OCEAN PARK — Pacific County has put the kibosh on proposed changes to its rules for protected rural lands made by the millionaire who built the lofty faux-lighthouse near Leadbetter Point State Park.
Craig Tillotson wanted the county Planning Commission to approve a zoning amendment that would have allowed him to live at the top of his 140-foot-tall lighthouse and offer luxury retreats at his Leadbetter Farms property. His attorney, Alan Wallace, said the 64-year-old magnate hopes to make the hundreds of acres he owns on the north end of the Peninsula more profitable for his heirs.
Wallace, a Seattle-based lawyer and former city planner who represents landowners, developers and investors in property-rights cases, said Tillotson wants to change the rules so he can put rooms on the top floors of his eight-story lighthouse and use his property for high-end corporate and family retreats.
The wealthy entrepreneur does not plan to open the metal gates at oceanfront Leadbetter Farms for the general public, just for exclusive, upscale gatherings, Wallace told the Observer.
Leadbetter Farms proposed an amendment to county zoning regulations that would have allowed small tourism or recreation businesses, such as game farms, equestrian centers, outdoor guide services and vacation rentals, on rural lands that have been protected from development.
The rule rewrite included provisions for permitting buildings up to 150-foot-tall and the allowing people to stay in them.
After the first public hearing on the possible change in June, the part of the proposal that would have allowed people to stay in buildings above the county’s occupancy cap of 35 feet was changed. Tillotson’s lighthouse is the only building that would have been affected by the revision that would have permitted converting buildings that were built before 2017 into living spaces, county Planning and Community Development Director Tim Crose said.
The request was withdrawn after dozens of people showed up to oppose changing the rules to pave the way for more towers to suit Tillotson at the second public hearing on Aug. 3.
“There were so many negative comments. They just kind of gave up,” Crose said. “It’s a dead duck.”
The volunteer planning commission voted 4 to 2 against approving the new rules for rural-land use they’d been considering for almost a year. Commissioners Bill Kennedy and Stan Smith supported the change and Scott Turnbull was not present.
Tillotson skirted county restrictions to build the lighthouse by fashioning it on a steel-framed water tower, which made it exempt from the 35-foot height cap for buildings. Now, neighbors are questioning whether he has been renting Leadbetter Farms without permission, Crose said.
A website that advertises several properties owned by the Tillotson family includes a cinematic aerial video tour of Leadbetter Farms that mimics the opening credits to HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” It shows gargoyle and dragon statues on the grounds around the lighthouse and a stately oak-framed lodge. The farm features Swiss Family Robinson-style treehouses, a barn and boat that have been turned into living quarters, near a man-made lake, complete with a Loch Ness Monster lurking in the water.
Because Leadbetter Farms does not have a license to offer lodging through the county, Crose said he plans to work with the Prosecutor’s Office to decide whether to pursue an investigation.
Tillotson doesn’t have a license to offer overnight accommodations through the state Department of Health either, spokeswoman Julie Graham told the Observer. According to information provided to the state, the Elite Getaways website is selling rentals of other Tillotson-owned properties but not Leadbetter Farms, she said. The online description, however, doesn’t make that clear.
“There is always more to discover — from the Lighthouse Tower, Barn Style Loft Home, Old Glory Boathouse, and the Upper Suite you and your guests will have more than enough room to spread out and find their own cozy corner. Inside you are greeted with heated stone floors and every luxury you could desire,” the website reads. “Come and create a one of a kind memorable getaway that will leave you wanting more!”
Tillotson made millions from his ventures with Nu Skin, one of Utah’s largest publicly traded companies. The business was founded by his ex-wife Sandra Tillotson and associates. She was featured in unsavory memoirs written by her other two former husbands, including the tell-all book “Formerly Filthy Rich: My Scandalous Life with a Billionaire Cougar.”
Elite Getaways did not immediately return a call for comment.