Mar

24

One of the joys of owning waterfront real estate is your proximity to the beauty and recreation made possible by the water itself. However, in a generally small portion of waterfront locations there is the potential for floods. Waterfront property owners in these locations have long been able to rely on flood insurance for peace of mind and for help when the worst happens.  But last year the 2012 Biggert-Waters law went into effect, which left some homeowners reeling over flood insurance premium increases. Thankfully, Congress has crafted and passed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act to help waterfront property owners by correcting the problems that the Biggert-Waters law created.

Why the Biggert-Waters Law Was Created

The National Flood Insurance Program is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees dozens of private insurance companies that offer flood insurance coverage to waterfront property owners. In the past, the income from premiums failed to cover the program’s costs during years in which widespread major flooding occurred. In fact, after the U.S. was hit by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma in 2005, FEMA had to temporarily stop making payments on legitimate claims due to lack of funds. The Biggert-Waters law set out to address the National Flood Insurance Program’s $24 billion debt by gradually phasing out flood insurance policy subsidies.  But when the law was enacted, it became apparent that for many waterfront homeowners the effect was not gradual at all.

How the New Act Helps Waterfront Property Owners

The Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act will implement the following:

  • –     Set a limit on annual flood insurance premium rate increases
  • –     Repeal the “property sales trigger” that allowed higher premiums to be set when property was sold, which Realtors feared was depressing the value of some waterfront real estate
  • –     Repeal the “new policy sales trigger,” which allowed higher premiums to be set if a waterfront property owner chose a different policy or went to a different insurance provider for coverage
  • –     Refund premiums to homeowners who overpaid when then the 2012 Biggert-Waters law went into effect

This new act will still address the concerns of the original Biggert-Waters law, but will do so in a way that is more manageable to those who live on the waterfront. The focus is on making this a gradual transition that affected homeowners can plan for, rather than an unexpectedly large bill that is immediately due.

What This Means for You

This new law, which is expected to be signed by the President when it reaches the White House, will still result in eliminating subsidies and addressing debt created by the National Flood Insurance Program. However, existing waterfront property owners in the Seattle area and those who are buying waterfront real estate will still benefit from the program as it is gradually phased out rather than being suddenly taken away. You’ll have peace of mind knowing that not only are you covered by flood insurance, if you are in an area where you even desire to have flood insurance, but you will also be better able to afford insurance in the future for your waterfront home.

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Mar

10

A free workshop offered by the Environmental Science Center gives Seattle area residents a chance to learn more about the design principles that can improve water quality in nearby creeks, lakes, and Puget Sound. Everything from how storm water flows through your waterfront property to the products you use to maintain your yard can directly influence the health of the recreational areas and wildlife habitat that make up the local waterfront.

A Lifetime Impact from Two Hours of Learning

On Saturday, March 29, the Environmental Science Center, SvR Design Company, and Sustainable Burien are offering a free workshop from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. in the Burien Community Center. Registration is required for the session, which will be led by SvR Design Company principal Peg Staeheli, PLA, LEED AP. She will explain what is meant by low-impact design and how adopting these principles can lessen your carbon footprint as well as help the overall health of local waterfront environments. What you learn at this session can have a lifelong impact on how you see your role in the local watershed.

Why You Should Be “Stepping Lightly” on Puget Sound

Workshop organizers use the phrase “stepping lightly” as a reference to leaving a smaller carbon footprint, or environmental impact, on the world around you. For those with waterfront property, having clean water and healthy wildlife nearby enhances the pleasure of living so close to a lake or Puget Sound, but even those who don’t have a daily front-row seat from their waterfront homes will surely appreciate the availability of clean drinking water and abundant salmon and other seafood. Making environmentally friendly choices, like using natural pesticides and organic fertilizer and using native plants in your landscaping, can minimize the footprint you make and reduce the pollution and toxic chemicals in the local watershed.

Being Green Can Save You Greenbacks

Learning about and following low-impact principles can save you money. Chemical fertilizers are easy to come by, and the Center for Watershed Protection says that while 50% of homeowners use them as a routine part of lawn care, only 10-20% of homeowners actually test their soil to see if fertilizers are needed. The rest are pouring money along with toxic chemicals down the drainage pipe! When putting in landscaping around your home, pick plants that are native to the Seattle area which will not only be less costly than more exotic options, they also won’t require as much watering and caretaking to flourish. Carefully designing your landscape to manage and collect rainwater can also reduce your utility bills, either through creating rain gardens that allow water to more thoroughly seep into your soil or by collecting water in rain barrels to water your garden at a later date.

