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Leet girl's treehouse forced to come down

| Tuesday, May 12, 2015, 2:33 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Elise Truchan stands for a photo in front of the treehouse she built for her eighth-grade project at her Leet Township home Monday, May 4, 2015. Elise will have to take the treehouse down by midnight, Dec. 31 due to township building codes.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Jonathan Truchan helps daughter Elise open up the treehouse she built for her eighth-grade project at her Leet Township home Monday, May 4, 2015. Elise will have to take the treehouse down by Oct. 1 due to township building codes.
Kristina Serafini | Trib Total Media
Elise Truchan stands for a photo inside the treehouse she built for her eighth-grade project at her Leet Township home Monday, May 4, 2015. Elise will have to take the treehouse down by Oct. 1 due to township building codes.

A treehouse in Leet built as a school project will have to come down by Oct. 1 after a Quaker Valley student got a lesson in township building codes.

Elise Truchan, 14, built the treehouse with her family for her eighth-grade project at Quaker Valley Middle School. The two-level structure has a lock, Harry Potter decorations, and a clear roof so she can watch the stars, and windows. But township rules prohibit treehouses in front yards — something the family discovered after Elise completed the project at the end of February.

The family agreed to remove the treehouse by Oct. 1 as part of a deal with township officials. Elise said she was at first hurt the treehouse couldn't stay.

“I was pretty devastated,” Elise said.

Leet officials originally sent a notice to the family dated March 25 instructing them to remove the structure in 15 days or risk citations filed with the local magistrate. That was then extended to 30 days, and later, both sides agreed to the Oct. 1 deadline.

In the notice, inspector Joseph Luff of Building Inspection Underwriters of PA notes that treehouses are considered accessory structures and are not permitted in residential front yards. Parents Jonathan and Vicki Truchan — who don't have a tree in their backyard - didn't file an appeal. The Truchans said they were satisfied with the agreement.

Elise began construction in January on the treehouse, which is made of untreated lumber. Jonathan said he was unsure how much they spent on construction materials.

Jonathan looked up ordinances on the township's website before work began.

He said they didn't see any regulations specifically addressing treehouses but the township's letter called the structure an “accessory building.”

The family would have had to seek an exception to the rule from the zoning hearing board. They also would have had to obtain a building permit, township Manager Wayne Hyjek said.

A resident complained about the front yard treehouse, which led to the township notice to dismantle it, Truchan said. They do not know who made the complaint.

The family decided against filing an appeal with the zoning hearing board.

Vicki Truchan said the work on the treehouse was visible and many neighbors expressed their support for the project.

“It's not like it just occurred,” she said.

Regulations for treehouses can vary by community.

Play equipment in Sewickley and Glen Osborne isn't regulated by local zoning laws, said Nancy Watts, code enforcement officer for those communities.

If the treehouse had utilities and was intended as a living space, other regulations would apply, she said.

Jonathan said the family appreciates being able to keep the house up for the summer. He said he is grateful to the people who have stopped to ask about the house.

“Everybody has been really supportive,” he said.

Tom McGee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408, or tmcgee@tribweb.com.

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