KAHULUI - A Kahului man says he is frustrated that the county has ordered him to remove an elaborate treehouse he built for his two daughters.
Eddie Bautista said he tried to get a building permit for the project four years ago and was told repeatedly by county workers that no permit was required as long as the playhouse was less than 120 square feet. Then, last month, he received a notice from the county that the structure was in violation of building codes, and he would have to take it down.
Bautista said he spent more than $15,000 on the structure, which he kept "well under 120 square feet," and the treehouse had become a favorite hangout for his daughters and their friends.
Sisters Tiana and Sherron Bautista are supported by friends last week as they pose in front of their Kahului treehouse. Maui County officials have ordered the treehouse be taken down because of building code violations. The girls’ father, Eddie Bautista, said he sought a building permit for the house four years ago and was told he needed one only if it were more than 120 square feet.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Tiana, 13, and Sherron, 18, straighten up the place while sitting together in a treehouse hammock Wednesday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"They shouldn't give me these conditions after I build it," he said. "I put a lot of money into that thing."
A county spokesman said Bautista should have given more details about his project when he inquired about permit requirements four years ago - noting the playhouse is elevated 9 feet above the ground and had both indoor plumbing and electricity.
"While Mr. Bautista's structure is impressive, the county feels at some point he should have probably given us more details of what he had planned," said county spokesman Rod Antone. "As a parent, I appreciate what he's done for his daughters, but he needs to not be so vague the next time."
But Bautista said he made a good-faith effort to find out the county's requirements four years ago.
"I explained that it would be up in a tree," he said in an email. "Their reply was that as long as I stayed under 120 square feet, I didn't need a permit. . . . I insisted that they give me every rule to follow, because I didn't want them to come back after it was built and tell me I needed to demolish it. They gave me a puzzled look, and said, 'if it is under 120 square feet, you don't need a permit.' "
The county workers never asked to see a drawing of the structure, he added.
County officials confirmed last week there had been no public complaints about the treehouse.
Bautista said he was notified of the violation and a separate possible violation on his property after building inspectors came to look at his property in connection with a separate permit application last month.
He noted that he sealed off the structure's plumbing and unplugged the electricity when a building inspector told him they were code violations. He said he was trying to comply with the county's requirements but was frustrated that those requirements hadn't been made clear to him when he asked.
"What I hope comes out of this whole deal is that the county will agree the code is vague, and it's open to interpretation," he said.
While Bautista may have addressed the plumbing and electrical violations, the structure still has other outstanding issues, including exceeding height limits and being too close to Bautista's property line, Antone said.
"How about if he came in and said, 'I'm thinking of building a second-story structure with running water and electricity that my daughters are going to play in,' " Antone said. "That would have helped our people help him. I think the communication has to go both ways."
Standing in the shade of their playhouse with a gathering of friends after school Wednesday, Bautista's daughters, 18-year-old Sherron and 13-year-old Tiana, said they were frustrated by the situation.
"It's just unfair," Tiana said.
The Maui High School freshman said that for years she has had slumber parties with her friends in the house. Sherron, who will head to the University of Oregon next month, said she uses the treehouse as a quiet place where she can be by herself and also does homework there.
"There's no distractions," she said.
Both said the structure had turned their backyard into a popular neighborhood hangout and gathering place for their friends.
"They come over mostly for the treehouse - not for us," Sherron laughed.
Bautista said some of his friends have questioned why he would spend so much money on a playhouse. But he said that, for a doting dad, the project was a worthwhile indulgence.
"I love my daughters. I tell people, 'I don't drink, and I don't smoke, and if the drinkers and smokers looked at the money they spent over five years, that's way more than my treehouse,' " he said. "That's how I look at it."
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.