Waterfront Residents Benefit from Low-Impact Design

As you can see, there are financial and environmental reasons to incorporate low-impact design into your waterfront property. The free workshop on March 29 is a great opportunity to learn more about the principles that can help you save money and ensure the long-term health of the local watershed.

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Feb

24

Floating homes and houseboats are an iconic part of Seattle waterfront living, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t come under fire in recent years. Three years ago, the city of Seattle undertook a rewriting of shorelines policies that led to questions about whether owners would be able to continue to live in their houseboats in Lake Union and elsewhere. In 2011, a Washington senate bill offered grandfathered protection to stationary floating houses. But the bill’s sponsor, Senator Jamie Pedersen, said he unintentionally excluded live-aboard vessels and barges. He recently introduced a new bill to extend the same protection to moveable houseboats that stationary floating homes now enjoy.

Controversy Along the Waterfront

Stationary floating houses not only stay in one place, they are also typically hooked in to local utilities. Floating vessels, on the other hand, are able to move from place to place along the waterfront. However, most rent space from a marina to have a reliable place to dock for the long term. When the 2011 senate bill passed, many interpreted the omission of live-aboard vessels to mean that local governments should not continue to accommodate houseboats and other floating vessels in waterfront property decisions. Lake Union Liveaboard Association president Mauri Shuler described houseboat owners as having “massive trouble” in dealing with the City of Seattle and the state Department of Ecology, which are in charge of shoreline regulations. State officials acknowledged a preference to lease seriously limited marina space to smaller recreational vehicles rather than larger, live-aboard vessels.

Clarifying Lawmakers’ Intent

Senator Pedersen has introduced Senate Bill 6450 to clear up the lingering confusion. An amendment to the Shoreline Management Act of 1971 will extend protections to floating vessels that are used or were designed as a residence, providing the owner had leased moorage space prior to July 1, 2014. This waterfront bill passed the senate unanimously and is awaiting a vote in the house.

What This Means for Waterfront Real Estate

In short, this assures current houseboat owners that they won’t be set adrift as shoreline regulations change. Taking a broader view, however, waterfront property owners will be relieved to know that some of the character and charm of lakeside life will carry on as always. But they may also now have additional questions about the availability of marina space for pleasure cruisers and other non-residential watercraft and about the environmental impact that moveable vessels will have on Lake Union and other areas of the Seattle waterfront. Those who live in houseboats and floating houses naturally share concerns with others who own waterfront real estate, which may make them allies as political maneuverings happen regarding plans for future development in the area.

The house has yet to act on the senate bill, but as it has already received unanimous approval from the senate and moved out of committee, it seems a foregone conclusion to suggest the bill will most likely pass.

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Feb

10

People may assume that managing and developing the land along Puget Sound and nearby lakes should mainly be the concern of those who own waterfront real estate, but Seattle Mayor Ed Murray clearly sees it as a priority for the entire community. The Mayor recently announced the establishment of a new Office of the Waterfront and appointed Jared Smith as the program director to coordinate city initiatives along the water’s edge, including projects that impact the city’s transportation, planning and development, parks, and public utilities departments. But why is the mayor putting so much effort into such a geographically small portion of the city? In a word, impact.

During the 2013 mayoral race, Seattle Times columnist Jonathan Martin stated that the waterfront would become “the most lasting legacy of the next Seattle mayor,” citing the nearly $1 billion the city has earmarked for development activities along its shoreline in addition to the funds already being directed to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. The strength of Murray’s appointees shows that the Office of the Waterfront is gearing up to have a decisive impact on Seattle’s waterfront. Smith previously led operations for a company responsible for design and technical work for the new Highway 99 tunnel. The mayor also pulled from the ranks of those who worked on Safeco Field, appointing Ken Johnsen and Victor Oblas as project manager for the seawall and chief construction engineer, respectively.

The Office of the Waterfront will be positioned to make decisions that will reverberate throughout the downtown and waterfront areas. As rough plans and concepts become finalized and new guidelines are established for redevelopment along waterways, those who own waterfront real estate may be subject to new covenants prohibiting buildings that exceed certain heights or don’t meet population density standards. And all Seattle residents will likely be interested in the “new” 20 acres of public land that will become available on Puget Sound’s deep water port when the viaduct comes down in 2016. That open land creates an opportunity for pocket beaches, promenades, and green space that will enable more locals and tourists to take part in the many fun activities to be found along Seattle’s waterfront.

