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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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

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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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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Jun

3

Waterfront property in Seattle is one of the most attractive features of the area. Who else but waterfront homeowners have the chance to skip a horrendous commute and get to work by water taxi? Who else gets a gorgeous lake view that’s right outside the window? Who else has the luxury of being accessible to fireboats in the event of a fire? Yet despite all of these advantages, one persistent difficulty facing the waterfront real estate owner is the possibility of a flood. That’s why recent discussions and decisions about flood insurance policies are important to understand.

Extension of National Flood Insurance Program
Last July, the National Association of Realtors hailed the federal government’s decision to extend the National Flood Insurance Program, or NFIP. The NFIP, originally created in 1968, was a response to the need for some kind of national flood insurance, as typical homeowner’s insurance doesn’t cover flooding, hurricanes, tropical storms, or heavy rains. The extension is positive because it will continue its function as a means for people with waterfront property to remain insured in the event of a flood. However, the most recent extension came with some changes that current or future owners of waterfront houses should know.

Changes to the NFIP
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is responsible for responding to disasters like floods. Unfortunately, officials from FEMA recently explained that there will be increases in premiums and rate structures in order to help the agency get on more solid financial ground. Because of a high number of catastrophic storms in the recent past, FEMA has a debt load of $24 billion to overcome. One change will be on “severe repetitive loss properties,” which are the ones in the most dangerous position of having repeated loss due to flooding. About 600,000 current owners of a primary residence won’t see increases until their policy lapses or they sell to someone else. These are the properties with subsidies. About 80 percent of flood policies aren’t subsidized, so they won’t see any changes aside from routine rate increases each year.

What the Changes Mean to You
These changes are hardly a cause for alarm. Unless your home is located within a Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) area, you’ll continue to have a highly affordable flood insurance rate. In fact, half of all flood policy claims are found in just five metropolitan areas, which are New Orleans, Houston, Tampa, Miami, and New York. That means your likelihood of a flooding problem in a waterfront home off of Lake Washington or Puget Sound is probably quite low. Even so, it’s important to note that these changes are coming and react accordingly. As a buyer, you should focus on waterfront real estate located outside of any FIRMs. Current owners should take stock of what their situation is, keeping in mind that most changes will be phased in gradually starting in 2014. Sellers simply need to remember to disclose information about these changes to any buyers.

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May

20

Beautiful waterfront home for sale with scenic views.

New Burien Three Tree Point WaterHavens listing

Just a few months ago, there was an online auction house for a 1927-vintage fireboat “Alki.” This special boat was the senior member of four boats that comprised the Seattle Fire Department’s Marine Emergency Response Team. This boat had served the Seattle community well, but it had reached the point where it couldn’t keep up with the demands of modern technology and became an icon for a bygone era instead. While it was a bittersweet time for Seattleites to see a boat with an 86-year history go, it’s just one more reminder of what makes waterfront real estate in Seattle such a special feature of the Washington metropolis. How many other places can boast water-based traffic like water taxis and fireboats?

Retiring the Fireboat “Alki”
The retirement of “Alki” coincided with the recent acquisition of some new boats. “Engine One” was added to the fleet in 2006, and “Leschi” was built in 2007. In addition, the “Chief Seattle” was renovated and given an additional twenty years, making it possible to auction off one of the most enduring pieces of Seattle history. Like most things above 80 years of age, the fireboat could boast plenty of interesting stories, such as the time it was able to help save a commercial sea captain’s home below Magnolia Bluff. The most important part of the story was that the “Alki” was able to get the job done when firefighters on land weren’t able to reach the flames. With plenty of stories like that all along the coast, it was like the waterfront community had to say goodbye to an old friend.

Fireboats for West Seattle Waterfront Real Estate
Along the waterfront coastline is a thriving community full of condos, homes, public parks, shops, and restaurants. Because land traffic can only come from the other direction, water-based firefighters are a staple of various Seattle communities that border Lake Washington and the Puget Sound. These fireboats are even more important for waterfront homeowners with properties that don’t have direct drive-up access. For example, some waterfront houses are walk-down or tram-accessed properties, both of which are difficult to reach quickly from land in the case of an emergency.

