Current Issues

IMPORTANT MEETING! – Save Seattle’s Liveaboard Vessels

Seattle’s liveaboard houseboats and other vessels are in peril!


By regulatory decree, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) plans to implement new policies that could affect ALL vessels in Seattle. Under the proposed plan, DPD can require vessel owners to obtain certification from a naval architect that their vessel meets several tough new standards, including:

  • Installation of a working engine with a minimum horsepower rating
  • Presence of an operable navigation station conforming to steering, visibility, and control requirements
  • Hull design that includes a raked bow, a specified hull length to width ratio, and a minimum freeboard height
  • Ability to actively navigate in Seattle waters

In addition, DPD proposes to check for vessel insurance that covers use of a motor for cruising, the presence of off-shore water and electrical systems, and certain types of deck hardware.

DPD has stated publically that:

  • DPD will apply these rules to ALL VESSELS, no matter the shape of the vessel
  • DPD will apply these rules retroactively to existing vessels, not just to new vessels
  • DPD is seeking funding so that their inspectors can seek out noncompliant vessels
  • DPD will declare noncompliant vessels illegal and force removal from Seattle waters
  • DPD will work to have these rules take effect within 12 weeks

What can you do?

The Lake Union Liveaboard Association (LULA) is having a meeting of affected stakeholders on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 6:30PM at China Harbor Restaurant, 2040 Westlake Avenue North, Seattle WA.

Please attend the meeting to learn about DPD’s proposed new rules, how they might affect you, what steps LULA is taking, and how you can help.

You can also read more at:

Clearly, time is running out – action will be required! Please join with LULA in challenging these onerous regulations.


Hi Mauri,

I am forwarding to you, John, Gail and Barb a draft schedule for working through a revised director’s rule on vessels and liveaboards. I’ve identified a few places where things can shift a day or two in either direction. If there are things I should be aware of that might affect the ability of the public to provide input, please let me know.

  • AUGUST: DPD reviews public comments and input from 7/10 and 7/24 Council meetings.
  • AUGUST 26-30: DPD posts revised preliminary draft director’s rule. Goal is to make preliminary draft rule available early in the week.
  • SEPTEMBER 9, 10, or 11: Public Meeting to receive comments on preliminary draft.
  • SEPTEMBER 16 or 17: Last day for public to submit written comments on preliminary draft.
  • SEPTEMBER 24 or 25: DPD publishes official draft rule.
  • OCTOBER 16: Last day to submit written comments on DPD draft rule.
  • OCTOBER 31: DPD publishes final director’s rule.

We’re moving forward with this as our basic schedule. I think waiting until the second week of September for the public meeting is important given summer vacations, the start of school, Rosh Hashanah, etc. I am out of town for the last two weeks of October, so actually adopting the rule by the 31st will be a challenge, but we will, at a minimum, be very close by the end of the month.

Let me know if you have other ideas for how this might proceed. Thanks.

Faith Lumsden
Compliance Director
Seattle Municipal Tower, 19th Floor
Building a Dynamic and Sustainable Seattle


Report on City Council Meeting Held 7-24-2013

View this email in your browser

Report on City Council PLUS Committee Meeting 7-24-13


Yesterday the PLUS Committee met and put our fate back into the hands of DPD.  I don’t know how to better describe it but the folks at DPD who developed all six versions of the regulations will now be in charge again.  
The video of the meeting is now posted on the city website.
You will see 45 minutes or more of public comments mostly on our item and all in support.  Four members of the stakeholders group spoke. All of the testimony was heartfelt and rational, but it seemed to have limited impact.
Chair Conlin, Committee members Tim Burgess and Mike O’Brien (left early) and alternate Sally Clark (arrived after the public comments) were the only Councilmember’s present.  Nick Licata was out of town. 
Ecology was represented by Joe Burcar, DPD by Diane Sugimura, Director; and Maggie Glowicki, Senior Planner, and Faith Lumsden, Compliance.
In a nutshell the Committee members approved all the staff recommendations as presented (see below or the full report at the link below).  They endorsed requiring a naval architect as the only party qualified to make an evaluation of our vessel.
DPD committed to working with our community (the proof has yet to be shown) in developing the license and vessel evaluation.  In my view, the DPD view of the “standards” far exceed those recommended by the Stakeholders and any prior guidance given by the city when our vessels were constructed.  This will be a long fight and I don’t predict an easy result.
We have to ask you to help again. 
Please write to the Committee members, Mayor and DPD.  Give them a personal phone call in a week if you have not heard back.
  •  Tell them directly if you fear losing your home and if that concern, since the first SMP draft in 2011 or later, has affected your life and how.  Trying to sell your boat, how is that going?  Trying to refinance, how is that going? 
  • Ask them to require that DPD include any vessel checklist or standards in an implementing ordinance, guaranteeing that the Council and Mayor will review and approve the “standards” after a public hearing, not the Director of DPD. 
  • Ask them for a response.  Remember Mike O’Brien and Richard Conlin are running for their Council seats this fall, as is the Mayor.  Remember the Mayor is directly responsible for DPD.
The Mayor
Other Council members:
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Seattle On Water Resident Stakeholder Group

