Commission to take closer look at tree forts

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A tree fort in the Bronkos' backyard in Naugatuck. The Zoning Commission ruled last month that the tree fort must come down because tree forts are not covered in the current zoning regulations. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — The tree fort in the woods behind Burgess Michael Bronko’s house on Fairfield Court is little more than a small, clean platform with low walls around it and a ladder leading into it.

Inside sits a chair on top of a recycling bin, and a cooler modeled after R2-D2, the famous “Star Wars” robot. A zip line is strung between the fort and a nearby tree.

The Zoning Commission last month told Bronko, a former mayor, and his wife Eileen, a former burgess, that tree forts were against regulations and that theirs had to be taken down. The Bronkos and their attorneys are considering whether to request a hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals.

“Clearly we’re not happy with the decision and we thought that we made a good attempt on behalf of all people with children in town, because the decision they made is not just for the Bronkos, it’s a decision for all people in town,” Eileen Bronko said. “Nobody should even look at putting up a tree fort for their children from now on, no matter how big the property is, I guess.”

Tree forts are not allowed under the borough’s zoning regulations simply because they are not addressed in the regulations. Borough attorneys advised the Zoning Commission that any item in question that is not covered by a regulation should be illegal, Chair Joseph Savarese said.

A possible remedy is to add tree forts to a list of things the regulations permit in residential back yards, including detached storage buildings, workshops and recreation rooms. That process would involve public hearings and meetings and would likely take two to three months, Savarese said.

Savarese said tree forts will be on the agenda at the commission’s Sept. 19 meeting and he expects the commission will hold hearings on adding tree forts and playgrounds to the regulations.

The commission voted last month that the current regulations should not be interpreted to include tree forts as a permitted structure, necessitating a change in the regulations if they are to be allowed. Commissioners noted Zoning Enforcement Office Steven Macary had ordered six tree forts taken down in as many years.

“By doing what we did we maintained that consistency without having any special favors,” Savarese said. “It’s fair to everybody.”

While the tree fort issue is being hashed out, the land use office will continue to order tree forts taken down if it receives complaints, Savarese said. The commission considered a moratorium on enforcement, but rejected it.

“If you do that, then somebody else comes up with a widget that’s not in the regulations, they want a moratorium,” Savarese said. “Then somebody comes up with a glass swimming pool that’s 500 feet high, they want a moratorium.”

For his part, Savarese said he has no problems with tree forts as long as they look nice and are set back from the street and other properties the way sheds and other structures are required to be.

“You need to have a standard there, but not tight where it needs to be commercially built,” Savarese said.

Michael Bronko, who owns a construction company, built the tree fort last year for his 11-year-old foster son Zachary, whom the Bronkos adopted two weeks ago. The Bronkos have until Sept. 22 to request an appeal or tear the tree fort down to avoid fines.

Zachary and another recently adopted Bronko child, 13-year-old Jesse, spend a lot of time in the fort, screened by the woods around them, Eileen Bronko said. The fort was a birthday present for Zachary, who has been upset and confused that it could be taken down, Eileen Bronko said.

“This is their getaway,” she said. “It’s great to have a getaway place as a kid.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. Unbelievable…

    Borough attorneys advised the Zoning Commission that any item in question that is not covered by a regulation should be illegal, Chair Joseph Savarese said.

    A possible remedy is to add tree forts to a list of things the regulations permit in residential back yards, including detached storage buildings, workshops and recreation rooms. That process would involve public hearings and meetings and would likely take two to three months , Savarese said

    Any item in question should be illegal…In this case that is the most moronic, idiotic statement I think has ever been uttered, since the last idiotic thing they uttered probably 15 seconds before that.
    No wonder we are being overrun down here with folks from the NE. They aren’t just coming south for jobs, they are trying to escape the over-saturation and lunacy of idiotic laws. Yes, we do need to be governed, but don’t you think it’s gotten ridiculous that even this kind of issue has to get on your radar? What next? “Man jailed after refusing to pay fine for exceeding the 10 sheet maximum count when using toilet paper.”??
    I believe that people have the right to build a tree fort or tree house on their own private property as long as its on their property. but to make people take down their tree house just because they didn’t think about including it in their already over saturation of rules, regulations, and laws? The city commission should be fined and made to restore all the tree houses they forced citizens to tear down. (Using treated wood and safely built.) Then maybe you should really consider firing the people that make these crazy decisions and voting in people who have that rare, but necessary trait- “common sense”. Somewhere along the line that well ran dry and hasn’t been replenished.

  2. Heaven forbid the kids get to go outside and play. They’re so much better off on the couch in front of the PlayStation / Nintendo. Sorry for the sarcasm, but this is one of the more ridicuous things I’ve seen in quite some time.

    I’ll bet the people that are saying “illegal until deemed legal” are the same ones that believe “innocent until proven guilty”.

  3. Ken – you have this right. Being involved in local government where I would be referencing ordinances to answer questions from residents….I would have never concluded (call it common sense), that if it was not listed it must be considered illegal. There are thousands of examples like “cutting the grass” that would now be illegal.

    There seems to be more behind this decision then is being talked about.

  4. It just boggles my mind that someone would even call to complain about such a trivial matter unless the tree fort was built in your front yard. Now let me get this straight. If it’s NOT addressed in the regulation and the Zoning Commission is being advised by legal council that any item in question that is NOT covered by a regulation it should be considered illegal. Man I’m glad I never got into politics. It would drive me crazy. With all the corruption going on in the world today I think you people need to take a closer look at what you are implying…this is still a Free Country. So let me see if I have the ordinance straight in my mind. If there is no regulation about me cutting my grass on Sundays then by those standards it should then be considered illegal. DOES THAT SOUND RIGHT TO EVERYONE ELSE. Hay, I’m just asking a question here. It sure sounds a little whacked out to me.