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Jacob's Playhouse No Longer in Violation

By Teresa Rochester

In the latest twist in the ongoing drama over the fate of a five-year-old's playhouse, City officials rescinded a notice that the backyard wooden structure was in violation of City Code.

In a two-sentence letter dated Nov. 27 the City's building officer, Timothy McCormick, informed David and Beth Levy of the City's decision.

"On August 8, 2000, we issued you a Notice of Violation for the construction of a two- story accessory structure that is located in violation of the required rear yard setback," the letter states. "After City Council consideration of related issues of equity, the Notice of Violation is hereby rescinded."

The letter arrived in the Levy's mailbox on Thursday afternoon. City department heads are at a conference until Monday and unavailable for comment.

The Levy's attorney Chris Harding said that he was mildly surprised by the letter but added that he anticipates a lawsuit charging that the City violated the Levy's rights will move forward as planned.

"What surprised me, frankly though it shouldn't, is that it took them so long," Harding said. "We don't know what this means. We don't know when they decided to do this. The City has not discussed this with us."

Mayor Ken Genser -- who forwarded a complaint from an acquaintance who lives behind the Levy property and suggested to staff that the playhouse was a two-story structure -- said that neither he nor the City ever advocated that the playhouse be torn down.

"The City's position, certainly since the time of going to the Council, has never been the house should be torn down," Genser said.

The latest development in the 11-month saga comes two months after the City told the Levys they could keep the playhouse until they move out of their Sunset Park home, at which time the structure -- which still was considered in violation of City Code -- must come down.

Harding said that the Levys were relieved that the City decided to rescind the notice of violation but were disappointed that it took so long. He also said there were still a number of issues outlined in the suit that have yet to be resolved.

The lawsuit, filed in September, demands that the City clarify or change codes on backyard playhouses and directs the City Attorney to craft and make public a list of do's and don'ts for the interaction of council members with City staff.

"We know and the City knows there are a number of playhouses that are illegal under the Genser two-story theory," said Harding. "We have little choice but to move forward to clarify these issues."

The saga surrounding the Levy playhouse began in January when David Levy set out to build the olive green structure for his son Jacob. Levy was given confusing and contradictory information by the City, which he followed in good faith.

After meeting the requirements the structure was deemed non-compliant and the City issued an order for it to be torn down or shortened or moved.

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