Creating new public access beaches and stimulating growth and development along Puget Sound will not only increase the interest in and value of waterfront property, it will provide more beauty and pleasure for everyone in the greater community. Having such a vibrant, vital area so closely tied to the city’s downtown will not only boost tourism but, when done in a thoughtful and deliberate way, will mitigate potential negative impacts that increased tourism may have on residents. Small wonder, then, that the mayor has made waterfront development such a priority.

As Martin wrote in his column, “This is a think-big moment for Seattle.” It’s also an exciting time for anyone interested in Seattle waterfront real estate.

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Jan

21

An organization for the waterfront neighborhood of Lake Burien filed an appeal this week against Washington State Department of Ecology (DOE) and city of Burien. For years, DOE and Burien worked on negotiations that would update the city’s shoreline. While work began in 2008, disagreements kept it from moving forward. It was not until 2012, when the Burien Working Shoreline Group mediated, that DOE and Burien reached and approved an agreement in 2013.

The Shoreline Master Program

In 1971, Washington enacted the Shoreline Management Act. This required cities and counties with waterfront property to instate rules about the lakes, rivers, and other water bodies. Each city has a unique Shoreline Master Program that fulfills this. Due to old regulations, Washington and DOE asked the cities to update their program to meet today’s more modern needs. This updating is to be completed in a number of steps including:
• Shoreline and land use inventory such as transportation and public use sites
• Shoreline function identification
• Policy and regulation development
• Ecological shoreline analyzed with restoration ideas
• Shoreline Master Programs for each county and city with junctions working together
• Updates submitted to DOE for approval

Proposed Changes to Burien’s Shoreline Master Program

There are five and a half miles of waterfront land in the city of Burien. The last time Burien’s Shoreline Master Program was altered was in 1993 when it became incorporated. Burien first approved a proposed update that had followed a long local review. The city took inventory of land and collaborated with waterfront property owners, environmental agencies, and tribes among many other groups. This all occurred in 2010 and DOE did not approve of all the changes. Four issues became the prime point of interest:
• Regulations to manage Ordinary High Water Mark in new developments
• New renovations and maintenance of existing homes
• Changes to Shoreline Permit Matrix
• Water quality and Nonpoint Pollution

Burien Working Shoreline Group

After lengthy negotiations between DOE and the city of Burien showed no results, the Burien Working Shoreline Group formed. This group is comprised of local residents. It researched the issues and came up with a recommendation based on findings. Both the city and DOE agreed with the recommendation and the Burien Working Shoreline Group re-wrote the proposal to reflect this. The Shoreline Master Program was then approved in October of 2013.

Burien Shoreline Master Program Appeal

Details of the appeal have yet to be released, however, it is one of Lake Burien’s neighborhood groups that filed along with specific individuals. If past issues are taken into consideration, some of the points in the appeal may be:
• Public access concerns of existing waterfront home owners to privately enclosed Lake Burien
• Perhaps Puget Sound access relative to private property
• Incentives and/or condition to provide access

The Growth Management Hearings board will hear the appeal in May 2014. Until then, the project is again on hold. DOE, the city of Burien, and waterfront owners are hopeful the Shoreline Master Program issues will resolve and become enacted soon.

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Dec

5

As one of the largest and most diverse cities in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is both a forward-looking city and a city with a rich and vibrant history to its name. While much of the city’s history is centered around people and events, it’s also important to note the area’s unique geography has had its own role to play. Now, that crossroads between the past and the future is being brought to the fore with major changes to Seattle waterfront’s seawall, known as the Elliot Bay Seawall. Here’s a taste of where the Seawall came from and what it’s going to be like in the future.

History of the Seawall

Seattle has always been a city with a close relationship to the sea. Early on, when Seattle was still just a settlement, there were miles of sandy beaches, forested bluffs, marshes and shoreline separating the waterfront from the water. As the city grew, it became clear that a few isolated piers wouldn’t be enough to protect and support the bustling waterfront, from the businesses to the waterfront houses . The seawall was first started back in 1916, with significant construction occurring between 1934 and 1936. Thanks to a solid seawall and a level shoreline, the greater Seattle metropolitan area became a shipping and industry hub in the Northwest.

