SULLIVAN'S ISLAND — The notorious treehouse fight in this reserved beach town won't go away. For now the room in the sky can't have walls, windows or a roof.

Putting in steps with handrails instead of a ladder, well, that might be doable, said owner Hal Coste.

But Coste said he is headed back to court anyway after the town's Board of Zoning Appeals recently approved the "nonconforming" 96-square-foot treehouse he built for his grandchildren.

That was on the condition, however, that he remove the windows and a door, not add a roof, and that he install steps with handrails, according to town officials. 

His attorney — again — will challenge the decision.

The fight over the unfinished treehouse has been waged from board to board and court to court for five years now.

It may be the quirkiest among innumerable conflicts between private property owners' rights and public regulations, an issue that has dominated the coast for years.

The Sullivan's Island zoning ruling came almost one year to the day after the S.C. Court of Appeals declined to hear the town's legal challenge that a similar set of specifications in its zoning laws is legal. The town had waited on that ruling before deciding Coste's case. He expected the decision would have forced the town to allow the treehouse.

"It's pretty crazy," Coste said. " I went down there (to the board) to get it finalized to put on a roof."

Coste's treehouse isn't a few hammered-together boards. It was well planned, complete with a bed, table and chair, an electrical outlet and memorabilia on the walls. It sits on a 200-square-foot platform and rises 30 feet above the ground.

That violated the town's 15-foot-tall limit for accessory structures, according to the town's zoning boards. Coste said no, it didn't. The treehouse is connected to his house, not an accessory structure. And there was no town law specifically against treehouses when he built it.

Now the roof has come off. And the town and the treehouse owner are at it again.

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Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.

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