A tree house that has delighted children but dismayed Vancouver city hall must come down, a judge ruled Friday.
The structure, shaped like a pirate ship and perched high in a cedar tree in the front yard of a Kerrisdale home, has been the focus of a two-year bylaw battle.
It all began in 2006 when a neighbour, who felt the tree house was too close to the property line, complained to the city. That led to a visit by city building inspectors, who said the structure was so large it needed a building permit to remain aloft.
Andrew Dewberry, an architect who designed and built the structure for his two sons, applied for a permit but was denied permission. When the city ordered him to dismantle the tree house, he refused, arguing it wasn't a structure, like a garden shed, that should require a permit, and that his tree house was being targeted, while others were left alone.
The battle came to a close in a Vancouver courtroom on Friday, when provincial court Judge Connie Bagnall ordered Dewberry and his wife, Jayne Seagrave, to take the structure down within 90 days and fined them each $250.
The judge "focused on the legal charge of failure to comply rather than the more philosophical charge of whether the tree house should be there," Dewberry said after the ruling was issued.
"The court of public opinion is on our side, [but] we are law-abiding citizens and we want to make sure we follow the law and the tree fort will come down."
In her ruling, Judge Bagnall said she admired the couple for their incredible dedication to their children, but wondered aloud whether deliberately disobeying the law set a good example for their children.
Seagrave was unapologetic outside court. "I think you have to say what we say to our children: This is what the city believes and this is what we believe, and we're taking it to the courts to find out who's right."
Dewberry said the tree house will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
"Any monies collected from that will be sent to whichever charity we finally decide. It will be a children's charity associated, we think, with play, so that's the route we'll take. We'll try to draw something good again out of this experience."
A spokesman for the city said the two-year battle might have been avoided had the couple done a better job of consulting neighbours.
"The reason we got involved in this matter is due to a neighbour's complaint," Jennifer Young said. "We're not out there actively looking for tree forts. We got involved because the structure was too close to the neighbour's house and they complained."