The Future of Fireboats
Because of the two new boats and the retrofitted “Chief Seattle,” even more security is now provided for Seattle area waterfront property. Unlike the “Alki,” which was still using decades-old technology for firefighting, the new fireboats are a major step forward in speed and power, as well as the major upgrades to the “Chief Seattle.” For fires, speed and power are often the deciding factor in how much damage can be avoided, and fortunately, the “Leschi” doesn’t disappoint. Stationed in Fire Station 5 on Elliott Bay, this primary firefighting vessel can travel at 14 knots and fight fires with 22,000 gallons of water per minute. While the “Marine One” is about half as long as the “Leschi,” it can actually travel more than twice as fast, making it a fast attack option. With new technology on the fireboats, it can only be even safer now for waterfront real estate owners.

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Jan

22

The Shoreline Master Program is getting updated in many municipalities around Washington state, in accordance with Washington law and Department of Ecology requirements. One of the more controversial and public topics revolved around how to address the floating homes, house boats, and house barges that are primarily centered around Lake Union, Portage Bay, and the Ship Canal. Are they legal? Do they meet SMP requirements for proper use of shoreline resources? Is gray water and black water being properly removed? What are the differences between the three classifications of floating residences in Seattle, and how should each be addressed for any updates to the SMP? These and many other questions were raised.

The local liveaboard community quickly rose to the occasion and gathered support in ensuring that their homes were not threatened. A combination of good intentions and misunderstandings of actual implications were mixed together to form sometimes passionate responses. Local media coverage was extensive, and generally pointed out that these were people’s homes being discussed. The iconic landscape of “Sleepless in Seattle” Lake Union became a romantic rallying point.

Seattle’s Shoreline Master Program was just unanimously passed by the Seattle City Council. In summary, most pre-existing uses for floating homes, house boats, and house barges were grandfathered in and all liveaboard owners can rest easy. Future development is much more restricted, so it makes the existing homes effectively more valuable due to government-limited future supply.

Summary of changes:

  • Floating homes: There is a new registration program and future development standards.
  • House boats / vessels: New clearer standards were enacted regarding the types of permitted vessels, but pre-existing residential uses are grandfathered in as noncomforming uses that can continue plus be repaired/reconstructed as needed.
  • House barges: The 34 pre-approved Seattle house barges can continue on as they are, with the clarification that discharge of gray water must meet the requirements set in 1992 for these homes.

Overall it ended up as a good balance between protecting the property rights and values of existing owners of floating residences while also taking into account more restrictive requirements for future new construction of similar residences that will meet current environmental regulations.

Seattle Lake Union floating homes with sailboat and city skyline

Floating homes on Seattle’s Lake Union


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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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Jan

15

The Supreme Court decided in a 7-2 ruling that a residence which floats on the water – and which is obviously constructed to serve as a residence – should be treated under the regulations for houses and not vessels. This is important in some scenarios because home owner protection regulations and admiralty law have different levels of protections and uses. Real estate laws are generally considered to be more protective of home owner rights, and they would have helped the defendant in the Supreme Court case had his home been considered a house by local government officials.

The Seattle Floating Homes Association was supportive of the decision. However, this does somewhat “muddy the waters” regarding some of the recent Shoreline Master Program (SMP) discussions regarding which regulations Lake Union’s house boat communities should uphold. House boats are classified as vessels, they have steering and propulsion (though rarely, if ever, use them), and they must abide by Coast Guard regulations. This new ruling puts that definition in a bit of limbo since it could be interpreted to classify these house boats as houses. One important distinction, though: the floating residence situation that initiated the court battle had no propulsion, steering, or rudder. This puts it more in the category of a barge or floating home than a house boat. In Seattle, we actually have three different designations for what many people lump together as “house boats”: floating homes, house boats, and house barges.

Seattle Lake Union floating homes with kayaker

Kayaking by floating homes on Seattle’s Lake Union

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Jan

7

A precedent setting dispute and complicated situation for property rights just came to a close. On one side of the dispute was the owner (a former American League baseball player) of a Clyde Hill home who wanted his view of Lake Washington and Seattle improved by having the trees on his neighbors’ property cut down. On the other side of the dispute were the owners of the adjoining property and trees; they wanted to keep their trees (which had been there long before the other neighbor purchased his home). The unique factor: Clyde Hill has a 1991 view obstruction and tree removal ordinance in place.

The view-desiring neighbors had law on their side. The tree-owning neighbors had property rights and 50 year old pre-existing trees on their side. In the end, law won. However, the view-desiring neighbors had to pay about $63,000 to remove and replace the trees, although a professional appraisal found that the improved view will increase the market value of their $4 million home by $255,000. So, it was a good return on investment for resale, if not for neighbor relations.

In the end, it does demonstrate the value of our area’s gorgeous water views, and what people will do to get it or keep it.

