By reporter Steven Smalley
The treehouse constructed among the cottonwoods on the Magnolia bluff east of the area where six homes were destroyed in a 1996 landslide, has found itself in the crosshairs of the City Department of Planning and Development with several violations issued, according to a DPD City of Seattlespokesperson.
For openers, the office that assigns building permits says this treehouse project did not have one. In addition, other violations were meted out regarding the placement of the structure in an Environmentally Critical Area. The public citation stated the treehouse was a, “Residence constructed within shoreline setback,” that did not meet shoreline regulations.
Recently airing on cable’s Animal Planet television program, Treehouse Masters – a story reported here on Magnolia Voice – the structure got the attention of the city by way of citizen complaint.
To city inspectors it looked like, “A house in a tree constructed at the base of a steep slope,” according to the spokesperson.
“From DPD’s perspective, it’s a home-structure propped up by trees…built upon the rubble of the slide of 1996 just steps away,” he said. The treehouse was constructed by program host and Fall City treehouse builder, Pete Nelson, according to property owner and Spokane attorney, Ronnie Rae. Rae, and fervent kayaker who conducts business between the Inland Empire and the Emerald City, says he purchased the lot on the bluff last summer. It’s the easternmost parcel of 16 connected lots on the bluff, according to Rae (36), a graduate of Gonzaga University School of Law.
“We hauled out a ton of garbage that had piled up from 18-years of neglect,” he says. “Technically, we wanted to have a boathouse. We are avid SCUBA divers. We stay for only a handful of hours. Eventually we want to get a kayak club interested in this portion of Elliott Bay.”
Rae, along with land use consultant, Paul Carkeek, are aware of the city’s effort to cite him for violations, “Much to our surprise,” Rae says. “Any kind of action the city takes against us is kind of nonsense. We have found a way to stabilize the area. We hope others will follow suit.”
In defense of his project, Rae asserts no building permit is needed, as the regulations specifically exempt treehouses from such requirements. It seems city rules do not specifically define treehouse. Rae says he is ready to defend his property rights against the city’s desire to essentially keep him off his land.
“We are willing to take any measure necessary to preserve my land-use rights,” Rae declares, adding that he has improved the land thus increasing its value for tax purposes.
“If the city didn’t think there was any use for it, they shouldn’t be taking tax money,” he insists.
In the meantime, the Department of Planning and Development’s Director’s Review is in process, ready to receive evidence submitted by Rae’s team showing the city’s violations were cited in error. They have until the end of the month to submit paperwork, according to the DPD. Once the city has received Rae’s appeal, they will take 2-3 weeks to make a determination whether the department will issue a permit to remove the structure or a permit to legalize it.
For Carkeek’s part, he is determined to show how Rae has improved the property, and how they plan an additional restoration to shore up land around the structure.
Furthermore, he says, the treehouse couldn’t possibly be a residence, as it is inconvenient to access, and has no utilities.
Carkeek says these city citations are DPD’s reaction to something out of the ordinary that causes them fear and anxiety. He declares Rae will, “Stay the course,” in his quest to keep the treehouse. “We will work with the city and make it right,” he insists.
In a new wrinkle, Magnolia Voice was alerted to some new sloughing of trees and soil just west of the treehouse. The aluminum ladder used to access the stairs leading to the structure is now covered with debris. A return visit to the site yielded additional photos showing the damage. It is unknown who cut the fallen trees leaving stumps.