Meeting #1 Summary

Monday, March 18, 2013, 3:30–6:30 pm

3:30 p.m. Welcome/Introductions and Introductory Comments

Bob Wheeler, facilitator from Triangle Associates (Triangle), welcomed meeting participants to the first Seattle On Water Resident Stakeholder Group meeting. He apologized for any inconvenience with the last minute meeting location change. Stakeholder Group members and the public did a round of introductions, and the facilitator reviewed the agenda and meeting materials.

3:50 p.m. Review Group Process/Groundrules

The facilitator reviewed the draft “Group Process and Groundrules” document, which outlined the Stakeholder Group’s charge from City Council, objectives, process, composition, and groundrules. The facilitator also reviewed a possible work plan and schedule. There were no immediate objections to the groundrules, but it was requested that future Triangle emails include the Stakeholders in the “To” line rather than “BCC” so they can communicate as necessary, recognizing that it is good practice not to use “Reply All” unless absolutely necessary. Non-Stakeholder Group members will still be listed in “BCC”.

A stakeholder asked if there is any flexibility in the April 30th deadline since the Stakeholder Group started later than originally intended; Triangle will pose this question to City Council staff and report back.

4:00 p.m. Perspectives

Each Stakeholder, the Department of Ecology (Ecology), and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) gave a brief statement on their interest in participating in this effort, desired outcomes, and what success looks like.

  • Margie Freeman, marina owner, has been involved in the Shoreline Master Program (SMP) for 3-4 years. As a marine operator, it is important that operators are clear about what is legal since marinas are the final destination for vessels/non-vessels. The process will be successful if everyone is treated equally and clarity is achieved.
  • Barb Engram, Lake Union Liveaboard Association (LULA), is a liveaboard and is concerned about her investment. The process has been flawed, and it is important that this process is done right. The process will be successful if the rules are very clear and do not require a lot of interpretation (it is clear what you can/cannot do), if they relate to the SMP, and if they are fair.
  • Chris Wilke, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, works for a locally based environmental nonprofit focused primarily on water quality. They are out on Lake Union every week looking for pollution and litter, and the organization is involved in setting water quality regulations at the State and enforcement level. He has never worked on SMP issues and is concerned about water quality. The process will be successful if the Group nails down definitions, including what qualifies for each category (vessel, floating home, On Water Residence, etc.).
  • Gail Luhn, Shilshole Liveaboard Association, is involved in this process because she’s concerned about “the domino effect”—what happens to On Water Residences could ultimately happen to residential boats and others. The process will be successful if the process is fair ecologically, residentially, etc. If the status quo changes, as few people as possible should be hurt.
  • Kevin Bagley, LULA, has been a liveaboard since 2006. He has been actively involved in this process for a long time, and there has been a lot of uncertainty and lack of clarity. The process will be successful if the houseboat/vessel lifestyle is preserved and people do not lose their homes. Additionally, the rules will be clear and not open to interpretation.
  • Al Hughes, Washington Liveaboard Association, has been a liveaboard on a sailboat since 1981. The process will be successful if he can continue to live aboard his boat, as he is also concerned about a domino effect.
  • Patrick Dunham, LULA, has been a liveaboard for 3 years and has heard a lot of rumors and inflammatory statements about On Water Residences. He is confused about what the City’s problem is with On Water Residences and would like an explanation (from DPD, City Council, or the Attorney’s office).
  • John Chaney, LULA, worked on getting the Shoreline Management Act (SMA) passed when he was in college. He somewhat recently became a houseboat owner and has spent a lot of time trying to understand the background on this issue and what has been going on. The process will be successful if it provides greater clarity and procedural safeguards.
  • Geoff Tallent and Joe Burcar, Ecology, expressed that this process is important to them because they understand we are talking about people’s homes and investments, and because Ecology is devoting staff and resources to this issue. They are committed to working towards a solution. The process will be successful if the existing community gains more certainty and clarity, as people don’t even know where they stand. Their job is to look for a path forward that is consistent with the SMA, the current SMP (23.60), and the SMP-Guidelines for new updates (WAC 173-26 Part 3); is legally defensible; and enables co-management of the SMP between Ecology and the City of Seattle. The City’s proposed SMP (23.60a) has been developed consistent with the SMP-Guidelines (WAC 173-26).
  • Diane Sugimura, DPD, expressed her appreciation of everyone’s help on this issue. DPD tries to ensure that its regulations are consistent with Ecology and State regulations. She would also like clarity on the regulations.