Deterioration in the Seawall

The Seawall played a huge part in the success of Seattle. Unfortunately, the wall itself has deteriorated over the course of more than 70 years. Largely built from old piles of timber in the first place, the wall has major infrastructure problems that need to be addressed. In particular, it has fallen prey to gribbles, which are very small marine borers that eat and hollow out the wood of the seawall. It’s been a victim of water erosion from the tides, as well as the simple fact that it’s been around for decades. Recognizing that the Seawall might not be able to carry on its job, the city is launching a project to restore and add new functionality to the seawall along the waterfront.

Coming Changes to the Seawall

Dubbed the Core Projects, Seattle can expect to see a brand-new promenade for pedestrians, a two-way track for cyclists, and a new Alaskan Way Viaduct that’s being designed to handle all kinds of traffic via tunnel and ground-level streets. Other features of the changes include some new paths and parks, multiple rebuilt public piers, and more. The brand-new seawall is being designed to last for 75 years, and it will stand up to current earthquake standards. The wall is also going to be built in such a way to accommodate nature and the environment, with the restoration of a functional salmon migration corridor and other considerations intended to minimize the environmental impact of the seawall.

It’s a great time to be living and working on the Seattle waterfront. These changes show that even as the city moves forward, everything it does is rooted in a proud and enduring legacy.

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Nov

21

If anyone were to tell you that the greater Seattle metropolitan area doesn’t have a thriving waterfront community, all you would have to do to prove them wrong is mention the new housing projects that are on their way. The fact is, among Seattle’s many biggest attractions and perks, the city’s proximity to water features like Lake Washington and Puget Sound is a huge boon. Homeowners in the area have plenty to appreciate about the lively nature of the waterfront, including a wide variety of quality parks, shops, restaurants, gardens, and one of a kind landmarks and features. Fortunately, the development of new housing makes it possible for more people to enjoy one of the best things Seattle has to offer.

Upcoming Housing Projects

The two major housing projects in Seattle include a seven-story apartment building and a 16-story residential building, both on picturesque waterfront sites. It’s important to note that the location of the seven-story building was just recently the home of one of the oldest businesses in Seattle. Known as Argens Safe and Lock Company, the business has been in operation since 1880, founded by immigrant Henry Argens. Fortunately, it’s a unique opportunity to live in a fantastic location that residents simply didn’t have access to for more than 100 years.

The Housing Plans

Following the decision to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a 26-block promenade, real estate developers weren’t far behind with interest in capitalizing on the newfound opportunity. The companies in charge of these two new waterfront home projects are Goodman Real Estate and Mack Urban. The two developers aren’t strangers to waterfront property development, with Goodman having leased a building of 16 stories that was fully leased within seven months after completion. For the upcoming project, Goodman is planning to tear down the mid-20th century Argens building to allow for construction of brand new apartments, mostly one bedroom units.

Preparing for the Future

What does all of this mean for people interested in waterfront property in the Seattle area? It means that now is a great time to look into finding some space there, because demand is sure to be high. For those who have always thought about buying a home on the waterfront, leasing a unit in an upcoming waterfront residential building is a good way to test it out and see how you like it. The whole affair is also indicative of the fact that Seattle is continuously rebuilding itself, with old buildings and developments making way for new ones. For better or worse, the Seattle waterfront scene keeps changing, bringing with it plenty of attractive opportunities for new experiences.

In the end, the seven-story project at 80 S. Main St. and the 16-story project at 1301 Western Ave. represent the potential to enjoy features in a location that you couldn’t have come by until now. You can rest assured that the waterfront community in Seattle continues to evolve, thrive, and eventually, to reinvent itself in new and exciting ways.

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Nov

4

It’s clear that Seattle has a lot of wonderful features that are unique to it. The greater metropolitan area can claim the Space Needle, an assortment of parks and gardens, incredible restaurants and shops, and of course, many views of gorgeous lakes and ocean. From Lake Washington to Puget Sound, there’s nothing like being situated on the waterfront, especially if you’re a home owner. Now you can add one more unique feature to being in Seattle’s waterfront community, and that is the tram. There’s something particularly special about trams.

