Rowayton treehouse dismantled as ‘brutal’ Zoning dispute culminates in ZBA denial

Simon Wilson-Taylor, left, speaks to the Norwalk Zoning Board of Appeals last week in City Hall. Many neighbors were unaware of the hearing before it was short notice, and therefore did not attend, Susan Simmons said.

The treehouse at 102 Highland Ave., next door to 22 Covewood Road, on Aug. 3. (Contributed)

Updated, 3 p.m.: Comment from Simon Wilson-Taylor, lead sentence revised; 7:38 a.m.: Copy edits

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk has been dealing with possible litigation regarding a treehouse.

“I have now dismantled the ‘house’ part of the treehouse. It’s gone.  The kids are devastated,” Simon Wilson-Taylor wrote to NancyOnNorwalk on Monday, explaining the results of his defeat in a year-long dispute with the Planning and Zoning Department, and his Rowayton neighbors.

Wilson-Taylor’s fiancé, Katherine Hynes, was threatened with a $150 a day fine over the treehouse at the far end of her Highland Avenue backyard, in close proximity to the Meyerson’s home on Covewood Avenue. The Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday turned down Hynes’s application for a height variance on the treehouse on a 3-2 vote, a follow-up to a February hearing in which the treehouse was unanimously turned down “without prejudice,” meaning that the couple could come back after making modifications to address the issues.

“What is clear… is that the kind of treehouses that people are building all over Connecticut and the rest of the country (thanks to TV shows like Treehouse Master) are not welcome in Norwalk,” Wilson-Taylor wrote.

“Every room in my house, pretty much, I look out the window, I see that treehouse,” neighbor Martha Meyerson said at last week’s hearing, explaining that she didn’t like confrontation, did not want to be in front of the ZBA again, but nothing had changed with the treehouse.


The background of the dispute

Wilson-Taylor reached out to NancyOnNorwalk in late October to complain about a “very unpleasant confrontation with the Norwalk ZBA.”

“We are the poor fools who though it would be fun to build a nice treehouse and play area for our 5 tween/teenage kids, so that they could enjoy some element of privacy in a yard that is overlooked on both sides by houses that are very close to our boundary (6 feet on one side and 12 feet on the other),” he wrote.

Hynes bought 102 Highland Ave. in July 2012; Wilson-Taylor bought the neighboring 23 Covewood Ave. in July 2011. They became engaged and live together in her home.

“Our interaction with the ZBA and the Citation Hearing officer over this issue has been brutal,” Wilson-Taylor wrote. “The house we live in was previously a semi-derelict former violin factory in the middle of residential Rowayton, and it has been a multi-year project to convert it to a house, clearing decades of garbage that the neighborhood had dumped there and improving the old building.  We have been very respectful of all P&Z issues throughout, but due to this treehouse issue Zoning have made it almost impossible for us to continue this work as they have blocked new permits on the main house, and even begun to accrue fines at $150 per day…even though the ZBA had given us 6 months to…in their words ‘enjoy the treehouse for the summer and come back and see us in the fall’.    We are clearly being singled out for particularly nasty and vindictive treatment…. State officials have told me (verbally) that this a very serious case of over-reach by Norwalk.”

Sources agree that Hynes’ acre of land had been thickly overgrown for decades before she bought it. Problems began when Hynes cleared the land and put up a fence, blocking one of Rowayton’s “paper roads,” sources said, with one explaining that there are nine Rowayton roads that exist on paper only, city-owned pieces of property that children use as walking paths.

This issue flared June 2015, when “Two (of 11) abutting neighbors became very hostile as Katherine cleaned up her land and established her property boundaries (after surveys by Arcamone, and professional soil surveys were completed),” Wilson-Taylor wrote. “Many spurious and unwarranted complaints were made to the police and the town and those neighbors have remained aggressively hostile ever since.  This has made normal neighborly discussions with those two neighbors impossible.”

The Department of Public Works came out and surveyed the property, discovering that the trail children had been using had been incorrectly placed, and allowing the neighbors to landscape a new trail, a reliable source said.

Then, a treehouse went up next to the Meyerson’s master bedroom, sources said.

