After a long and arduous battle with the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and Seattle City Council, Lake Union Liveaboard Association (LULA) has achieved a major victory for Seattle’s Houseboat Community.
This battle was for the very existence of Seattle’s Houseboats, which by DPD’s public testimony consisted of about 150 illegal over-water dwellings. The intent was clear; to remove houseboats from Seattle’s waters.
Kevin & Linda Bagley founded LULA in November of 2009 as a result of proposed modifications to the Seattle Shoreline Master Program (SSMP) that could have potentially removed Houseboats from Seattle waters and would have created severe hardship for the houseboat community. During the course of the next 4 years, numerous drafts of the SSMP were issued, but most, if not all put many houseboats in jeopardy.
New state legislation SB-6450, spearheaded by LULA President and Vice President, Mauri Shuler and John Chaney, was crafted to protect the small, but culturally important existing fleet of on-water residences that included Houseboats, House-barges, and other floating structures used as residences. The combined vote from the House of Representatives and Senate was 137 to 10 in favor of protecting Floating On Water Residences. We’ve nicknamed these FLOWRS.
Today, the Department of Ecology (DOE) released their Conditional Approval for the Seattle Shoreline Master Program update. This approval included required changes based on state law. Per DOE;
The SMP-Guidelines under WAC 173-26-241 (3) (J), require jurisdictions to prohibit new over-water residential uses, while also accommodating existing uses as a part of the comprehensive SMP update. After local adoption of the City’s updated SMP, the Washington State Legislature passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6450 (ESSB 6450), which amended the SMA under RCW 90.58.270, clarifying that existing “floating on-water residence” that are legally established prior to July 2014, shall be considered a
Therefore, the required change is necessary to respond to the 2013/2014 amendment to the SMA (ESSB 6450), thus identifying existing “floating on-water residences” as an allowed over-water use in the City’s updated SMP.
As many interim drafts of the SSMP were issued by DPD with numerous proposals regulating houseboats and other liveaboard vessels, it is likely that people are confused as to what they must do to remain safe in Seattle Waters. To address this we are providing the following Q&A which we will post on our Seattle-Houseboat.com website under the FAQ section (YoHo!-FAQ’s). Additionally, section of the SSMP devoted to Standards for floating on-water residences is provided at the end of this press release.
If you should have any questions, please feel free to email us at Special Agents Houseboats (Kevin@Seattle-Houseboat.com or Linda@Seattle-Houseboat.com), or visit our website www.Seattle-Houseboat.com.
Q: When are the new regulations effective?
A: Although the regulations may not take effect until after July 1, 2014, your FLOWR must have been “legally established prior to July 1, 2014”
Q: Does my FLOWR need to have engines?
A: No, Engines are NOT required. This proposal by DPD has been eliminated.
Q: I heard proposals requiring Sail Area to Length Ratios, Freeboard Requirements, Symmetrical mooring cleats, fore and aft boarding stations, visibility requirements. Do these still apply?
A: No. These proposals by DPD have been eliminated.
Q: I heard I would be required to drive my vessel on a 1 mile round trip, hire a naval architect, and have my vessel certified. Does this still apply?
A: No. These proposals by DPD have been eliminated. No performance test is required.
Q: Can I repair, remodel, or replace my FLOWR?
A: Yes, with some restrictions. Repair is allowed, but there are some restrictions as to what can be done in a marina (max 25% of vessel at a time). An expansion of up to 120 sq. ft. is allowed provided it does not exceed the height restrictions. You can add Deck railings (36” max) and stairs. If expansion over the life of the vessel exceeds 120 sq. ft., grey water containment and disposal are required.
Q: Can I expand the size of my footprint?
A: No, with the single exception of a one time changes for stability as certified by a naval architect. NOTE: If you utilize the stability expansion, you cannot expand in any direction after the stability expansion.
Q: What are the height restrictions?
A: If your current height is 18 ft. or less, you cannot increase the height above 18 ft. If your current height is between 18 and 21 you cannot increase your height. If your height is 21 ft or more, you cannot create an expansion exceeding 21 ft.
Q: Does my FLOWR have to be USED as a place of residence prior to July 1, 2014
A: The regulations indicate that ”For the purpose of this chapter, a structure will be considered designed or used primarily as a residence if it contains a dwelling unit.” Per this statement, if your FLOWR contains a dwelling unit, it will meet the requirement of being USED as a place of residence.