Origin of the Trams

Before you admire the trams themselves, it helps to take a step back and consider how they’re possible today. Take a look back at the history of the area and you’ll uncover the role glaciers played in Seattle’s modern waterfront and topography. Those glaciers painstakingly carved the steep slopes that Seattle’s waterfront is known for today. The hilly terrain is a picturesque feature of some waterfront property, allowing home owners to see far out into the water from a high vantage point. For some waterfront property residents, the tram was a natural next step for both convenience and enjoyment. It allowed them to position their home lower on a hillside or bluff while still having relatively easy access from their car above.

Using Trams in the Waterfront Community

Imagine your home is situated on a bluff and there’s a beach below. As the owner of a tram access property, you can travel by tram from your home to the beach on a direct path, rather than resorting to a steep switchback trail. Or you can do the reverse: have your home at the low bank water’s edge, below where cars can readily access the area above. Using the tram might be an extra leg in your journey, but that doesn’t mean you can’t thoroughly enjoy the experience. Many waterfront home owners opted for a property on the lake or Sound because they sought the privacy and solitude. With a tram, you are literally above or below it all, and it can be an incredibly peaceful and relaxing experience. Best of all, trams have started incorporating a number of highly effective and approved safety devices, so all you have to worry about is where you’re headed next.

Grand Ralph Anderson Designed Haven

If you like the idea of a tram access property, a grand Ralph Anderson designed WaterHaven currently available might be a good choice for you. This is a house that captures the spirit of the Great Northwest and provides the owner with 76 beautiful feet of sandy low bank waterfront. It looks out across Puget Sound and frequently bears witness to an astonishing array of colors at sunrise and sunset. If you’re looking to enjoy waterfront property and tram access, this is a home that showcases what’s great about being on the water in Seattle. Couple that with the quiet community, and you can start to see the appeal Seattle’s waterfront houses.

Puget Sound view from private and peaceful tram access home

Puget Sound view from private and peaceful tram access home

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Oct

7

Seattle is home to some of the most incredible sights. This is particularly true for waterfront property owners, because they get the distinct privilege of witnessing pristine water views from their home every day. Whether they’re bordering Lake Washington, Puget Sound, or one of the other gorgeous bodies of water in the greater Seattle Metropolitan Area, there’s plenty to love about owning a waterfront home here. At the same time, though, sometimes the spectacular high views are from large bluffs that require homeowner maintenance, as will be addressed in an upcoming class on something known as slope stability.

Puget Sound Slope Stability Class

Here’s what happens for some waterfront houses and their owners. You have a nice location at the top of an elevated area overlooking the water, and it happens to have a fairly steep slope on one side. Over time, this slope might erode if water runoff is not properly controlled and cause some potential hazards to your property that you should be mindful about. Because of the topography of the area, features like coastal bluffs, hills, ravines, and shorelines are all frequent features, and they all actually enhance your views. So it should be your goal, if you are a waterfront home owner in these scenarios, to prevent and maintain your slope, which will enable you to avoid issues later on.

Who the Class is For?

The class is targeted at professionals who work in fields like construction, engineering, landscape design, arboriculture, and horticulture, among others. However, it’s also a useful overview for any concerned waterfront home owners who want to ensure that they can protect their home from future slope erosion or landslides. You’ll learn a number of useful things about how water and geology interact, as well as what you can do to reduce erosion and improve slope stability. By knowing the tools and techniques that professionals use, you can either implement them yourself or use your knowledge of the topic to find someone who’s qualified to do the job right.

More Information on the Seattle Class

As for the specifics of the class, it’s being hosted by the University of Washington Botanic Gardens on December 5, 2013, from 8:15 AM through 4:00 PM. Before November 21, you can secure a spot at $125 per person, with lunch provided. It includes a variety of notable speakers, such as Bill Laprade on the subject of Geology & Hydrology of Puget Sound, and Elliot Menashe on Vegetation and Slope Stability and Vegetation in Conjunction with Engineering Solutions. For more information on the class and to find out whether it’s something you’d be interested in, just check out the specifics with UWBG.

In the end, waterfront property offers a great combination of prestige, solitude, and most importantly, views of an awe-inspiring land and seascape. By taking the time to find out what there is to know on slope stability and soil stabilization, you have the opportunity to enjoy a fantastic property without having to worry about the complications that could arise. You owe it to yourself to do what it takes to keep your waterfront home secure, and this upcoming Puget Sound class could be exactly what you need.

