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Bill's failure may doom Sandy-area business

Legislation was written to allow facilities that use raw logs to operate in Clackamas County timber zones


The end may be near for Mark Fritch Log Homes now that a bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Thomsen has failed to move forward during the 2014 session.

The business, owned by Sandy resident Mark Fritch, which employs three people, has run up against Clackamas County land-use regulations, and will need to close once Fritch runs out of legislative options.

The business creates building packages for custom homes. The logs are peeled, prepared and stacked into an outside structure at his location on Marmot Road and then taken apart, packed onto a truck and relocated to the future home’s permanent site.

Sen. Thomsen, R-Hood River, introduced legislation this month that would have allowed the Sandy business to operate in timber, mixed forest and farm zones.

Thomsen reported the bill, SB 1575, did not fare well in a hearing Thursday, Feb. 13.

“It went how I expected it would,” Thomsen said.

Since it was a short session, there was only about two weeks to work the bill, he said. “Whenever there’s opposition, it’s tough to work a bill properly.”

Fritch, however, isn’t ready to give up.

Fritch has been building log homes for more than 44 years, but has had trouble with Clackamas County’s definitions under timber zones.

Fritch has operated his business under the county’s timber-zoned land designation as a permanent facility for primary processing of forest products.

But because this term does not have a definition, there has been controversy over Fritch’s business.

Three years ago, Fritch was forced to relocate the business to a site on Marmot Road. The problem with the location did not become apparent until after he resumed operation, having already purchased the five acres.

The problem? The north side of Marmot Road is zoned for timber, while the south side is zoned rural residential.

Fritch said he’s had good experiences with some of his neighbors, but not all of them. He said some of his neighbors want him off the property. by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Mark Fritchs employees often peel the logs by hand, creating very little noise for the neighboring lots.

About six months after he moved in, Fritch was reported to Clackamas County as violating timber-zone guidelines. Some neighbors argue he is building homes on the land because he assembles components of the log structures on-site.

Because there is no set definition of being a primary processor of forest products, the court ruled the business is not allowed to stack logs in the resemblance of a log home.

After appealing — and losing — before the state Land Use Board of Appeals, Fritch called Sen. Thomsen.

“When a constituent losing his business calls me for help and there’s something we can do about it in the Legislature, it is my job to try my hardest to assist,” Thomsen said.

Thomsen said it makes no sense that Fritch can perform every aspect of his business except temporarily assembling the log cabins — a vital step in making sure the building kits are constructed correctly. by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The logs are notched and shaped on sit before being stacked into its future structure, a step that has been prohibited by a Clackamas County ruling.

“What we do is habitable sculpture,” Fritch said. “We’re making a building materials package.”

Fritch’s seven employees pre-assemble the log homes on site, often manufacturing unique pieces, almost the opposite of a sawmill, an activity that is permitted on timber-zoned land.

“But that doesn’t take away our right to do it,” Fritch said.

Fritch said neighbors have complained to multiple agencies for numerous alleged violations.

Then, after finding an arrowhead shaped piece of metal wedged into the tire of one of his vehicles, he believes he has been intentionally sabotaged.

Last year, while working on a project, he and his employees witnessed a vehicle stopping to take photos of their work. After seeing this multiple times, Fritch prepared to confront the people in the vehicle, but was hindered when his foreman of seven years had a panic attack.

The 24-year-old foreman later resigned, stating he could not take the stress of the harassment.

Fritch was broken up over losing his employee, having taught him the ropes of the industry since he left high school at age 17.

Facing strong opposition at the hearing on Thursday, Feb. 13, the bill was referred back to committee for further discussion, essentially killing the bill for this legislative session.

Thomsen plans to look more into the issue regarding areas with conflicts between rural residents and industry. He would like to study if this is an isolated issue or something that is happening in multiple communities across the state. by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - In one of his first projects to come out of his new location on Marmot road, Mark Fritch and employees created a log home materials package to be reassembled on an 80-acre lot in Virginia.

Fritch says he will not leave his business and that he is committed to making sure that this does not happen to anyone else.

“I think this country has a great legal system,” Fritch said. “But I’m not so sure we have a justice system anymore. All I want is justice.”

Correction: This story has been updated since running in the Feb. 19, 2014 edition of the post to read that Mark Fritch Log homes employs three people, not seven.