Nearly a year ago, Hynes wrote to Hayducky:

“For several years I have been promising the children that we would build a treehouse.  As the children are now all teens or tweens this was the “now or never” year.  Inspired by the Treehouse Masters TV show, we selected the ideal tree in our back yard and purchased the correct TABs (Treehouse Attachment Bolts) to minimize damage to the tree itself and drew up outline plans.

“My fiancée & I then began doing a lot of internet research on permit requirements.  The Norwalk website offers no specific information.  We found that many Connecticut towns and cities do have specific treehouse guidelines, but this provided no helpful guidance as the guidelines vary enormously.”


Wilson-Taylor said the couple spent the fall/winter of 2016-17 researching treehouse construction, and in May 2017 tried to get a building permit for the treehouse, planned to be 100 square feet with a roof, windows and doors built on a platform about 14 feet off the ground, but was told no permit was needed.  Zoning said that as long as the setbacks were honored they had no concerns, according to Wilson-Taylor.

He spent six months building the treehouse; a complaint was filed that fall and a citation issued in November 2017, he said.

Wilson-Taylor and the Planning and Zoning Department disagree about the results of the March 1 decision; Wilson-Taylor and Hynes say they understood that the children could use the house through the summer, but P&Z in July issued a citation, Wilson-Taylor said.

Hynes met with Mayor Harry Rilling about the treehouse; Wilson-Taylor then met with a “specialist Planning and Zoning attorney to discuss the case and our options,” he wrote. “Litigation is clearly a consideration, but as this case is fraught with significant misunderstandings and incorrect procedure,” he wrote in a letter which was sent to Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin.

Kleppin did not reply, Wilson-Taylor wrote.

Kleppin letter re treehouse


ZBA hearing, round II

Thursday’s hearing began with ZBA member David Heuvelman reading a legal summary of the case, explaining that no Zoning hardship had been explained, that the treehouse greatly exceeds the allowable height and, “This application is no different from the one previously submitted. The applicant did not take any of the Board’s suggestions and simply resubmitted the same application.”

That’s not true, Wilson-Taylor said.  “We are respectful people who have taken a careful and systematic approach to rehabilitating this property, which is an ongoing project.”

The treehouse on Friday. (Contributed)

The height of the treehouse is determined by the limbs in the tree, which was selected as the “one and only one perfect tree,” he said, explaining, “Many towns in Connecticut do have clear guidelines on treehouses, perhaps because they have had to face these issues and as I have come to discover the hard way, this oversight … (is) a serious disservice.”

He was told no permit was needed, Zoning said there was no concern, and the work was clearly visible during the six months he labored, drawing “nothing but praise except for one neighbor,” he said.

The ground where the treehouse is located is 18 feet lower than the actual house, he said, explaining that if he lowered the house to meet the height requirement, on the existing platform, it would be 1 foot high.

To lower it and keep the size of the house, it would be four feet off the ground and “effectively a shed,” he said, adding that if he took the house off the platform but installed the zipline and slide that had been planned, it would meet the Zoning regulations in the “worst possible outcome,” resulting in unlimited views into the Meyerson’s home.

“Attorneys have pointed out that implied, but not stated, in the original citation is the concept that our treehouse was being designated as an accessory structure,” Wilson-Taylor said. “This is the core of the problem. If our treehouse was instead properly designated as a treehouse, none of these citations would have been issued or apply at all. … …. If we had appealed, which would have been proper course of action, we would have been able to discuss… we didn’t know that was the right action so we have been forced down the path of applying for variance for height.”

Wilson-Taylor produced a letter from Norwalk Chief Building Official Bill Ireland saying no building permit was needed for the treehouse and said the construction was in compliance with state building code.

“We are not Zoning experts,” he said. “We shouldn’t have to be Zoning experts to navigate this. We have had experience of working with John Hayducky on other issues, which he immediately dismissed, and on this one we believed that this was the path to go down. Turns out to be false.”

The treehouse was designed to angle away from the Meyersons, with one wall facing their property and a high window above the children’s eye level, he said.

“We could actually build a full-size house on the location of the treehouse, actually closer – obviously, we would have to tear down our existing house first, but there would be no zoning concerns about building a two-story full-sized house with windows overlooking the Meyerson’s property in the yard,” Wilson-Taylor said. “So our treehouse with its limited use should be of no concern to anybody.”