The Stakeholder Group decided it would be helpful to clarify what the group is and is not trying to address.

The Group is addressing: The Group is NOT addressing:
On Water Residences/Vessels that people live on
  • Floating Homes—already defined
  • 34 House Barges—already defined
Existing On Water Residences

  • How to provide reasonable accommodation for an existing on-water community?
Future On Water Residences—it has been determined that these are not preferred uses.
Existing SMP 23.60 Code

  • One Exception: The City’s proposed code 23.60a creates a new criteria for vessels used for On Water Residences that do not meet new regulations—“non-conforming uses”
Updated SMP 23.60a Code (with one exception), since it has not been approved yet

  • 23.60a states that future residences should have “no net loss” of ecological function. While there is confusion about what this means and it is important for marinas, it is not something the group will address.
Gray water Black water (sewage)
How to identify the primary purpose of On Water Residences, since the SMA is about use, not structure. Residential use is discouraged under the SMA because it’s not water dependent. The bigger policy question of why living on water isn’t favored in the SMA.
Developing a process for determining what is a vessel. There is a desire for clarity on what is a vessel.

  • What are they, what aren’t they according to the State/City?
  • How are they regulated?
  • How do best management practices fit in?
Developing process recommendations for enforcement of the law.
How the shift happened from “water dependent” to “no longer water dependent”
What are marina operators supposed to do in the future? There are financial implications either way.


Stakeholder Group Discussion and Comments:

  • We should not begin the discussion by stating there are 113 questionable/illegal residences. They should be innocent unless proven guilty. Rules have been interpreted in ways that make some residences illegal, but they are not proven to be illegal.
  • It was noted that some rules say “over water” and some say “on water”, resulting in confusion. Stakeholder Group members indicated that they are “on water” residences.
  • The City and Ecology discussed what a vessel is from their perspectives.
    • Ecology: There are 3 statutes Ecology operates under:
      • The Revised Code of Washington (RCW 90.58) is the “Shoreline Management Act” (SMA). The main policies of the SMA are provided in RCW 90.58.020.
      • SMP Guidelines (WAC 173-26) are state standards which local governments must follow in drafting their updated SMP’s.
      • Shoreline Management Permit/Enforcement Procedures Washington Administrative Code (WAC 173-27) provides additional definitions, review criteria, and permitting procedures to support implementation of shoreline regulations.

The State definition of a vessel in WAC 173-27-030 (18) is: “Ships, boats, barges, or any other floating craft that are designed and used for navigation and do not interfere with the normal public use of the water.”

  • City: The City’s SSMP definition is almost the same as above, with the addition of “including historic ships that do not have means of self-propulsion and steering equipment.”
  • The Stakeholder Group discussed the need to come up with recommendations on how to clarify “designed and used for navigation and do not interfere with the normal public use of the water,” as found in the current definition of a vessel. Does this refer to actual use, being capable of use, function, purpose?
  • It was noted that the 1993 version of CAM 229 is different from the 2004 version. It is not right for a person to be expected to determine if they are a vessel per the CAM 229 because it is guidance, not the law—the WACs, RCWs, and SMPs are the law—and the CAM 229 is one interpretation of the law. The interpretation of the law has changed, and various interpretations are resulting in Notice of Violations (e.g. required styles of windows), yet no one knows what the rules are. Concern was expressed that using the CAM 229 as law could result in a domino effect.
  • There is a “ticking time bomb for pointy-shaped vessels that are docked.” Those living aboard “pointy-nose vessels” are no longer water-dependent according to the revised rules (SMP 23.60a), and it is unclear if these vessels are allowed in a marina.
  • It was noted that a maritime attorney could be of use at some point in the future.


