A Central Avenue family will get to keep the tree house they build in their yard last spring, thanks to a recent Village Board vote.
But in order to do so, homeowners Anna Marie and Dan Close will have to lower it by more than a foot, from almost 15 feet to 13.6 feet in height, and remove three of its four walls. They also will reorient the structure to increase its setback from their property line at 2000 Central Ave.
The changes to which they agreed probably will add another $3,000 to the original building costs of about $3,500, Dan Close told board members. But they also persuaded trustees to reject a Zoning Board of Appeals recommendation that would have forced the Closes to tear down the structure.
Trustee Alan Swanson said the board’s intent in reviewing the tree house case was to minimize its impact on the surrounding neighborhood. And, although many neighbors supported the tree house, several had lodged objections to it.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable to make the changes,” Swanson said. “And with the changes, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to approve this.”
The couple first came to the board Aug. 23, seeking to retain their tree house. They told trustees then that they had found nothing concerning tree houses when they checked the village zoning code.
Such buildings do require variance approvals, and the couple’s retention request had to go before the Zoning Board. The board turned it down, which meant the Closes would need five positive votes from village trustees to win approval.
Trustee Mike Basil did not attend the August meeting, and the Closes agreed to a one-month postponement to Sept. 27, to ensure their request could be considered by the full board.
Trustee Bob Bielinski said plans to remove three of the structure’s four walls, and to lower its height, removed the appearance that made some neighbors characterize it as resembling a prison watchtower.
He also dismissed the idea that approving the tree house after the fact would convince other residents to ignore zoning regulations, saying “this (case) has obviously been a joy for you,” he told the Closes.
Trustee Cameron Krueger disagreed.
“I don’t want to be a curmudgeon,” Krueger said, “but I do think we set a precedent … and I’m having a huge problem getting my head around a relatively large structure.”
“I’m not convinced we would have gone that far if it had come to us” before being built, Krueger suggested.
As he has during discussions about similar cases in the past, Trustee Ted McKenna urged colleagues and village staff to send the question of play structure zoning to Wilmette’s Land Use Committee for clarification.
I find the need to discuss back-yard play structures maddening, whether it’s this tree house, swing sets or anything else,” McKenna said.
He also noted the time and said it was not the occasion to debate zoning principles; trustees tackled the tree house case shortly before midnight Sept. 27.
Despite his complaints, McKenna joined Swanson in supporting the motion, as did all trustees but Krueger and Julie Wolf.