Martha Meyerson scoffed at Wilson-Taylor’s description of extensive online research into treehouse construction, saying she had found “basic guidelines of height” and the “simplest” suggestion: talk to neighbors.

“I would have said I wouldn’t love that,” she said.

“I don’t know why they cut down all those trees if they were planning to build a treehouse,” she said.

Only five trees had been cut down, Wilson-Taylor said, asserting that he had counted trees that morning and there are 63 trees that are more than 10-feet high, 32 that are more than 30 feet, and most are on the property line between his house and Hynes’ house.

“The Meyersons unfortunately are not as good neighbors as they paint themselves, and we have had a number of issues with them over time, including driving 5-ton trucks up my driveway without consent,” he said. “This has not been conducive environment to having this kind of conversation so we stuck to what we are allowed to do under the regulations. We have built a treehouse that is 38 feet from their building. Their building is 6 feet from property line…. it should be more than enough distance given the proximity of their house to the property itself.”

“The bottom line is, it’s an accessory structure, it does not conform. It’s an illegal structure,” said Brad Simmons, a Covewood Road resident.

“The treehouse is a very elaborate accessory structure built way up in a tree on the back lot of back lot,” Susan Simmons said, describing double-hung windows, Tyvek sheeting, shingle siding and electricity provided by extension cords. “It is a very large structure which looks more like a house in a tree than a traditional treehouse. At 23.4 feet, it towers over our yards and homes at the end of Covewood Drive, invading the privacy of the neighborhood and specifically the Meyerson home, and importantly, their master bedroom and bath…. the structure is completely out of place in our closely-knit residential neighborhood.”

The Simmons house is 200 feet from the treehouse, which was purposely built at the bottom of the hill so as not to tower over the neighborhood, Wilson-Taylor said.


Turning down the variance

Nearly an hour later, the ZBA began its deliberations.

“I think the building department, Planning and Zoning, missed the boat on this. Unfortunately, there is no regulation … for treehouses,” ZBA member Lee Levey said. “It’s very specific in (state) building code, there is difference between a treehouse and a play structure. I just wish that this had been pointed out during our first hearing…. I think they were done an injustice on this.”

Taylor Strubinger said he agreed but, “I am so aggravated with this guy that he came in here and he is giving the same damn argument that he took up all of our time the last time he was here. It was explained to him that he had to talk to his neighbors and come to a compromise, he didn’t do a damn thing.”

“He didn’t do any of it,” Levey said. “That’s the other side of the coin, we made very specific recommendations. Nothing.”

“I think he did do his research and as he commented… he got stuck,” Keith Lyon said, arguing that Wilson-Taylor had tried to screen the windows and block any view of the neighbor’s property, and removed the security cameras.

“It seems to me like it’s a house that’s up high and there happens to be a tree next to it. To me, a treehouse is this little thing, maybe 8-10 feet high,” ZBA Chairman Joe Beggan said.

“It’s an entire industry now, building structures like this within trees so the question becomes now where are we equipped to make this determination… based on the codes that we have,” Heuvelman said.

“Unfortunately this is a very litigious neighborhood, that, a lot of animosity between neighbors, we gave them quite a bit of time, in fact, more time than they were actually supposed to have, to negotiate this and all parties failed,” Levey said.

Beggan made a motion to deny the variance completely, saying, “I think by doing that he will finally get the point that he needs to do something about this structure.”
“I don’t think so. I think he’ll take it to Supreme Court,” Lyons said.

“Let him,” Beggan said.

Levey asked if Wilson-Taylor came back with an application after the treehouse was dismantled and all traces were removed.

“Absolutely,” Zoning Inspector Aline Rochefort replied, explaining that P&Z recently issued a permit for a treehouse and “they are called accessory structures and they need to meet all of the requirements, heights and setbacks.”

Beggan’s motion failed 2-3. Levey made a motion to allow the treehouse if certain conditions were met; that also failed 2-3.

That meant the application for a variance was denied, Rochefort said, later confirming for NancyOnNorwalk that the treehouse would have to be removed.



