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Judge orders Babylon man who built treehouse to file additional materials

Noelle and John Lepper with their children Bayden,

Noelle and John Lepper with their children Bayden, 6, and Brianna, 5, by the treehouse in their Babylon backyard on Nov. 5, 2018. Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz

A judge ordered a Babylon man challenging the village’s determination that the treehouse in his yard is illegal to obtain a survey and engineer’s report of the structure.

John Lepper began building a treehouse in the backyard of his Cockenoe Avenue home last spring for his children Bayden, 6, and Brianna, 5.

He filed a building permit application with the Building Department, and says a clerk accepted it, but he didn’t submit the required engineer’s report and survey and wasn’t issued a building permit.

Village officials fined Lepper and ordered him to remove the treehouse, an order he has been disputing, saying he followed village code.

Lepper argues that his 86-square-foot treehouse is less than the 90 square feet permitted in the village code for gyms and playgrounds, and he doesn’t need a permit.

But Village Court Judge John Rafter ruled the treehouse is a building, not a gym or playground, and is subject to building laws.

Lepper paid $475 in fines in the fall, and appealed Rafter’s decision.

That appeal is pending while Lepper sues the village and its officials, arguing they have violated his First Amendment rights by penalizing him for drawing attention to a medical syringe he says he found on his property.

Lepper said he built the treehouse to protect his children from dangers on the ground and village officials targeted him.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco is hearing the case in federal court in Central Islip. 

Lepper and village officials agreed that while the case goes through court, Lepper and his children won’t go in the structure, and the village won’t fine him or order him to remove it.

Cory Morris, Lepper’s Dix Hills-based attorney, said at Monday's court hearing that his client agreed to get a survey and engineer’s report done within two weeks.

“We’re still in the same stronghold here,” Morris said. “We essentially want the treehouse to stand, and they don’t.”

Village attorney Gerard Glass and Mayor Ralph Scordino, both defendants in the suit, have declined to comment throughout the case.

Eric Tosca of Mineola-based Kelly, Rode and Kelly is representing the village and wrote in court documents, “Plaintiffs attempt to bolster their argument by claiming they are the focal point of the enforcement of the zoning code because they reported drug activity occurring in their neighborhood. However, plaintiffs offer nothing to substantiate any reasonable connection between their reporting of drug activity and the enforcement of a building code that on its face governs the erection of building structures meant to enforce safety standards.”

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