The city of Seattle has revised a set of proposed regulations that would limit liveaboard vessels and place new restrictions on marinas, but not all liveaboards are happy with the changes.
The city had previously proposed to define liveaboards as anyone spending more than four nights a week aboard their boat and to limit liveaboards to 25 percent of slips at any marina. The proposed regulations, part of a broader overhaul of the city’s Shoreline Master Program, were revised over the past few months in the wake of feedback from boaters and others, and a second draft was issued in October.
The revamped regulations define a liveaboard as a vessel used as a dwelling unit for more than 30 days in any 45-day period or more than 90 days in a year, the same definition used by the state’s Department of Natural Resources.
Gail Luhn, president of the Shilshole Liveaboard Association, said the association is cautiously optimistic about the new regulations, which are in a public comment period until Dec. 9 and must still be approved by city council before moving ahead.
“We’re very pleased,” she said. “But we’re tamping that down at the moment because we know this is just a draft. Who knows what’s going to happen?”
But while the revised regulations no longer limit the number of liveaboard vessels in the city, they place new restrictions on house barges, defined as “any vessel with or without means of self-propulsion and steering equipment or capability that is principally designed as a place of residence.”
The regulations would prohibit any new house barges in Seattle and allow only those that were in city waters before January of this year. Owners would be required to register their house barges with the city and any house barge taken out of Seattle waters for more than six months would lose its permit.
Permits could be transferred to a new owner if the house barge is sold, but not to a different house barge. Replacing an existing house barge would still be allowable, as would moving a house barge to a different marina in the city.
Kevin Bagley, head of the Lake Union Liveaboard Association, is not pleased about the changes. Bagley said liveaboards on houseboats, as he prefers to call them, are being unfairly singled out. He questions why the city would prohibit any new houseboats while not limiting the number of liveaboards on more traditional vessels such as sailboats and trawlers.
“What’s the purpose of giving the green light to an unlimited number of liveaboard vessels so long as they’re shaped like recreational vessels and not shaped more like a box?” he said. “It’s a prejudice based on shape.”
Bagley also objects to the city classifying his 72-foot paddlewheeler, which he and wife Linda live on in Lake Union, as a house barge. His boat is registered with the U.S. Coast Guard as a vessel, he said.
“I’m not going to register my vessel as a house barge,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a house barge. So now the city has an enforcement issue. Are they going to start monitoring marinas?”
The proposed regulations also raise questions about what will happen to the four or five houseboats that Bagley said have moved onto Lake Union after the January 2011 cut-off date.
“That is a lawsuit waiting to happen,” he said.
Maggie Glowacki, senior land use planner for the city’s Department of Planning and Development, said the proposed regulations are needed under a state law requiring local governments to revise their Shoreline Master Programs. The three priorities for the program are ensuring preferred shoreline uses, providing public access and protecting the environment.
The prohibition on new house barges, Glowacki said, is in keeping with state law that prohibits new overwater residences and applies the same rules to floating homes and house barges. Liveaboard vessels are being treated differently than house barges under the city’s proposed new regulations because they are designed primarily for navigation, while house barges are intended as residences, Glowacki said.
“House barges are most similar to floating homes. They’re not most similar to recreational vessels,” she said. “If a recreational vessel is used as a liveaboard, it doesn’t mean that its previous owner has used it as a liveaboard or its next owner will.
“But generally, house barges, like floating homes, are constructed for residential use and we’re making that distinction. Basically, it comes down to the design.”
Similarly, Glowacki said, the proposed regulations would require house barges — but not recreational vessels — to contain their greywater instead of pumping it overboard, just as floating homes are required to do. The city will also be considering how to address the greywater produced by liveaboard vessels, she said.
As for the house barges that have moved into Seattle waters since January, Glowacki said those will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. She didn’t rule out the possibility that the city could allow new house barges up to the date the regulations take effect.
“This isn’t the final version (of the regulations),” she said. “We’ll be taking comments and be evaluating all the comments.”
Bagley believes the city is trying to eventually get rid of houseboats, which he said are part of the culture and character of Seattle.
“When people think of Seattle, they think of three things – the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, but also floating homes and houseboats. If you were to poll the public, they like them. When the duck boats go out on tour, they point out the houseboats. It’s a positive thing for the city of Seattle.”
Glowacki said the intent is not to get rid of house barges, but to comply with state laws and protect the city’s shoreline.
“We’re not proposing to remove existing house barges or floating homes, but to put limits on new ones per the priorities set by the state,” she said.
The proposed regulations are available on the city’s website. Written comments will be accepted until Dec. 9 and can be sent to Margaret Glowacki at email@example.com or by mail to:
City of Seattle – DPD
700 Fifth Ave. Suite 2000
P.O. Box 34019
Seattle, WA 98124-4019