“My only option might be to rebuild it, using the dismantled parts, so that it is not more than 15 feet high,” Wilson-Taylor wrote to NoN on Monday. “That would not really be a treehouse as it would only be 5 feet or less off the ground.  I am still discussing my options with P&Z.  I have also asked them to provide some guidelines as to what kind of treehouse I could build ABOVE 15 feet high without it being classified as an accessory structure.  Aline Rochefort told me today that she and her team are discussing this and hopefully I will get some kind of answer.”
He did not reply to an email asking if this meant he would not be taking it to court.

“I am frankly horrified by this decision,” Sarah Waters, a Rowayton resident, wrote to Rilling and Rochefort on Friday. “I have just been told that Zoning has flexed rules so they can now designate a treehouse an accessory structure, regulations from which it should be exempt as a treehouse for children, per my understanding of state law.  So now the city will have destruction of a child’s treehouse on its hands.  Norwalk Zoning Board of appeals is party to unneighborly, anti-children efforts in this city.  And therefore the city government is implicated. I am beside myself in disbelief.”

“Our attorney advises that any case taken to the Superior Court can only challenge the decision made at the last hearing,” Wilson-Taylor wrote Tuesday. “It cannot challenge the arbitrary decision by an unnamed staff member a year ago to call our treehouse an “accessory structure”…even though we were not notified of that decision, nor given an opportunity to appeal it at the time.   The way the law is applied here enables this kind of petty bureaucracy unfortunately.

He continued, “So no, we will not take THIS case to court.    If it were just me, I would start a whole new treehouse project and fight the issue afresh, but my family are not so keen to continue this stressful battle.  But we have had an enormous groundswell of support since the hearing, and someone else may take up that torch…”







Rem November 6, 2018 at 8:51 am

ZBA Board needs to be very careful about treating the ZBA as a quasi-judicial entity which it clearly is. Apparently none of the board attended the Land Use training hosted by the City of Norwalk in September because ZBA Chairman Beggan clearly displayed bias against the applicant with his comment about tree house height where no such height restriction exists for a treehouse in Norwalk. This could be used as evidence in a court of law if the applicant decides to litigate Norwalk (which taxpayers pay for).

Underground shelters in some towns are not considered structures because setbacks don’t apply to them. So treehouses can be interpreted as not being structures either, but amending zoning law is a legislative function, not a judicial one.

Pilar Chira Steinborn November 6, 2018 at 9:10 am

I too wrote a letter to the town in efforts to stop this ‘entitled’ neighborng properties complain about a good looking childs play tree house. As if they live in the Nineteenth Century still with priveledges?! , this is ROWAYTON, a dog and kid centric village who suppports one another encourages comradarie. Makes me embarrased to live her with neighbors like this that would oppose. Rowyaton had issues like houses that are on the BLIGHT list that were burnt out on nice lanes here in Rowayton, and others alike..these neighbors could use their monies and effort on cleaning up. SHAME ON YOU MEYERSONS!

Miily November 6, 2018 at 10:31 am

Have you ever noticed how the people that support something, in this case a tree house, are never the people that have to live next to it?

M Murray November 6, 2018 at 11:42 am

It never ceases to amaze me how people want to tell others what they can and can’t do with their property. It’s a treehouse for God’s sake. I think they are just upset because they thought no one would ever clear and develop that property and were hoping to have a free woodsy area near their home without purchasing it. It they wanted to let it remain undeveloped, they should have bought it.

Kathleen November 6, 2018 at 11:57 am

This is truly ridiculous. A freaking tree house, people? Your energy needs to be spent on MUCH more important things. Really!

Hugh Sling November 6, 2018 at 11:58 am

These are Bad Neighbors building an intrusive structure and then wasting everyone’s time defending it, using the kids as pawns in the game. Take it to the Supreme Court? For real!What a pair of clowns. The “heartbroken” kids can play elsewhere.

Rick November 6, 2018 at 1:51 pm

we got a half a half way house with 20 inmates in the middle of a 100% pure residential neighborhood yet they tossed a tree house.

Lets all remember what party runs the city , runs the end game on taxpayers.

I will be the last to say told you so when it comes to screwing the taxpayer but its twice in cases like this. The owner is paying for legal action against themselves.

Milly let think this one out tree house today , the diner on post road mural tomorrow and more down the road.I agree rules are rules but to make them up as you go along is not right.

