Up in The Tree House -- My First as a Newsday Columnist

 In my 40th year, I've finally written my first column for Newsday. It's a fun change of pace. Since 1984, I put together more investigative stories, print and TV, than anyone in the history of the paper. But doing the unexpected is always the most pleasing.

Everyone should have their own treehouse
By Thomas Maier
If life was fair, everyone would have a treehouse. A place where you can get away from the congestion of the daily rat race, let your mind wander, and look up at the stars.
Having your own treehouse is such a wonderfully impractical idea that we adults reserve it mainly for children. Unfortunately, the adult world usually intrudes. For instance, a parent might call you for dinner when you’re up there enjoying the view.
Or in Babylon, the village regulators may object entirely to the wooden structure affixed to your backyard’s pine tree and tell you to tear it down.
After a five-year battle, a federal appeals court recently determined that a treehouse built by firefighter John Lepper for his two children was illegal. In the eyes of the village elders, the family treehouse needed a permit, a survey and even architectural drawings. Lepper fought their decision in court but lost.
There’s a natural sympathy in parts of the suburbs for the Lepper clan. A photo of their impressive Cape Cod-style treehouse has an appealing “Our Gang” ambience. Above its open-air window hangs a “Members Only” sign, misspelled in a childish way, reminiscent of Hollywood’s little rascals from the sandlot. It certainly brings back memories of my own treehouse past.
Growing up on Long Island in the 1960s, when plenty of real homes were being carved out of former potato fields, our brazen band of neighborhood pals would “borrow” scraps of plywood and two-by-fours from local construction sites to build our treehouses in the nearby woods. One day, after I stepped on a rusted nail in one of those houses, my mother came to rescue me. But somehow, the need for regulation or reform with our illegal dwellings never came up.
As a parent in the 1990s, I carried on this grand tradition by building a treehouse with my three little sons. We nailed planks and plywood from a local store into four swamp maples in the far end of the backyard. But I never thought of first calling an architect or seeking approval from the zoning board of appeals.
For a few years, the kids climbed up into the treehouse and swung down from a rope. Its homemade quality was the hit of a few backyard parties, particularly among “play date” friends accustomed to having their fun managed by adults. As my kids grew older, our treehouse fell apart of its own accord, with the rubble eventually sent to the dump. Somehow it all seemed worth it, though, like shooting off fireworks on the Fourth of July, an All-American experience also against the law.
Unfortunately, no happy ending seems to await the Leppers and their treehouse. Their cry of being treated unfairly by Babylon Village was dismissed in court. The village, concerned about the structure’s safety, said it tried to come to some compromise but the Leppers refused. Now their home appears up for sale.
Their magical treehouse, in violation of the village's building code, was still standing recently but probably not for long. Instead of letting their imaginations soar, the kids have gotten a hard lesson in adult life — a place where rules and regulations sometimes prevail over common sense.
Columnist Thomas Maier's opinions are his own.