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Aug

26

In Washington State, and the Seattle area in particular, real estate has been booming. With a healthy jobs market and plenty of great locations still available, it’s no surprise that buyers are snapping up homes as they become available. One of the most attractive features of the greater Seattle metropolitan area is its waterfront property, which is bordered by Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish, and the Puget Sound, among other bodies of water. Thanks to an array of features, including a gorgeous view and convenient transportation options, waterfront property continues to be a desirable choice for Washington residents. Where the market really shines, however, is in its luxury waterfront real estate.

A New Olson Kundig Home

As a shining beacon of what you can find on the waterfront, there’s a new waterfront home available from legendary Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects. The home is available for $5.895 million, and it comes with all of the niceties and amenities you would expect with that kind of price tag, such as tall ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, custom millwork, columns, and an open concept floor plan. It even combines indoor and outdoor living by providing a dock with boatlift for your boat, terraces on the waterfront, and a large balcony off of the massive master suite to overlook the water of Lake Washington. This is just one example of the kind of luxury available on the waterfront in Seattle.

The Locale of Luxury Waterfront Real Estate

It’s one thing to buy a nice property on the waterfront, but it’s another thing entirely to buy something based on the location itself. Fortunately, waterfront property like the new Olson Kundig home is located in the prestigious Washington Park neighborhood. This area is known for many of Seattle’s most desirable waterfront locations, as well as elegant streets and famed residences. If you look for a waterfront home in this particular neighborhood, you’ll be in good company, as many of Seattle’s power brokers live in this community’s enormous and stylish waterfront houses. Of course, there are other waterfront communities throughout Seattle that offer plenty of perks, such as close proximity to the heart of Seattle and access to amazing cafes and shops.

Future Prospects for Seattle Real Estate

In general, the outlook for Seattle real estate is good. It has been outperforming the nation, with property prices up by over 15 percent compared to a year ago, according to Zillow. At the same time, bank-owned home sales make up less than 10 percent of total sales, which means the local real estate market is rebounding nicely. With the luxury of some of these waterfront homes, it’s clear that there’s still healthy demand in the area. If you’re interested in an attractive home with a fantastic view, and one that also happens to be a great investment, then it just might be worth your while to look into some quality waterfront real estate in one of the bustling Lake Washington communities in the greater Seattle metropolitan area.

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Aug

13

There’s an issue being discussed by the city of Bellevue and Washington State’s Department of Ecology. At stake is Bellevue’s shoreline plan, which is a document that outlines how to protect the city’s bodies of water, including Lake Washington, Lake Sammamish, and Phantom Lake. While there’s nothing objectionable in the intent of the plan, which is to protect the lakes within Bellevue’s borders, it’s become a problem with waterfront property homeowners who feel that certain provisions would create an unnecessary and unfair restriction on the usage of their own property.

The Waterfront Property Shoreline Plan

What was contained in the shoreline plan that irked many owners of waterfront houses along Lake Sammamish? In an early draft of the plan, the Department of Ecology asked for clear criteria for a property owner to show that an erosion-control structure is necessary in order to protect a home. It also called for limits on a process that could exempt property owners from some regulations. The Shoreline Master Program must be approved by Ecology before it will become law, which is where the conflict is coming in. Homeowners are worried the new plan would overly complicate the process of remodeling their homes or building new features like patios and docks, as it requires new houses to be situated at least 50 feet from the water and creates a 25-feet “vegetation conservation area” where native plants must be retained or replaced as needed.

Further Conflict

While existing homes are usually grandfathered in to their existing footprints, the plan still seems too invasive and controlling for many Lake Sammamish property owners, because of the onerous restrictions on new construction. This backlash led to the proposal being rewritten by Bellevue’s Planning Commission, which shook up and reformed appointments of many waterfront property-rights advocates. The inevitable problem was that the state Department of Ecology not only didn’t agree with the changes, but actually viewed many of them as violations of state regulations and was irritated at not being kept informed of the changes as they occurred. In fact, officials cited 101 elements of the plan that they deemed out of compliance.

Communication and Compromise on the Waterfront

Ultimately, the key to a future where these bodies of water and happy waterfront real estate owners can peacefully coexist is dependent on communication and compromise. While it’s not too pressing of an issue for existing homeowners who don’t feel the need to do any major remodels or near-water construction projects, the fact remains that the proposal would put major burdens on future waterfront property buyers. Since owning property along the lake is a fixture of the Seattle community, it’s really up to the Bellevue Planning Commission and Washington’s Department of Ecology to work out a compromise that won’t alienate existing and future homeowners along the water but will still get the job of protecting the water done right. On the positive side, both the Planning Commission in Bellevue and Ecology are prepared to reinitiate communication with each other on the proposal until the issue is resolved. In the end, both sides hope it will be better for everybody, including waterfront homeowners.

