Controversial Toronto boat-inspired tree house can stay up

A controversial boat-inspired tree house is safe from demolition following an Ontario Municipal Board hearing, so long as the dad who built it makes a few changes to its height and location.

Almost a year ago, Toronto officials asked John Alpeza to dismantle the tree house he built for his kids in his west-end backyard, saying it violated zoning bylaws.

Alpeza, a contractor who spent three years and some $30,000 on the tree house but didn’t get a building permit, was notified last April that three different city departments had rejected the design. A neighbour also complained to the city that the structure was simply too big.

kids at the treehouse

John Alpeza said he built the tree house, at a cost of $30,000, so his two children would have a place to play outside, away from TV and the internet. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC )

Alpeza made his case before the city’s committee of adjustment, but lost.

Alpeza then appealed to the OMB, a tribunal that has final say on municipal land use and planning disputes in the province.

The board ruled last Thursday that the tree house could stay as long as certain conditions were met. The tree house must be lowered and moved over slightly, and a new fence must be built.

The conditions won the support of one of Alpeza’s neighbours who had opposed the tree house, and city officials.

“This was the most amazing, happy news for our whole family. When we came home and told the kids they were jumping up and down for five minutes,” Alpeza said in an interview with CBC News.  

“[The family has] been through a Kafkaesque experience over the last year or so,” said Michael Foderick, the family’s lawyer. “All to legalize a tree house, which by all accounts is beautiful and one of the nicest tree houses in Toronto.”


A peek into the interior of the tree house. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC )

Alpeza has until the end of May to make the changes.

“For me, it was worth it. But we could have done this much faster and cheaper, the way neighbours should do it: sit down and talk,” he said.