ZBA rules tree fort can stay

The Naugatuck Zoning Board of Appeals ruled the tree fort in the backyard of the Bronkos’ home can stay. –RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — The dust has settled and Fort Bronko still stands.

Burgess Michael Bronko and his wife, Eileen came before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday to argue their case as to why they should be allowed to keep their tree fort. The Zoning Commission decided last month that zoning regulations did not permit tree forts.

“While it’s not an application for the structure itself, our appeal is against the ruling of the [zoning enforcement officer],” Michael Bronko said.

Eileen Bronko told the board the tree fort has cost the family a lot of money.

“The material cost for building the tree fort was $200. Having to file for a ZBA hearing has cost close to $350. So far, having a tree fort has cost us approximately $550 and, depending on your decision today, it may be $550 wasted dollars,” she said.

The tree fort, which was built for the Bronkos 11-year-old adopted son Zachary, has been a point of contention since December 2011 when Zoning Enforcement Officer Steven Macary sent them a letter informing them it was against the zoning regulations and had to come down.

The letter said that the Bronkos could face a possible fine of $150 a day if the tree fort was not removed.

Macary removed himself as the ZEO in the case, following a shouting match with the Bronkos at the August Zoning Commission meeting. Attorney Stephen Savarese pointed out that this action had a drastic effect on the Bronkos’ application to the board.

Savarese explained that the appeal against the ruling has no meaning since there is no longer any enforcement being brought against the Bronkos.

“You are not approving the structure if you authorize it to stay. You are being questioned to overrule … the zoning enforcement offer for error,” Savarese told the board.

He pointed out that, since Macary sent the letter telling the Bronkos that they are in violation of the zoning regulations, he has recused himself from the case. The deputy zoning enforcement officer, Wayne Zirolli, has not filed any enforcement action against the Bronkos.

“There is no enforcement pending,” Savarese said. “There is no enforcement letter that can be demonstrated to support the Bronkos application.”

He said that the Zoning Commission found that the tree fort is not accepted under the current zoning regulations. However, he explained, the commission is currently looking into changing the regulations to possibly allow the existence of such structures.

“It would be idiotic to bring enforcement in the face of a regulation that is changing,” Savarese said.

He said there is no intention in the borough to go out and find more tree forts to cite for violating the regulations.

While Savarese said there was no basis for the application, he felt that, in going through the correct motions of appeals and fighting the decision on the tree fort, the Bronkos did something important for the borough.

“The Bronkos have done the town a service to say ‘We want the regulations change,’” Savarese said.

Eileen Bronko was surprised to hear that the application they filed had been for naught. She said if she had known there was no enforcement pending against her family, she would never have wasted money bringing this before the board.

The board voted in favor of returning the Bronkos’ application fee, since it had been filed erroneously.

“We are very pleased,” Michael Bronko said of the decision. “Zachary gets to keep his tree fort, we get a refund, life moves on.”