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June 7, 2013

Pa. zoning board orders removal of young girl's tree house

SELINSGROVE, Pa. — Tears streamed down 11-year-old Samantha Carlson’s cheeks after the Selinsgrove, Pa. Zoning Hearing Board denied a variance request on Thursday night that would have allowed her father to keep the tree house he was building for his daughter’s birthday.

The five-member zoning board ruled unanimously that the tree house violated a borough ordinance and that it had to be razed.

Upon hearing the vote, Samantha’s father, a visibly upset John “J.C.” Carlson, said: “After serving 22 years in the military and thinking I’ve seen everything, tonight proved me absolutely wrong. I’ve never in my life seen anyone deny a child a tree house.”

For more than an hour, the Carlsons, represented by attorney Joel Wiest, and about 14 friends and neighbors, attempted to persuade the board that the family should be granted a variance, and allowed to continue to build an 8-foot by 6-foot wooden structure on a tree stump in the front yard of the Carlsons’ home.

Wiest opened the hearing by conceding that the tree house could be classified as an “accessory structure” on Carlson’s property.

“What we are asking for this evening is a variance from that portion of your borough code, which states that the setback for a structure in this zoned area is 35 feet. We are asking for a variance from that requirement.”

One by one, neighbors stood up and testified under oath that having the tree house in the neighborhood would not detract from the essence of the neighborhood.

Neighbor George Pence said he collected a petition signed by 20 neighbors saying “Let them build the tree house.”

Another neighbor, Carol Scartelli, said: “I am thrilled at the project. It is something Mark Twain would do.”

Terry Sprenkle attested to the family’s character.

“They are good people, a good Christian family and it is how they are raising their daughter,” she said. “This shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s only a temporary tree house. Let’s just let them have it.”

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