A Tree House on the Ocean Edge and Other Fantasies

Now that SeaCat’s Rest is a big success we hosts rarely have a chance to sit on our bluff and gaze at the ocean, since that spot now belongs to guests. With July and August completely booked with same-day turnarounds we are victims of our own success. It was with this in mind I hatched a plan to build an elevated platform big enough to arrange a few chairs on, from which the ocean could be viewed, far enough away from the guest’s bluff hang-out to not be seen. I had two substantial trees picked out and had started educating myself about new methods of tree house construction.

Playhouse in the woods, now gone.

When I was a kid in the 60’s making a tree house meant nailing a few 2 by 6’s onto one or two tree trunks and then covering them with boards. When my daughter was young I built her a little playhouse in trees four feet above the ground. When our town’s Administrative Assistant saw it he said I didn’t need a permit because it didn’t touch the ground. How times have changed.

Now, thanks to TV shows like Tree House Masters, tree houses have become ridiculously complex, with several bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, heating systems and so on. You can stay in one for several hundred dollars per night or domicile your mother-in-law in one. Two big changes have happened as a result. First, the technology involved in attaching a structure to a tree has evolved to hurt the tree less. Second, municipal governments now respond to the words “tree house” with “you need a permit”.


Because of the first change, building a tree house has gotten a lot more expensive. Tree attachment bolts (“TABs”) are pricey and my modest platform turned into something approaching a thousand dollars. For this reason I decided I needed to run it by our Code Enforcement Officer, lest I end up having to lose the investment. My initial assumption was that since it was not on the ground, it couldn’t be a “structure”. Our Shore Land Zoning Ordinance was very specific about what was and was not allowed, and tree houses were not mentioned, so I thought I was safe. The ordinance also forbade just about anything within 100 feet of the high tide mark, so I was also worried. When I called up our CEO he responded with, “I’ll have to call Portland”. His voice mail back said I couldn’t build it in the setback area and if I wanted it exactly 100 feet from the shore I had to pay for a surveyor (125 feet was OK to measure myself) and I had to apply for a permit. This of course, was a deal killer. I didn’t want a platform 125 feet from the bluff and if I filled out the application for the permit it would show that I’m already covering the maximum 10% of my lot with “structures” (driveways are considered structures because they are impervious to water).

View from the new hangout

I worked off the frustration of this development by picking a spot on the bluff that I could make into a hang-out spot without cutting any trees down, and got busy. In a day I had a new trail through the woods to a nice spot with views of the mountains of Acadia across Eastern Bay. I arranged chairs and commenced to enjoy the spot. My wife bought me a celebration gift, a big new hammock.

The future of hammocks? $1,250 from tentstyle.com

That night I started to worry. What was the difference between a hammock and a tree house? They both need trees for support. They both are suspended above the ground. They both hold people, people could sleep in both. Did I need a permit for my hammock? What seemed like an absurd worry today would have also seemed absurd in 1990 when applied to tree houses.

Mark my words, the Animal Planet Network will launch “Hammock Masters” before you know it. Builders (or stitchers) will create elaborate three bedroom hammocks which Airbnb will feature for $300/night. Governments will respond by requiring permits for all hammocks. Get yours up now, before it’s too late!


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