Q: How do I register my FLOWR?
A: The exact process and fee amount has not yet been established. We anticipate that you will have to submit dimensions of your vessel, pictures, and some evidence that you were moored in Seattle waters, held a lease or ownership in a marina, were designed or used as a dwelling unit prior to July 1, 2014, and have detachable utilities.
Q: After I apply and pay my fee, will I receive something that indicates compliance?
A: Yes. After DPD verifies your FLOWR, you will receive a numbered plaque that is to be displayed on your FLOWR on the pier or landward side or side most used for access.
Q: I’m not sure if my vessel is a FLOWR. Should I submit for verification?
A: We are recommending that you submit for verification if you are unsure. Once verified, your FLOWR will then be secure and protected.
Q: If I get my FLOWR plaque, can the city make new regulations that will jeopardize my houseboat?
A: No. Once you have your plaque, you are officially verified as a “Floating On Water Residence” which is governed by Washington State Senate Bill SB-6450. The relevant part of that bill is shown below.
(6)(a) A floating on-water residence legally established prior to July 1, 2014, must be considered a conforming use and accommodated through reasonable shoreline master program regulations, permit conditions, or mitigation that will not effectively preclude maintenance, repair, replacement, and remodeling of existing floating on-water residences and their moorages by rendering these actions impracticable.
(b) For the purpose of this subsection, “floating on-water residence” means any floating structure other than a floating home, as defined under subsection (5) of this section, that:
(i) Is designed or used primarily as a residence on the water and has detachable utilities; and
(ii) whose owner or primary occupant has held an ownership interest in space in a marina, or has held a lease or sublease to use space in a marina, since a date prior to July 1, 2014.
23.60A.203 Standards for floating on-water residences
A. Floating structures that contain dwelling units and vessels that contain dwelling units shall be regulated as floating homes pursuant to Section 23.60A.202, with the exception of floating on-water residences that comply with this Section 23.60A.203, house barges that comply with Section 23.60A.204, residences allowed under Section 23.60A.206, and vessels that comply with Section 23.60A.214. Locating other uses on floating on-water uses authorized pursuant to this section 23.60A.203 is prohibited.
B. For purposes of this Chapter 23.60A, a floating on-water residence is allowed only if it:
1. Was used as a dwelling unit within the City prior to July 1, 2014.
2. Was moored pursuant to a lease or ownership interest at a marina, as defined by Section 23.60A.926, within the City prior to July 1, 2014.
C. Maintenance and repair, remodeling, relocation, expansion, rebuilding, and replacement
1. Floating on-water residences legally established pursuant to subsection 23.60A.203.D are regulated as a conforming use, and relocation, repair and maintenance, remodeling, expansion, and replacement are allowed subject to the following standards:
a. Normal maintenance and repair, as defined in Section 23.60A.020.C.1, is allowed, and replacement is not considered the common method of repair for this type of structure.
b. Remodeling is limited to the interior and to changing the siding or architectural features on the exterior of the existing structure, except that exterior open railings may be added as part of a remodel as allowed in subsection 23.60A.203.C.1.c.
c. Open railings may be added around existing exterior spaces and stairs to access these spaces, provided that if the top of the railing exceeds the height limits in subsection 23.60A.203.C.1.e, the maximum height of the railing is 36 inches.
d. Relocation is allowed, and owners should update the floating on-water residence verification within 60 days.
e. Expansion is allowed provided that:
1) The height of the structure shall not exceed 18 feet if the current height of a floating on-water residence is 18 feet or lower, measured from the main deck or three feet above the surface of the water, whichever is lower;
2) The height of the structure shall not exceed the current height if the current height of a floating on-water residence is more than 18 feet but less than 21 feet, measured from the main deck or three feet above the surface of the water, whichever is lower;
3) The height of the structure shall not exceed 21 feet if the current height of a floating on-water residence is 21 feet or more, measured from the main deck or three feet above the surface of the water, whichever is lower; and
4) No expansion of overwater coverage is allowed, except a single expansion at or below the surface of the water may occur as follows:
a) The applicant provides documentation demonstrating that the expansion is the minimum necessary to provide stability as certified by a naval architect to correct stability problems for the structural size and configuration that existed before July 1, 2014, and the area of such expansion shall not be used for any purpose other than to provide stability; and
b) If an expansion is allowed under subsection 23.60A.203.C.1.e.4.a, no other expansion is allowed below, at or above the waterline for any purpose.