We couldn’t get Rilling Duff Himes Murphy or any other Democrat to fight for us with this halfway house disguised as a sober house’

In most cases those who have been hurt by the city will probably say good Rowayton gets what they deserve, not true this was just before the polls opened.Nancy broke the story,now lets see what the feeling is all over the city.

More work and money went into planning a Manressa playground by one of Rowaytons finest counselors , Rowayton had their chance for a decent Mayor twice and now it would make sense they will vote another loser in with a swing vote.

Still its not right whats going on in the city, you have real estate lawyers and shysters running the city.

Someone looking over my shoulder saying the city has an image problem and right now taking Braille from the blind seems next.

city government is implicated what a picture that paints, but its a knock off its been done before.


Go vote start sending a message.

The city has time for this yet Washington Village where people are still living have rats and raccoons and presence of squatters.This was reported yesterday.

Make sure the Mayor gets his million dollars for flooding sounds like the tree house would of been a great fall out shelter.

Hello I Must Be Going November 6, 2018 at 2:11 pm

With all the zoning problems in this city (and yes, like it or not, Rowayton residents, you’re all Norwalkers!), it’s a travesty that P&Z is wasting its time and resources on this BS.

But this is Norwalk, where things that matter a lot (Firetree) are ignored, and things that matter very little (a child’s tree house) are treated with the utmost importance.

Teddy November 6, 2018 at 3:30 pm

In life I believe there are three sides to every story. Party A’s side, Party B’s side and The Truth. I’m not quit sure if Allan’s comments are in favor of Mr. Wilson-Taylor or not. I hope they are because in this instance entire issue is the result of two neighbors with a fault in their respective characters who has been doing their best to and the Wilson-Taylor/Hynes difficult.

Simon Wilson-Taylor is the guy who comes down with his chainsaw to take apart the tree that fell over your driveway in the last storm. He’s the guy that will go out late in the night to fix my wife’s flat trite because I’m working. Sick with a nasty flu, can’t get out of bed and get groceries don’t work because they’ll drop of soup and some meals to tide you over. They’re the type of people who have done all of these things for people yet never ask for anything in return. Yes, they’re my friends but that doesn’t change the fact that if they weren’t good people who got the bad end of the stick I wouldn’t be writing this. When I’m in a quandary I always ask myself “what would Simon do?”.

At the end of the day this was a gift two loving parents made for their 5 children to have a place to be outside (not inside playing video games) and hang out together with their friends. I let my precocious 5 year old play there for as long as she wants because safe. Don’t we all want to make our kids happy? Of course and how special is it that it was handmade?

Neighbor November 6, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Norwalk P&Z will let you do anything as long as there is something in it for them (ie permit fees, increased taxes). A treehouse has no monetary benefit to Norwalk, so they denied it.
The funniest part is how much time they wasted on it.

Nora King November 6, 2018 at 4:34 pm

The Meyersons are amazing members of the Rowayton Community. They did nothing wrong at all! I was not going to chime in, but I cannot see this family get blamed for this. There is not one event that Andy doesn’t donate his time to. His entire family supports the library, the schools, the RCA and they are the first neighbors to help with anything! Andy even gives his time to support the Elementary school and his kids don’t even go there anymore.

I think it is great that Katherine and Simon wanted to build their kids a treehouse, but the issue was where they built the treehouse. They built it on top of someone else’s house. They didn’t build it by their house, but at the rear of their lot on top of someone else’s house. What parent would want a treehouse that far away from their house anyway – so that the kids would be unsupervised? This was unfair and honestly most people would have had the same issue if a structure like that was overlooking their bedrooms. DO NOT find fault with the family that didn’t want a treehouse overlooking their bedrooms. I like Katherine and I am sorry that she didn’t think this through regarding where the tree house should go before, they cleared their lot – but to find fault on the neighbor for being worried about his privacy and his future resale is not fair.

M Murray November 6, 2018 at 4:50 pm

Nora, you are correct. The issue is where they built the treehouse. On their own property. Not on their neighbor’s. Not on the City’s. On their own property that they bought and paid for.

