Treehouse builder riding high
December 30, 2008 · Updated 12:23 AM
Fall City’s TreeHouse Point is on its way to becoming a county-sanctioned bed and breakfast where visitors can commune with nature in deluxe treehouses built on a four-acre slice of idyllic forest.
In a 180-degree reversal, King County agreed to let world-renowned builder Pete Nelson apply for permits to keep his two treehouses, built in a flood-prone “critical area” along the Raging River, and potentially construct more.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled I am,” Nelson said.
This spring, the county ordered Nelson to tear down his 256-square-foot Temple of the Blue Moon treehouse, modeled after the Parthenon but constructed without permits. Codes allow treehouses up to 200 square feet, and only in non-critical areas.
Nelson moved to appeal the code enforcement, and King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert rallied to support TreeHouse Point, which she said could provide an economic and cultural boost to the area. The council considered designating the site as a demonstration project to help the government determine the environmental impacts of treehouses, but that plan was set aside when Nelson began arbitrated mediation with the county.
Twenty hours of negotiations resulted in a voluntary compliance agreement outlining a permit review process for the tree houses. Both sides also signed a mediation agreement calling for the county to create a more predictable process for permitting elaborate treehouses in the future.
Nelson will have to prove the safety of the existing structures and the six or so others he hopes to build, but said he has no problem with that requirement.
“The tree will be better for it. The people will be safe. And we don’t have to feel like outlaws,” he said.
All sides seemed pleased with the agreements.
“By working together and being flexible with this very unique business, King County was able to use this enforcement action as an opportunity to improve codes,” Lambert said in a news release. “This will form an agreement that protects both property owners and the land. I can hardly wait to see this business available to citizens as another place to come and enjoy nature and have a relaxing experience.”
Nelson envisions a tree house mecca where children could learn about nature, and treehouse builders from around the world would learn the craft at workshops. The property’s topography even allows the possibility of building a wheelchair-accessible treehouse.
“(The county) paved a way for all this to happen now,” Nelson said, adding that the vision is in line with the county’s efforts to promote eco-tourism.
Nelson and his wife, Judy, also got the green light to run a five-guest bed and breakfast in a house on the property. For now, they can’t rent out the tree houses, but if all goes well, visitors could soon pay for a romantic night up high in the arboreal “love shacks,” as Nelson has called them.