King County's about-face on treehouses
Eight months after King County ordered Pete Nelson to tear down a high-end treehouse overlooking the Raging River near Fall City, officials are now offering him a chance to obtain permits for the structure and make it part of a back-to-nature retreat.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Coming soon to the Raging River: a bed-and-breakfast establishment where guests can sleep among the trees.
Eight months after King County ordered Pete Nelson to tear down a high-end treehouse overlooking the river, officials are now offering him a chance to obtain permits for the structure and make it part of a back-to-nature retreat.
Nelson, a professional treehouse builder and author of several books on treehouses, signed two agreements with county building officials last week that will allow him and his wife, Judy, to get permits for two treehouses on their Fall City property, incorporate them into a bed-and-breakfast, and teach treehouse-building classes.
County officials are letting Nelson keep his "Temple of the Moon" treehouse in a "critical area" near the Raging River and want to create "a clear path" for other treehouse builders.
That's a shift from the tough line the county took after Nelson built the treehouse with cedar walls and a walnut floor — but without permits — 20 feet up the trunk of a large Sitka spruce.
The order to demolish the structure drew critical news coverage and prompted Metropolitan King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert to propose an ordinance that would have let Nelson build more treehouses as a demonstration project.
Officials said the treehouse had to come down because of the risk that the flooding river could undercut the tree. A more detailed survey showed the tree was in a "moderate" not "severe" flood-hazard zone.
Nelson said Tuesday he hopes to open a traditional house for lodging and meals next month and to let guests sleep in his treehouses by May. He agreed to work with a University of Washington engineer to demonstrate the safety of his existing treehouses and others he wants to build on the four-acre property he calls Treehouse Point.
"I'm just so thrilled. I can't believe it," Nelson said. After more than two years of conflict over construction Nelson did without permits, he said he was surprised officials in the Department of Development and Environmental Services (DDES) "really wanted it to happen. They bent over backward to make it happen."
The agreements, worked out during several months of negotiations with the help of mediators, commit DDES to consider new laws that would allow limited recreational and commercial uses near rivers and lakes "that will promote ecotourism and environmental stewardship."
DDES Deputy Director Joe Miles said Treehouse Point will let city folks sit in the forest canopy watching birds and the river.
"That's a huge benefit," he said. "I share that. I especially feel good that it looks like he will be able to do it and do it legally in the code."
Councilmember Lambert, R-Redmond, praised Nelson's project as "a great rural economic development," and predicted it will be a commercial success.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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