Condo in the trees November 6, 2018 at 4:55 pm

It is incredibly disrespectful for these people to have gone to such great expense and effort to build this house in the trees without being mindful of their immediate neighborhood. We live in a town with tiny plots of land. Everything we do effects others. What did they think would happen? Clueless!
These people picked a fight with an entire neighborhood, not just the Meyersons, and they lost. For all of you thinking how wonderful the idea of a tree-house is, drive down Covewood and look at the Condo built high into the trees creepily peering into others homes. Folks, this is no tree-house, its big enough to rent out as a small home!
What this family did was incredibly disrespectful and flat out against the rules. Now they are crying because they got caught. Thank goodness there aren’t more creeps like this in Rowayton. God speed Meyerson’s, sorry your going through this but maybe you can rest easier knowing you won this round and the entire community has your back.
Oh and thank you to the zoning commission. They’ve done the right thing here. Good job!

Claire Schoen November 6, 2018 at 6:18 pm

Just a reminder that on Thursday we will be gathering at Fat Cat Pizza for some casual conversation and community building. So many of us have been communicating via comments on this site – let’s meet face-to-face and get to know each other.
6:60 to 8:30,
Fat Cat Pizza, 9-11 Wall Street

See ya there!

NOT impressed. November 6, 2018 at 6:26 pm

Nora King, THANK YOU for commenting on the Hynes Wilson-Taylor’s parenting, “What parent would want a treehouse that far away from their house anyway – so that the kids would be unsupervised?” not only do you look very smart but also VERY CLASSY. I think your comment was absolutely enlightening, it was awesome to hear all about how great the Meyerson’s are! Please! Tell me more! The standard you’re setting for the comment section is embarrassing but, thank you for your opinion. It was very entertaining.

nora k king November 7, 2018 at 8:45 am

M Murray – that is why there is zoning and it was enforced. They built the treehouse on top of someone elses house.Zoning did the right thing!

Teacher November 7, 2018 at 9:34 am

The zoning was enforced but your commenting on someone’s parenting skills was simply rude and uncalled for.

Markus November 7, 2018 at 12:39 pm

How {…} disingenuous is Nora King with the whole “Built right on top” comment. (not to mention her parenting critique!) The zoning decision was based on the height of the treehouse, sorry, I mean accessory structure, and not the proximity to the Meyerson’s residence. The Meyersons need to buy some curtains if they are so worried about peeping Toms. I’m so happy I don’t live on Covewood and have to deal with neighbors like the Meyersons, Nora King and {…} Susan Simmons.

Edited to remove insults, per the comment policy. https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Good zoning = Good neighbors November 7, 2018 at 4:05 pm

Zoning is in place to prevent things like tree mcmansions built on top of setbacks from being built.

Meyersons, Simmons etc.. I’m sure would have no problem with a tree house built in a reasonable way, in a reasonable location. Knowing these families well, they would probably lend a hand building it!

From time to time outliers pop up, like this tree situation. This family tested the rules, their neighbors patience and good graces, which triggered zoning involvement and a decision which they are now upset over.

Keep in mind, there would be no article here or anywhere if this family had not built this type of tree house, in this location.

No one is anti-child or anti-dog. However, when neighbors don’t consider their neighbors when undertaking large projects, this is exactly what happens!

Those that call out the Meyersons, one of the most selfless, giving, civically involved families in Norwalk is just making themselves look ridiculous.

Arguing with zoning for the allowance of tree houses is fair. Calling out the families involved in this case is not.

Julie Gottsegen November 7, 2018 at 5:04 pm

What does this tree house have to do with how much volunteering one family does vs another. And why does building a treehouse make you a bad parent? What rules were broken if the Hynes Wilson Taylor’s were told there were no rules/ permits needed when they went to research it? I have never built a treehouse , but I would imagine you need just the right tree. It was a beautiful and safe structure. A creative playhouse for kids. Kept them off tablets and devices and got them outside to play! I really don’t understand how two families were able to sway the zoning to get this treehouse taken down. It’s a travesty. I have had 3 McMansions built around my home in the last 2 years. They loom over my house. What can I do? I can’t tell them what they can and cannot do on their property because I can see it out of my window. I think if being in close proximity to your neighbors isn’t for you than Rowayton is not the town for you!

GlindaGoodwitch November 10, 2018 at 12:38 pm

Residents of Rowayton should be aware that just because they have a separate zip code they are a part of South Norwalk and not Darien! There are much more important issues and causes to be addressed.

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