Treehouse Campground: A Large Development in the Hills

Treehouse Campground Location Aerial Photo. Courtesy of Tillamook County

The initial application for the proposed Treehouse campground was vague and sloppy, containing almost none of the information Tillamook County ordinances or state law requires; nevertheless, the county planning commission waved it through their hearing with few questions and no probing of potential problems with the site. This lack of specific information led a Tierra del Mar resident to appeal the decision to the Board of Commissioners.

At the initial BOC hearing, it seems Treehouse Partners realized they would not be able to get an application approved without providing more solid details about this large commercial campground. They provided maps, showing the locations of fifteen tent sites, nine for geodesic domes and six with other tents; and four “accessory cabins.” The proposal also includes a “support cabin with a viewing deck,” a common area bath house, picnic area, and twenty-six parking slots.

They promised a geotechnical report, which was to be “underway soon.” They also said they had contracted for a wetland delineation, which is required by the Department of State Lands before any permit by that agency can be considered for this site. Treehouse also provided somewhat more detailed information on water and sanitation infrastructure. But BOC did not wait for all the required information to be provided: they voted unanimously for the campground without it, refusing to take this important evidence into consideration. Their rationale? As related in a June 3, 2022 Pacific Sun article, the Commissioners got the land use laws exactly backwards: they said the “rigorous standards” of the building permit is where all those issues like wetlands and geohazards should be addressed — not the conditional use permit. Unfortunately for the BOC, Oregon’s land use laws require that information during the land use discretionary decision-making process, which is the conditional use permit. The building permit is a later, non-land use, box-checking exercise once land use approval is in place. Conditional use permits can be appealed to the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA). Building permits, which require no discretionary approvals, cannot be.

So ORCA appealed this strange conditional use permit decision to LUBA. Tillamook County, realizing they could not win the case, took a voluntary remand to rework their decision. At the remand hearing months later, Treehouse presented its wetland delineation and geohazard report, and Tillamook BOC, after a perfunctory consideration, re-approved the campground exactly as before. This is a textbook case of obeying the letter of the land use laws while entirely ignoring its spirit.

Tourism saturation is already a serious problem in Tillamook County, and the last thing the county needs in this area is another commercial campground; there are others in the vicinity. The likelihood is that this development, if it goes ahead, will just become a Short Term Rental (STR) campground used for the kind of weekend parties for which STRs have become known. The sanitary and water requirements for such STR use are likely to be much greater than would be necessary for a regular campground. Furthermore, STRs will bring an even larger number of tourists than an ordinary campground would. The quiet, unincorporated community of Tierra del Mar is directly across Sandlake Road from this development, and developers have thus far brushed aside the impacts on its community, as well as its infrastructure. The county refused to take these difficult community-based problems into consideration.


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