5) If the total expansion over the life of the structure exceeds 120 square feet, gray-water containment or a waste-water hookup that disposes the gray water to the City’s waste-water disposal system is required.
f. Replacement to the same size and configuration as established in the verification issued pursuant to subsection 23.60A.203.D as updated is allowed.
g. Replacement with expansion shall comply with the standards in 23.60A.203.C.1.e, including the requirement that expansions greater than 120 square feet shall provide gray-water containment or a waste-water hookup that disposes the gray water to the City’s waste-water disposal system.
2. When an owner of a verified floating on-water residence intends to expand, rebuild or replace the structure, prior to beginning any work:
a. The owner/applicant shall present information to the Director demonstrating that the floating on-water residence will comply with subsection 23.60A.203.C.1. e through g, as applicable;
b. The owner/applicant shall demonstrate any expansion will not create future stability problems for the floating on-water residence; and
c. The owner/applicant shall update the verification records under subsection 23.60A.203.D.
D. Verification of a floating on-water residence
1. Each floating on-water residence shall be verified by the Director and the owner shall pay a one-time fee to receive a verification number plate. The fee shall be established by the Director to recover the reasonable costs of the program for issuing verification number plates. Owners of floating on-water residence allowed pursuant to subsection 23.60A.203.B may apply to the Director for verification or may wait until the Director asks for verification information. If a floating onwater residence is not verified, the Director may require the owner to submit verification information and pay the required fee.
2. Verification shall constitute legal establishment of a floating on-water residence pursuant to the definition of floating on-water residence in Section 23.60A.912.
3. A house barge authorized under Section 23.60A.204 may submit verification and be regulated as a floating on-water residence rather than a house barge.
4. If an owner disputes the Director’s denial of verification as a floating on-water residence, the owner may appeal the Director’s determination to the hearing examiner, in conformance with the hearing examiner rules, within 30 days of date the Director’s determination was mailed. The appeal shall be conducted de novo, and the City shall have the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that the decision of the Director was correct. Nothing in this Section 23.60A.203 precludes the City from enforcing this code under Chapter 23.90 SMC following a decision of the hearing examiner upholding the City’s denial of floating on-water residence verification.
5. The owner shall display the verification number plate issued by the DPD on the pier and landward side of the floating on-water residence or on the side most commonly used for access from the pier.
6. Failure to verify a floating on-water residence or to correctly display a verification number plate is a violation of this Chapter 23.60A that is subject to the enforcement process in Chapter 23.90 and does not forfeit the owner’s right to maintain a floating on-water residence.
7. Verification is transferable between owners but not transferable to another floating on-water residence, except for a replaced floating on-water residence as provided in subsection 23.60A.203.C.1.f and g.
E. Minimizing impacts on the aquatic environment
1. Owners and tenants of floating on-water residences shall use best management practices to minimize impacts on the aquatic environment. The best management practices include, but are not limited to, the following:
a. Eliminate sewage discharge by either sealing overboard discharge and conveying sewage discharge to an approved disposal facility using a pump out station, a pump out service or other appropriate method or using port-a-potty or similar device and disposing of the sewage at a facility that is connected to the City’s waste-water disposal system;
b. Dispose of garbage, food scraps, waste material and recyclables into appropriate on-land receptacles;
c. Secure all outside furniture, barbeque grills, plant containers and other material to ensure that they do not enter the water because of wind or wave action;
d. Use natural and toxic free building material in exterior areas;
e. Use natural and toxic free cleaning and other household products in outside areas and on exterior structures;
f. Nonuse of herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers in outside areas or on the exterior of the structure; and
g. Use a double containment system when using toxic and/or chemical liquid products outside to contain any spills in the second receptacle to prevent these products from entering the water.
2. The Director may establish alternate or additional best management practices to implement the requirements of subsection 23.60A.203.E by Director’s Rule.
“Floating on-water residence” means any floating structure, other than a floating home, that was legally established prior to July 1, 2014 and is designed or used primarily as a residence, has detachable utilities, and is the subject of a lease or sublease at a marina, or whose owner has an ownership interest in a marina, as of July 1, 2014. See, RCW 90.58.270. For the purpose of this chapter, a structure will be considered designed or used primarily as a residence if it contains a dwelling unit.