What additional background information is needed?

It was noted that given the short timeframe between meetings, volunteers will be needed to collect the information requested below:

Subject Assignment Action Item
Supreme Court Case: Lozman v. City of Riviera Beach, Florida Triangle Find language by EOD Friday
SMP 23.60 and 23.60a Code

  • Definition section
  • Marina section
  • What are the specific parts that apply to On Water Residents/ houseboats?
DPD Provide language/photos to Triangle by EOD Friday
1990 amendment to SMP on House Barges (34 allowed)
Factual data of On Water Residences. If it exists, get data showing the # of On Water Residences that don’t comply.
Photos of what On Water Residences look like, how large they are, etc.
What is the City process for interpreting SMP provisions and enforcing them? What has the City been doing?
What is the implication if one is not declared a vessel? What happens to excise tax registration?
What is the role between State and City government?

  • Where are Agency obligations?
  • Provide State regulatory framework
Joe Burcar, Ecology Provide language to Triangle by EOD Friday
“Net loss of Ecological function” in general and what is the basis for the City’s proposed SMP 23.60a Code

  • Where can this be found?
  • How is this measured?
What are examples of State studies on gray water?
What is Ecology’s stance on how the SMP Guidelines apply to this issue? (WAC 173-26)
Clean Water Act exemption for gray water (90.048) TBD TBD
What is the status of Federal regulation of gray water? TBD TBD
Information on Marina Insurance TBD TBD
Case law—has this been to any courts at the state level? (This may not be available.) TBD TBD
Coast Guard Vessels and Department of Licensing TBD TBD

6:20 p.m. Next Steps

The next Stakeholder Group meeting is Monday, March 25th, 2:00-5:00 pm at the Center for Wooden Boats.


Stakeholder Group members will:

  1. Read the interview summary and consider the proposed options for addressing the issues.
  2. Collect background information listed above, as assigned, and designate someone for unassigned items.
  3. Read meeting materials prior to the meeting.

Agenda Items for next meeting

  • Interview Summary
  • Information
    • 23.60 v 23.60a
    • What is the problem from the City’s perspective?
    • Definitions—email out definition template
    • Clarifying points/footnotes to be made with those definitions

Public Comments Received

The following bullets are comments received from the public during the meeting. They have been sorted by theme and mildly edited for grammar/formatting, but the responses have not been revised.


  • The time frame of the number of meetings does not allow for bringing in experts in the field to glean important information.
  • When looking at the Process item #2, the area was limited to Washington; the prior draft said Western US. It should be extended to all western states for salt water and fresh water – waters connected to and flowing into salt water.
  • The DPD, EPA, the City should have a responsibility to provide ALL the information THIS group needs – full disclosure.
  • We need Experts to support this group, it was to be part of the Process, and it looks like no time has been allowed for this resource.
  • I have great concern that all participants of the SH have not been provided the existing law and the process that has brought them to this process. EDUCATE THEM.


  • For clarity, definitions shall be firmly declared.
  • The term Capable of Navigation shall apply to all vessels.
  • Buildings OVER WATER shall be CLEARLY differentiated from ON WATER RESIDENTS.
  • Consider developing a definition of LIVEABOARD USE OF A VESSEL – to clarify it.
  • A Vessel is self-contained and always has the option, by very definition, to connect to dock facilities. A floating home is not self-contained and must remain in one place, and be serviced by City Utilities.
  • A SOLUTION: Vessel versus Floating Home: A vessel has a displacement HULL, a Floating home is a house, built on a RAFT (float). Further, a Vessel if Capable of Navigation (CAM 229) and house, built on a float, which has propulsion and is capable of navigation, is not a Floating Home, therefore, it is a Vessel.
  • This needs clarity “move to open Water under their own power.” Most all vessels require some assistance leaving and returning to a dock or moorage, and this should be seriously reviewed and included in a clear understandable flexible so as to apply fairly.
  • CATAGORIES ISSUE: There should not need to be a category of houseboats, any more than ski boats…they are all recognized types of vessel by the State Department of Licensing. Use LIVEABOARD.


