Toronto

City of Toronto orders family to remove elaborate boat-treehouse that cost $30K

The City of Toronto has given John Alpeza one week to dismantle the treehouse he built for his children.

John Alpeza built a $30K boat-treehouse for his children to get away from the internet

The City of Toronto has given John Alpeza one week to dismantle the treehouse he built for his children. 2:11

John Alpeza built a boat to get away from all the distractions that come with living in Toronto.

But the city has ordered him to dismantle the boat, saying it violates zoning bylaws. 
John Alpeza stands in front of the boat-treehouse he built for his children outside his Toronto home. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

At the heart of the dispute is where he decided to build it: in a tree in his backyard.

The boat-treehouse sits atop a dead tree in Alpeza's Bloor West Village backyard, stretching beyond the tree and overlooking his fence. Alpeza admits that he did not have a building permit when he constructed it.

After filing paperwork last fall, he was told in a phone call from the city last week that he was rejected by three different city departments. If he doesn't take it down, the city will charge him and get a court order to remove the boat-treehouse.

He has vowed not to take it down.

It cost Alpeza $30,000 to build the boat-treehouse. At 108 square feet, it has retractable windows, swing ropes, a hammock, an eating area, four different entrances and enough seating for his two children, who are eight and 10, and their friends. 
A ship's wheel adorns the bow of the boat-treehouse. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC News)

"It's nice to give the kids their own space, let them make their own little world. Imagination is so important. They can use that to play, instead of video games again," he said. "They have a great time."

The boat-treehouse also has all the features of a boat, with a hull, ship's wheel, bell and even an anchor. It's made of cedar, considered a superior material for building boats that go in the water.

"It was just a natural thing," he said of building a boat on top of a tree.

The treehouse atop a dead tree resembles the hull of a boat. (John Alpeza/Facebook)

But Alpeza's boat-treehouse has rankled at least one of his neighbours. Kate Lawson complained to the city.

"I feel that it's overly large, is what I think. That's why I brought it to the city's attention," Lawson said.

She said she's seen Alpeza's children playing in the boat-treehouse only a handful of times, and she's glad the city has ordered him to take it down.

"I think that's what should happen. Why does the city have bylaws if people can build whatever they want? They shouldn't be able to do that."

What would make people do this?

Alpeza has one week to dismantle the boat-treehouse. 

"For them just to make this decision, I wonder what would make people do this? What kind of evil turns good people into making these kinds of decisions?" said Alpeza.

"They want to destroy this now."

The city called and left the news on his voicemail. He plays the message back and feels the same reaction each time. "I'm shocked and in disbelief that I could get such a message," he said.

"All of a sudden, when it's really, really nice, it's a problem. I don't understand why somebody would complain a year later after I try to make this thing really something special, not just a box with a plywood roof," he says of the boat-treehouse, his project for over three years.

'It grew out of a need for the kids to enjoy the backyard more, and to get away from the TV, the internet,' says Alpeza. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

"It grew out of a need for the kids to enjoy the backyard more, and to get away from the TV, the internet, which I find as a big, big problem," said Alpeza.

He combined his desire to build an outdoor, distraction-free space with his family's love of ships. He said he and some partners owned three ships over the last 25 years.

"We developed an appreciation for beautiful old wooden ships," he said. "One of my neighbours joked around, saying, 'Are you expecting a flood?'"

He said keeping the boat-treehouse is not about a fight with the city or his neighbours, but for his family. And his children love it.

"The kids remind me a lot of times that I'm a great dad. They know that this is for them."

The interior of the boat-treehouse, enough room for several people. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC )

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