- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Seven months after Mark Grapin dialed the Fairfax County permit office before building his sons a treehouse, the U.S. Army National Guardsman and his family walked out of a government building Wednesday with the county’s blessing on the unique structure - after a process that involved appeals, thousands of dollars and international attention.

“There’s some celebration to be had,” the chief warrant officer said of his plans with sons Eric, 11, and 9-year-old Sean. “We’ll have Sprite, crackers, cookies, and Sean will go down the slide until he gets sick.”

The county’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously to allow a variance for the 58-square-foot treehouse, provided the family maintained the structure and in five years - when the youngest Grapin will likely be more focused on getting a car - take it down.

The treehouse was built seven months ago in the family’s front yard, which is corner-shaped because it sits on an intersection.

The construction generated a complaint from a resident, and the county served Warrant Officer Grapin with a notice of violation.

“We have to call balls and strikes,” board member James Hart said Wednesday, adding that the reason for the approval had nothing to do with the home having a corner front yard, but rather, a lack of available area.

While there are many “corner” homes, Mr. Hart said, the Grapins’ sits on “property that has exceptional shallowness.”

Warrant Officer Grapin said after the hearing that he learned valuable lessons on being specific about his plans and making sure he gets approval from every government agency related to such projects.

Warrant Officer Grapin said he called the county's building office “before the first stick of lumber was bought” and was given the all-clear for his query on building the treehouse.”

“I took the first yes and ran with it” he said. “I should have rephrased and re-asked the question.”

And he failed to call the zoning ordinance office.

Neighbors, friends, schoolmates and even interested parties across the country and overseas petitioned the county to allow the treehouse to remain standing.

Among audience members at the meeting to support the treehouse was Tom Clark, a father of two sons who belong to the same Boy Scout troop as Sean and Eric.

“I certainly think it’s an enhancement to the neighborhood,” Mr. Clark said. “I have no concerns at all.”

Another neighbor earlier this year offered a connection with a local nursery to bring in a dozen evergreen trees to help camouflage the treehouse.

The added greenery was another condition the board asked the family to maintain.

Warrant Officer Grapin built the treehouse so that it encircles the trunk with room for the tree to grow. The house sits on stilts.

He hugged his wife, Brinda, and their sons after the meeting and thanked the community for stepping forward to help in the costly appeal, nearly $2,000 of which the Grapins paid themselves.

The boys said they were very happy with the board’s decision to preserve what their friends have deemed as an “awesome” treehouse.

“I think they made the right decisions to save the treehouse,” Sean said. “It’s made by my dad and it also has a really fun slide.”