'Tipi Village' may have to fold its tents

Members of a semi-nomadic group of tepee dwellers have until Oct. 1 to get off private land east of Ashland after Jackson County officials ruled this week the tepees violate planning code — unless the occupants can get the land deemed a campground.

About 20 residents of "Tipi Village" were given notice Wednesday that the five tepees on about 190 acres off Soda Mountain Road must be removed, despite the villagers' belief that tepees were legal dwellings there.

The group splits time between two properties east of Ashland owned by a family that has let the villagers stay for $1 per tepee per day since 2008 (year corrected from earlier version). That land is for sale, and the group is trying to raise $300,000 to buy it before it gets sold to someone else.

"We've been here six years," said Kayla Blanchflower, one of the original Tipi Village residents. "I don't think it's cool to just change the code interpretation like this."

While the residents believe they had been given the green light to tepee life there, this marks the first time county planners actually have looked into the legality of tepees on that land, said Kelly Madding, the county's development services director.

In 2011, a case stemming from a complaint was closed because inspectors could not reach the property to see whether a violation was in place, Madding said. Last year, there was a specific complaint about a van on the property that was removed after the owner was warned, Madding said.

It wasn't until an Aug. 13 complaint questioned the legality of Tipi Village that planners started looking into it, Madding said.

Planners already had been researching the broader issue after a complaint in late June questioned the legality of people living in tents off Alpine Road near Eagle Point, Madding said.

Under Jackson County codes, tents or tepees are allowed as "accessories" on developed lands where services such as water and sewage are assumed to be available, Madding said.

That's different than undeveloped lands such as those on which Tipi Village sits, where members drink from a stream and they have a portable toilet at the site, which is within the boundaries of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Madding declined to identify who filed the complaint against Tipi Village, which county officials consider confidential.

Madding said research involving tent living was reviewed by county officials during a meeting Monday, one day after a Mail Tribune article about Tipi Village was published.

"It's a coincidence that it came up now," she said.

Blanchflower said the group has arranged a meeting next week with Madding to discuss possible options, which include having the village deemed a campground that would make tents and tepees legal there.

"The way forward is to become a campground," Blanchflower said. "Getting campground status shouldn't be that big a deal.

"It's a glitch that needs to be worked out," she said.

Campground status is not something a county planner could grant administratively, Madding said. It would require a conditional use permit, with area landowners notified of the application and public comment taken before a decision could be made, she said.

Blanchflower said the group currently has no alternate plans for moving should they not get an exemption before the Oct. 1 deadline.

"I don't really care to entertain that we won't," she said.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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