As specialists in the sales of Floating On-Water Residences (FOWR), we would like to be able to explain the regulations regarding permitting requirements for FOWRs to our clients. In this regard, we recently asked Nathan Torgelson, Director of Department of Construction and Inspections (DCI) the following questions:
These answers represent a change in policy that previously allowed for replacement FOWR’s to be sold outside of Seattle waters. If you are constructing houseboat replacements, new hulls, or making significant repairs, you need to read and understand these rules. When in doubt, contact Department of Construction and Inspections directly.
As you may be aware, SDCI has recently reviewed the code language related to FOWRs and House Barges due to the notable increase in permitting activity, particularly for replacing FOWRs. Further review of the code language with the Seattle Law Department as well as the Department of Ecology has resulted in an adjustment to our processes to better align with the specific code language that governs these over-water uses. The information below is intended to answer the questions you’ve raised.
Some limited activities related to FOWRs and House Barges may qualify for a shoreline exemption. These activities include:
Other activities or changes to FOWRs and House Barges that will require a shoreline substantial development permit, include but are not limited to:
It is important to note that the shoreline code language specifically states that exemptions should be construed narrowly (SMC 23.60A.020.B), and that any part of a proposal or activity that is not specifically eligible for an exemption will trigger a shoreline substantial development permit. In addition, one goal of the overall FOWR/Barge rules is to ensure that the number of FOWRS on the water before July 1, 2014 does not increase. In Seattle, this includes registered House Barges that were on the water before July 1990. As part of the shoreline substantial development permit review to replace a verified FOWR/Barge, SDCI will need information about what will occur with the existing verified FOWR/Barge that is being replaced. Seattle’s code and its supporting state law, in the Shoreline Management Act, RCW 90.58, were written to legalize existing floating residences as of the July 1, 2014 date. State law and City code direct us to ensure that the result of a replacement process is no net increase in the number of floating residences. This requirement applies statewide.
Some options for what could occur with the existing FOWR/Barge being replaced could be:
I hope this information is helpful in explaining the permit process for proposed actions that would change, modify, or replace a verified FOWRs or House Barge. We are planning to develop a “TIP” so that this information is clear and readily available to the general public.
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