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Jan

22

The Seattle City Council approved its long-underway revision to the Shoreline Master Program (SMP). These regulations pertain to buildings, homes, uses, and construction along the city’s waterways.  Any updates can create controversy among competing factions, as was the case this time too.

The Seattle Times summarized changes to the SMP as including “an allowance for building boats for Washington State Ferries, a provision that fueling stations must be for boats only, limits on signs in the shoreline area and restrictions on pesticides and fertilizers”.

I provide a more detailed analysis and update regarding the discussions around houseboats, house barges, and floating homes in a separate post here.

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Apr

6

There is a long history in the state of Washington that determines whether or not your particular waterfront property owns its beach out front, especially important on Puget Sound properties with their tidal ranges that can expose large tracts of beach at low tide. Who owns that land? You? The state? It depends.

The answer can be determined through a title search and a correct parcel map. There are properties throughout the Seattle region that fit into both categories: owning the beach, or not. The actual day to day usage of a beach in front of a waterfront property is frankly usually exactly the same whether the beach is owned or not: people without ownership still expect their beach to be quiet and well taken care of by strolling beach walkers, and most people with owned land let beach walkers go through their beach since the courtesy gets reciprocated and it allows the entire community to enjoy waterfront strolls. There are some famous exceptions, including people trying to (illegally) put fences up that become submerged at high tide, but they tend to be in remoter regions and you don’t see that around Seattle.

The Department of Natural Resources provides an informative guide to “Boundaries of State-owned Aquatic Lands” that explains many of these concepts, terms, and related waterfront property rights history. Here’s an excerpt from it:

“Fresh water, such as in lakes or rivers, or marine waters, such as in Puget Sound, are not owned by individuals. Water is managed by the state and protected for the common good. Generally, aquatic lands beneath these waters have been managed that way, too – since statehood.

On November 11, 1889, at statehood, Washington’s aquatic lands became stateowned lands under the Equal Footing Doctrine, which guaranteed new states of the Union the same rights as the original 13. Washington State, through Article XVII of its constitution, asserted ownership to the “beds and shores of all navigable waters in the state…” so that no one could monopolize the major means of transportation, trade or fishing areas. Some other states gave adjacent upland owners a “riparian” right to build over navigable waters, but Washington chose to be a “nonriparian” state – that is, it did not grant that right. It held that aquatic lands are owned by all the people of the state, not individuals.

Although owners of lands abutting stateowned aquatic lands did not receive “riparian” rights at statehood, for more than 80 years they could purchase tidelands or shorelands from the state. In 1971, the sale of the state’s aquatic lands was stopped by the state Legislature. Today, virtually all the bedlands of navigable waters are state owned, as are 30 percent of the tidelands and 75 percent of shorelands in the state. Nonnavigable bodies of water are not owned by the state, and are likely to be connected in title to the abutting upland property.”

Burien Three Tree Point waterfront real estate with Seattle area Puget Sound owned beachfront

Click picture to see this local Three Tree Point waterfront home that owns its 130′ beach

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Oct

14

The third and final round of public input periods to the King County Shoreline Management Program is happening now. If you live on or near the Sound, a lake, river, or even some wetlands, then this can apply to you and your property.

You can review the draft and also attend upcoming public open house meetings in Carnation (October 16th) and Covington (October 23rd). Public inputs will be accepted until Friday November 14th, via the meetings, email, or mail.

This will be the final opportunity for public input before the completed program is submitted to the King County Council in December.

King County watersheds map

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Oct

5

Interesting set of recent events from the National Marine Fisheries Service: Since development near bodies of water can adversely affect salmon population – and salmon populations are important for the web of life food chain to endangered orcas – they have determined that the federal flood insurance program currently available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is illegal. Both salmon and orcas are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

National Marine Fisheries Service NMFS logo
Federal Emergency Management Agency FEMA logo
This affects future development for any properties determined to be within flood plains, and it can also affect current owners seeking this type of ongoing insurance. In many cases, getting flood insurance in flood plains is difficult and expensive without having the FEMA program to rely upon. New development may be cost prohibitive and current owners may be left without viable insurance options.

