,800 in permits and fees to build the $1,400 tree house.
“I paid $885 for a special permit to build the tree house,” he said. “There were additional fees of $975 to have the plats for the property redrawn to reflect the tree house and then I had to pay mail fees to notify the neighbors of hearings so they could voice any concerns they might have about the tree house.”
All that trouble – for a child’s tree house.
“It might have been cheaper to take the boys to Disneyland,” he told Fox News Radio.
Grapin said he’s pretty bothered by the “queen-sized pantyhose, one-size-fits-all code.”
At his final opportunity to plead his case, Grapin will have to satisfy nine requirements to save his sons’ tree house. He must prove that the tree house “will be in harmony with the intended spirit and purposes of this Ordinance and will not be contrary to the public interest.”
Grapin said he’s come to terms with the fact that the tree house may have to come down because of the costs of fighting the county.
“At some point, I’m going to have to say, ‘I’m sorry, boys. We fought the good fight.’”
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary and the author of "Dispatches from Bitter America: A Gun Toting, Chicken Eating Son of a Baptist's Culture War Stories."