  • IF THIS IS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT and GRAY WATER, why are liveaboards on other vessels, capable or not capable of navigation, not being targeted and included?
  • There seems to be a focus on Houseboats, as opposed to environment. If this is about the environment, then it should engage all vessels used for liveaboard and be consistent and clear. I bring this up as the original and subsequent CAM229 has incorrectly sited standards and laws. A goal would be to more clearly state that: ALL Vessels in Washington waters shall meet all the Applicable Federal Laws, and International Rules to which their vessel falls. NO NEW LAWS should apply until all International and Federal Laws recognized and sited in any document. For the incorrectly sited “USCG Standards” there are only Laws which are overseen and enforced by the USCG. THIS CONTRIBUTES TO CLARITY. All ‘Standards’ are voluntary.


  • To have Houseboats reconfirmed as a type of vessel recognized by the State of Washington, the DOL, and all as simply a vessel.
  • People have always lived aboard vessels. It is not about “use’, it is about LIFESTYLE. That LIFESTYLE cannot be accomplished anywhere but on the water.
  • Specifically; a houseboat is designed to live aboard, frankly the use is what it is designed for and should be recognized even more so than on other types of vessels. So if anything, liveaboards shall be limited to houseboat type. (SILLY). USE is critical. It is a LIFESTYLE. We chose to live aboard, not and apartment, trailer, house, condo, etc. A Choice – Our CHOICE of LIFESTYLE is at stake here.
  • I would like to see all liveaboard vessels treated equally rather than have ‘houseboats’ singled out for regulation. (Capt. Scott Chamberlin, houseboat owner/resident)
  • When addressing the issue of liveaboard use, and knowing that the city is targeting a specific style/shape, and knowing that the communication to the public has been unclear; the PROCESS should be very generous to all vessels that the City has a question, that the term “Capable of Navigation’ be generously applied as it would to ALL VESSELS.
  • There should be an incorporation of the BMP for all liveaboard vessels.
  • This is NOT about existing on water residences, unless we include ALL residential use of all vessels. THIS HAS Focus on Specific Styles of vessels which are defined as houseboats. This inappropriate target of this style vessel and more importantly shall we focus on the ISSUE. WHAT IS THE CITY PROBLEM with this style vessel. It is either all vessels or not vessels.

Miscellaneous Comments

  • ASK EPA: Why is it not preferred?
  • As presented to the City Council and ignored, all the existing EPA laws should somehow be included here for all vessels, and those used for liveaboard; such as: Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, The Refuse Act of 1889 (Year?), etc. which apply to vessels.
  • ASK Waterhouse: why is he pushing preferred use of Commercial and not Recreational as well? Houseboats are Recreational Vessels.
  • WHY is the city using different criteria to measure vessels now in the Notice of Violation, than is published LAW? GET a copy for this group to review what the city is using.

Meeting Attendees


Stakeholder Group Members

Name Affiliation Email Attended?
Kevin Bagley Lake Union Liveaboard Association;


Joseph Bogaard Save Our Wild Salmon
John Chaney Lake Union Liveaboard Association


Patrick Dunham Lake Union Liveaboard Association


Barb Engram Lake Union Liveaboard Association


Margie Freeman Marina owner


Al Hughes Washington Liveaboard Association


Gail Luhn Shilshole Liveaboard Association


John Waterhouse Elliott Bay Design Group, Naval Architect
Chris Wilke Puget Soundkeeper Alliance


Stakeholder Group Resources

Name Affiliation Email Attended?
Diane Sugimura Department of Planning and Development


Joe Burcar Department of Ecology


Geoff Tallent Department of Ecology


Sarah Saviskas Triangle Associates, Inc.


Bob Wheeler (facilitator) Triangle Associates, Inc.



Public Attendees

Name Affiliation Phone # Email
Linda Bagley Special Agents, Inc. 206-419-0065
Dwight Knechtel Pump Me Out 206-660-1280
Peter Schrappen NMTA 206-661-7855
Brit Sojka UW Marine Affairs & Houseboat resident 206-697-2822
Michael Modde Houseboat resident 206-455-4431
Scott Chamberlin Houseboat owner 206-406-4344
Josh Brown Yacht owner 206-553-9148
Shannon Cheng Houseboat owner 206-395-6248
Kelli Goodwin Houseboat owner/capt/tug capt 206-910-5457
Mauri Shuler LULA 206-819-3819
Linda Spangenberg Houseboat owner/LULA 206-334-2622
Linda Langford GWPM slip owner 206-781-7159
Peggy Weiss SWPM slip owner 206-795-3039
Sally Cretorac Houseboat owner 206-271-6488
Susan Neff Liveaboard 206-898-6410
Faith Fogarty GWPM Houseboat 206-632-7999
Ralph A Nelson GWPM owner 360-621-8179
Chris Kelly Liveaboard 206-930-5411
Shawn Griggs Attorney for Vessel Owners 206-292-8008
Kara Lagerloef Liveaboard 206-245-8481
Anamaria Aliste Liveaboard 206-303-7935