For more information, see this article in the Seattle PI. The reporter covers the usual areas that people think of as a “flood plain”: areas near rivers that can crest and flood at times of heavy flow. However, the article does not talk about the many other areas that can be considered flood plains. Even Puget Sound waterfront can be considered flood plains due to tidal/storm surges, and lake shores can rise and flood as well. The frequency of both is very low in comparison to rivers, but nonetheless official classifications and flood plain maps do exist for these areas. Both future development and existing properties along many other bodies of water than rivers could definitely be affected.

Next steps will reside with FEMA to create development requirements that will be more compatible with salmon populations, and this may allow for the resumption of the FEMA flood insurance program around the Puget Sound area. However these kinds of programs and development compromises can take quite a long time to develop, so it will be interesting to track the effects from this on local waterfront properties.

If anything, it makes existing waterfront homes more valuable since development options for new waterfront properties are further restricted. Relatively few waterfront home owners (especially on the Sound and lakes) actually purchase the FEMA insurance, so the downsides of lacking the insurance will likely be negligible except for cases where such insurance may be a requirement of a buyer obtaining financing.

We’ll see what happens…

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Aug

9

“Stodgy and industrial” Bremerton has been getting a reputation for thinking outside of its historical box in terms of how to best make its waterfront a centerpiece for the community and economic development. The Bremerton Naval Shipyard and the Washington State ferry terminal had long been the primary utilitarian focus along the shoreline. Now parks, residential condos, convention center, and more are already underway, all centered around the waterfront.

The mayor of Bremerton – who was previously the mayor of Bellevue – has been learning from the positive and negative experiences of other waterfront communities around Puget Sound, Lake Washington, and the entire country. As an outgrowth of his community’s efforts, the Urban Waterfront Revitalization Conference is planned for September 10-12, 2008 at the Kitsap Conference Center in Bremerton (brochure). This conference is also being used to spearhead formation of the nascent group called Urban Waterfront Alliance.

Urban Waterfront Revitalization Conference 2008 at Kitsap Conference Center in Bremerton

The program (or see the program brochure) has a very interesting and diverse line-up. Here is their summary:

“The program addresses core concepts from projects at all stages, from strategy to implementation and beyond. Sessions will feature stories from individual communities – large and small – transforming their waterfronts. The program will also cover key areas such as:

Celebrating and Marketing Your Waterfront
Public and Pedestrian Waterfront Access
Transportation Access Issues
Urban Waterfront Housing
Sustainable Waterfronts
Public Engagement
Financing Your Project
Design and Built Elements”

It looks to be an intriguing conference for anyone desiring to expand the community value of local large scale waterfront concepts.

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Feb

9

The state Department of Ecology has mandated that King County update its Shoreline Master Program by 2009, part of a review and overhaul of the over 30 year old Shoreline Master Program throughout the state. This update could have potential ramifications for waterfront properties, although it is generally expected that the recent regulations brought on by the King County Critical Areas Ordinance will already cover most updates that would be deemed necessary. King County has also taken a lesson from the sometimes controversial and contentious process that resulted from the Critical Areas Ordinance’s implementation, this time rolling out the process and drafts in a slower fashion with public inputs encouraged at each step. The Shoreline Master Program and CAO have the interests of the environment and larger community in mind, while sometimes these regulations may clash with the property rights interests of owners along shorelines who prefer more leeway in what they can do with their property.

The Shoreline Management Act applies to marine shorelines, rivers with a flow greater than 20 cubic feet per second, lakes larger than 20 acres, upland areas within 200 feet of these water bodies, floodplains, and wetlands associated with these shorelines. The act covers land use, public access, archaeological / historical resources, and ecology.

King County has recently distributed a draft map of areas where the Shoreline Master Program updates may apply. County representatives are also holding four public input meetings, two of which occurred last week in Carnation and Enumclaw. The next two are on Tuesday February 13 5:30-8:30 pm in Maple Valley and Thursday February 15 5:30-8:30 pm on Vashon Island. Public comments are also being accepted by mail, email, phone, or at the meetings.

The projected timeline for the next steps in the process includes a draft of the revised county plan for this June, a second updated draft in the fall, and a final version for presentation to the King County Council in March 2008. DOE requires that the county have a finalized plan completed and submitted by December 2009.

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