City officials are considering adopting changes to Seattle's shoreline regulations which, some of Lake Union's floating residents argue, will kick all their merry asses off of the water, effectively leaving them high, dry, and homeless.
As Carol Brown, an impassioned Lake Union houseboat owner wrote in a letter to the Seattle City Council:
"Imagine this. You build your house, following the codes and legal guidelines to the best of your ability. Later (maybe years later), you are told that you do not meet the City’s definition that did not exist at the time you built your home. Because your house no longer fits the City’s interpretation, it is no longer deemed to be a “house” and will have to be moved, banished from the city!
“This is the nightmarish situation—living in fear that I could lose my home (and most significant financial investment)—that those of us who live on houseboats face with the latest version of the Shoreline Master Plan sent by the Mayor to the City Council for approval."
For context, most floating homeowners live on Lake Union. But Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the city's Department of Planning Development, which is crafting the update to the city's Shoreline Master Plan—which will guide uses for Lake Washington, Lake Union, the Ship Canal, the Duwamish River, Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, and Green Lake—says Brown's concerns are off-base. "The proposal to update the regulations would prohibit any new houseboats but would allow the ones that have been there already," he says. The problem, he adds, is that roughly 120 homeowners have been illegally building and living off Seattle's shoreline since 1990—and they're now worried about the future of their homes.
At 5:30 p.m. tonight, the Seattle City Council is holding a public meeting on the proposed changes to the Shoreline Master Plan. I predict that it's going to be a total shit show. You can watch along here.
But to understand this complex issue, you need to understand a few distinctions between the types of waterhomes that people currently live in. Here, I will break them down for you:
· Vessels are functioning boats—structures designed and used for navigation—that people sometimes live in. These aren't policed by the DPD because they're primarily boats, not houses. Nobody gives a shit if you're living on your boat. Continue with the city's blessings! · Houseboats: Seattle has approximately 500 Sleepless-in-Seattle-style floating houseboats that are permitted with the city. This means they're compliant with building codes and are connected to city sewer lines. Most of these homes are on Lake Union. · House-barges: The city has another estimated 150 house-barges, which are defined as vessels without means for steering or efficient self-propulsion. (Think a yacht with the motor and steering wheel ripped off, or a houseboat with a outboard motor slapped on the back of it.) House-barges have been illegal in Seattle since 1990, according to the DPD (with the exception of 34 permitted house barges that were grandfathered in with the 1990 rule).
To reiterate, house-barges are already illegal.
The DPD's proposed changes to the Shoreline Master Plan really only impose new restrictions on houseboats, and only so much as they would prohibit houseboats from being built on Seattle waters in the future. The goals of the Shoreline Master Plan update are simple, according the to the DPD:
· Strengthen environmental protections of Seattle's many shorelines, bodies of water, and wildlife. · Promote the public's access to the water. · Prioritize water-oriented uses on the water. (Living isn't a water-oriented use.)
In other words, the city is limiting the number of people who want to brush their teeth and sleep on the water, so that the rest of us—who want to boat or swim or make our living off the water—can have better access to it. With these goals in mind, the DPD argues that houseboats—which take up valuable marina slip space—don't mesh. The change is designed to bring the city in line with state environmental regulations, and we're hardly the only city considering adopting it.