Minutes Stakeholder Mtg 03-18-13

The first On Water Resident Stakeholder meeting was held on 3/18/2013.
Minutes are currently being reviewed and will be published once they are out of Draft.
Update expected shortly and link will then be available.

03-25-13 2:00-5:00pm

Will be held at the Center for Wooden Boats
1010 Valley Street, Seattle, WA 98109

LULA Stakeholder Announcement – 3/1/2013

LULA members:

We are nearing the beginning of the Stakeholder Process approved by the city to resolve the differences between their statements and our beliefs about the status of our vessels.

These are the things we know:

  • 10 members have been selected and agreed to serve on the group (see below).
  • The facilitator has been chosen. (Bob Wheeler of Triangle Associates).
  • The first meeting is to be called either the week of March 4th or the week of March 11th.
  • The meetings will be open to the public.

The members of the Stakeholder group are:

  1. Gail Luhn, Shilshole Liveaboard Association
  2. Al Hughes, Shileshole and Washington Liveaboard Association
  3. Joseph Bogaard, Outreach Director, Save Our Wild Salmon
  4. John Waterhouse, PE, Chief Concept Engineer, Elliot Bay Design Group
  5. Chirs Wilkie, Soundkeeper and Executive Director, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance
  6. John Chaney, LULA Vice President
  7. Patrick Dunham, designee for Mauri Shuler, LULA President
  8. Kevin Bagley, LULA co-founder
  9. Barb Engstrom, Gasworks Park Marina
  10. Margie Freeman, President, Lake Union Association (Marina owners and industrial interests)

DPD (Seattle Dept. of Planning and Development), Seattle Legal staff, and State Department of Ecology will be present and participants of the discussions.

The stated goals of the group are:

Develop and consider alternatives for an orderly process to establish the status of residences on the water that are not identified as legal floating homes or legal house barges and are not clearly identified as vessels.  For the purposes of this memo, these structures will be referred to as “on water residences.”

LULA’s Board has approved the following goals:

  • Protect the existing fleet of houseboats,
  • Create a fair solution for all.
  • Create a solution that will bring clarity and consistency to the process.
  • Create rules that will prevent problems going forward.
  • Provide ample time for owners to come into compliance with whatever solution is reached.

The SG will make recommendations for council that already have been approved by DPD, Ecology and Legal, since they will be at the table. These may include changes to the Shoreline Management Plan or could be regulations or procedures the city can institute outside of that legislation.  We do not know, yet, what form this will take.

We have a brilliant team.  They are the best possible representatives of our community to serve in this capacity.  They offer deep experience in negotiating, historical perspective, group dynamics and city processes.  Because of this team, and their key support group, I am optimistic this Stakeholder’s process will result in a fair, logical, non-punitive process to clearly identify our legitimate presence on the lake, permanently.

Thank you all for your support, encouragement and willingness to help.  We only have a few  months before we have real answers.  Enjoy the spring on your boats!

Mauri Shuler


The Following letter is from Geoff Tallent of the Department Of Ecology (DOE) to Richard Conlin, Chair Planning Land Use and Sustainability, Seattle City Council

Northwest Regional Office • 3190 160th Ave Sf • Bellevlle, WA 98008-5452 • 425-649-7000
711 for Washington Relay Service • Persons with a speech disability can call 877-833-6341

January 10,2013

City of Seattle City Council
Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee
Attn: Richard Conlin, Chair
P.O. Box 34025
Seattle, WA 98124-4025

RE: City of Seattle Shoreline Master Program Update
Dear Council Member Conlin:

The purpose of this letter is to follow up on comments Ecology provided at the Council’s Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee (PLUS) meeting on December 12, 2012, regarding a preliminary “amnesty” framework developed to deal with existing residential floating structures. These structures may or may not qualify as a “vessel” under the City’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP) and are not considered an existing “floating home” or “house barge.” Thank you for the opportunity to expand on our previous comments on this important issue.

