I LOVE this woman and I LOVE her popcorn, which I get at Whole Foods. We hope she and the city can come to a solution.
Twenty-five years ago, Shawnee Chasser moved into a tree house and now Miami-Dade County wants her out.
The wood cottage where she lives can be found nestled against the forked trunks of an oak and strangler fig in the wooded front yard of her late son’s Biscayne Gardens home. And she and the house are there- sans windows and air conditioning- because she wants it that way.
From the article:
“But the county says the open-air chateau was built illegally, is unsafe and must be demolished in the next four months. Chasser — who once marched from California to D.C. as part of an anti-nuclear arms protest — says that will never happen, setting up an only-in-Miami showdown between a $7 billion government and a 65-year-old grandmother who sells bags of organic popcorn at Whole Foods.
“I’m not taking down anything,” Chasser vowed during an interview. “I’ll chain myself to that tree house.”
I’m afraid she might! Why? Because for her, there is no better way to live than walking around barefoot, listening to the lightning and feeling the rain. For her, it’s spiritual.
More from the article:
“Her brother, Ray Chasser, built her first abode at the Earth N’ Us farm in Little Haiti, where he mounted a shanty on telephone polls and wrapped it around a Pithecellobium tree.
Chasser later moved to her son’s home on the corner of Northwest 135th Street near North Miami and commissioned a new cottage with curved wooden steps leading around the trees to a second story just large enough to fit a double bed. The ground floor includes a kitchenette stocked with a mini oven and sink, and a tiny, circular living room cooled by a Home Depot ceiling fan. There are family pictures everywhere, books above a desk, and a small couch where a 2-month-old raccoon named “Coonie” sometimes stretches out lazily.
The sweet little cottage can’t be seen from the street and sits on just under a half-acre of wooded lawn stretched around a man-made pond and waterfall and hiding from its surroundings behind a hedge. Chasser’s daughter runs the land trust that the home sits on.
The county’s issue with her home isn’t that she lives there but that it’s unsafe. South Florida has strict rules about its building codes because of the frequency of hurricanes. They also take issue with the fact that her running water and electricity were installed without permits or inspections and code and unsafe-structure inspectors looked at the cottage and found that it had been constructed in a way that it can’t be brought up to county standards. Therefore, she has three months to tear the tree house down. She is more than free to live in a legal tree house.
Ms. Chasser says she can’t afford to hire an engineer or architect to help her bring her home up to code and even if she did, the county says she’d still have to apply to the zoning department for permission to inhabit the units outside the main home on the property.
This cottage is treated like a landmark in Miami and is even included in official marketing material from the county’s tourism bureau. It also survived Hurricane Andrew, so she’s not giving up. She can still appeal and is talking to her attorney about her options.
For Chasser it’s not just about living outside but also about her small business; the bags that carry her Greenthumb Popcorn celebrate a certain unusual style of living, and won’t be guilty of false advertising. She says, “It says on the back that I live in a tree house. So I have to keep living in a tree house.”
We wish her luck.