HOLMES BEACH, Fla. — It's a space that would rival a child's wildest dreams.
High up in an Australian Pine overlooking the Gulf of Mexico on Anna Maria Island sits a treehouse that could soon be the subject of a case heard before the high court.
Lynn Tran and Richard Hazen built the two-level, 500-square-foot beachfront treehouse in 2011.
"It's hard to describe," Tran said. "It brings the inner child inside you out."
But the hangout, complete with stellar views, hammocks and even working windows, has cost the couple a handsome sum: about $30,000 to construct and probably five times that in legal fees as they've fought local authorities over it, Tran said.
"We didn't know that it'd get so complicated," Tran told 10News. "We didn't go in there and just build it without asking permission."
Tran and her husband run a rental property called Angelinos Sea Lodge on Anna Maria Island. They have a house on their property and four rental units. Before they began constructing the treehouse, Hazen asked the city whether they needed a permit. The answer: No.
So, construction began. But soon after, the city got an anonymous complaint about the treehouse. An investigation by the city found the couple did actually need to go through the permitting process and it turned out the treehouse was in an area where building is prohibited because of a city setback.
The couple hoped to get around that by having local voters weigh in, but courts told them no.
Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson has referred to the continued legal wrangling as "quite honestly a waste of time."
"For some reason these people have this fixation on it," he told the Associated Press.
Now, the couple has reached their last stop, the Supreme Court.
Unless the high court intervenes, the treehouse must be torn down.
"The Supreme Court is the last court of resort," Tran said. "If it doesn't work out, we don't want to think about it yet, it's hard to think about, especially when we know we didn't do anything wrong."
Tran said the case is about more than just a treehouse. She believes it could help set precedent for property owners across the country engaged in similar disputes.
"We're kind of in a dilemma between our property rights and our petition rights," she said.
The couple's lawyer, David Levin, acknowledges the case is unlikely to be accepted by the justices, who only hear argument in about 80 of the thousands of cases they're asked to take each year. But he argues that his clients' rights were violated when a Florida court "rubber stamped" a ruling proposed by the city of Holmes Beach without any evidence of independent consideration.
A decision from the justices on whether they will weigh in could come as early as Monday.
The couple is accumulating a $50 a day fine for not taking down the treehouse, a fine that's now tens of thousands of dollars.
If the treehouse ultimately has to go, there's a lurking irony for the couple. To take down the structure, they'll need the one thing they didn't have before they began putting it up: a city permit.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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