In brief, Ecology supports the City’s effort to better define the limited circumstances under which it is appropriate to live on a vessel. We do not think the comprehensive SMP update is the appropriate way to deal with the question of already-existing floating residential structures. We encourage the City to pursue other options to address the concerns regarding floating residential structures established since 1990. Finally, we are available to support a separate effort to explore such options. Below, we elaborate on these points.


Any new provisions included as part of the updated SMP need to be consistent with both the Shoreline Management Act (RCW 90.58) and the substantive requirements within the Shoreline Master Program Guidelines at WAC 173-26 (Part III). The SMA is intended to look forward by developing policies and regulations to “plan for …foster… and coordinate” shoreline uses through both protection and utilization of shorelines of the State. To implement this policy, both the SMA and the SMP Guidelines define a number of “preferred uses,” which must be recognized through both development and implementation of a local Shoreline Master Program. The SMA and SMP Guidelines require that water-dependent uses, which are intrinsically dependent on a water-front location, be prioritized over other non-water-dependent uses. Homes/residential uses are not water-dependent, as they do not require a waterfront location. The guidelines further state: “New over-water residences, including floating homes, are not a preferred use and should be prohibited” [WAC 173-26-241(3) (j)].

In addition to the policy preference in the SMA to protect water-dependent uses, the prohibition of overwater residential uses is also based on environmental concerns. Common impacts associated with overwater structures (i.e., piers, floats, vessels and floating residences) include artificial shading of near shore habitats and water quality impacts from any discharge to surrounding waters. SMP regulations require that overwater structures such as docks be reduced in size to the minimum necessary to support the water-dependent use (i.e., access from upland areas to a vessel). These standards are intended to minimize the shading effect of overwater structures. Artificial shading is known to impact aquatic vegetation / microalgae growth and can also affect migration of nearshore-oriented aquatic species such as salmon. Water quality concerns with overwater residential uses are directly related to materials used to construct the structure and any discharge from the structure into surrounding waters. Most overwater residential uses appropriately capture and treat sewage, but “gray water” such as from dish-washing, laundry, or bathing may be directly discharged into the water. Soaps, detergents and food particles commonly found in gray water deplete the water’s dissolved oxygen content. Fish and other aquatic animals depend on dissolved oxygen in the water to “breathe.” Other pollutants that may be present in gray water include oil and grease, bacteria, high pH, and turbidity: These impacts cause us to be concerned with potential cumulative effects of an increasing number of people living on the water.

There are a couple of notable exceptions to the intent ofthe SMA to prohibit overwater residences. First, the SMA acknowledges the historic floating home community of Seattle by protecting its continued presence over water. Second, “Liveaboards” or living on a vessel is not characterized as a “preferred use” but can be allowed as part of “Boating Facilities” as long as other water-dependent uses are not displaced and the jurisdiction can demonstrate that allowing the use will not result in a net loss of shoreline ecological functions.

We, together with Seattle, have struggled for a number of years to prohibit new overwater residential structures while also maintaining the historic floating home community and liveaboard vessels within the intended limits of the SMA. Ecology worked with the City as part of the last comprehensive SMP update in 1987 to allow overwater residential use only on vessels and prohibit new overwater residential uses on other floating structures that do not satisfy the “vessel” definition from WAC 173-27-030 (18). In 1990, after several overwater residential structures were built, Ecology again worked with the City to more clearly prohibit future floating residential structures and to allow Iiveaboards only on vessels “designed and used for navigation.” However, it appears that the intention of this amendment has not been fully achieved, as the City estimates approximately 150 additional residential floating structures, which may or may not qualify as a vessel, have come into Seattle since 1990. It is important to emphasize that some or many of these structures may be legal vessels under the definition in the current SMP. Still, there may be some of these structures that do not meet the vessel definition and as such, are not allowed under the current SMP.

Current Challenge

Today we are faced with two issues which Ecology believes should be addressed separately. First, the updated SMP must more clearly define the limited circumstances when living on a vessel is appropriate. Ecology applauds the City’s efforts on this. We believe that the City’s new proposed standards will better achieve the intent of the SMA and SMP Guidelines under WAC 173-26-241 (3) G) to prohibit new overwater residences and protect water-dependent uses “preferred” by the SMA. We hope that these clarifications will provide a firm foundation for the City to prevent future development that is inconsistent with the intent of the SMA.

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