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Sep

17

The five member citizens committee Burien Shoreline Working Group has been negotiating with the Department of Ecology for a couple years now as Burien updates the Burien Shoreline Master Program (SMP). The primary disconnect has regarded setbacks for construction. Many developed communities in Burien have homes fairly close to their bulkheads, and the DOE requirements of 50 feet + 15 foot buffer would have made many lots totally unbuildable.

The group’s proposal is for developed areas along Puget Sound to be split up into zones. In well developed areas along the Sound shoreline, any development within 20 feet of the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM) would be significantly limited. Then development within 20-35 feet would be allowed if offsetting benefits were created within the first 20 feet (vegetation, limiting permeable surfaces, etc.). For less developed areas, the same zone restrictions would be moved back to 30 feet and 30-45 feet, respectively.

Existing structures can still be remodeled or even rebuilt on their existing footprints wherever they may be located, and are grandfathered in as “nonconforming”.

The working group said that initial indicators from DOE were amenable to these compromises. It will be interesting to see where this ends up, since it could set precedents for other Sound waterfront communities and their SMPs.

Seattle Burien Three Tree Point waterfront home with Puget Sound view decks

Example of Burien home (WaterHavens listing) with existing near shore footprint enabling expansive and close-up waterfront views

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Jul

2

Burien’s waterfront property owners vociferously expressed concerns about the Department of Ecology’s Shoreline Master Program (SMP), and the Burien City Council correspondingly rejected the Program and sent it back to DOE. The Council said it could agree to most of DOE’s requests, but did not agree with four provisions:

  • Buffers and Setbacks: For new construction or building upgrades, the new 50 foot buffer + 15 foot setback would have made development in many Burien waterfront lots unattainable. Burien responded with their plan to keep the existing 20 foot buffer with no additional setback.
  • Watercraft on Lake Burien: Burien wanted to maintain the ban on watercraft access on Lake Burien from any future public access areas.
  • Rebuilding: DOE wanted to make rebuilding a destroyed waterfront home more restrictive, which Burien disagreed with.
  • Shoreline Variances: DOE wanted to enforce a need for shoreline variances to reduce critical area buffers in geologically hazardous areas and wetlands, which Burien disagreed with.
  • This will be interesting to see how it plays out, since Burien and DOE will now each have to give and take to meet the state mandated requirements of having an update Shoreline Master Program.

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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

    27

    Latest update from King County:

    “The King County Council has scheduled final action on the update of the King County Shoreline Master Program for Monday, November 1, 2010. The time of the County Council Meeting has not been announced. County Council agendas are available online for reference.

    Public comment on the proposed update closed on October 1, 2010.

    To learn more about the Shoreline Master Program update, visit the King County Council’s webpage at King County Comprehensive Plan.

    If you have any questions about Council’s review of the Shoreline Master Program, please contact Kendall Moore (206-296-1631) or Rick Bautista (206-296-0329).”

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    Sep

    24

    Latest news from King County regarding the King County Shoreline Master Program:

    “The King County Council held a public hearing on the proposed update to King County’s Shoreline Master Program, as it passed out of the Council’s Environment and Transportation Committee, on September 20th.Ten members of the public presented testimony to the full County Council.

    Many of those testifying requested additional time to submit written comments to the County Council. The Council Chair responded by extending to October 1 the date for the County Council to receive written comments. Comments can be provided online, by email or by postal mail.

    The public hearing was then closed. The date for final action will be rescheduled. No Council action will be taken on September 27th.

    To learn more, the King County Council has information, including the committee chair’s proposed revisions to the executive proposal for the Shoreline Master Program, available at

    If you have any questions about Council’s review of the Shoreline Master Program, please contact Kendall Moore (206-296-1631) or Rick Bautista (2026-296-0329), of Council staff.

    King County Comprehensive Plan. A link to testify on line is found at this webpage.”

    Angle Lake Seattle SeaTac waterfront house for sale lakefront view

    Click picture to see the home that has this view


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    Aug

    8

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has long provided insurance to communities in floodplain areas because private insurance companies have long shunned the potential risks in their portfolio. The government-backed National Flood Insurance Program was recently extended again, and it provides lower cost insurance options to waterfront home owners in certain river, lake, and even Puget Sound areas.

    FEMA has recently been given feedback that their provision of lower cost insurance options to potentially flood prone areas has caused negative environmental impacts in those sensitive riparian areas where building would otherwise not occur if insurance rates were higher and market-driven. Recent focus has been on protected species such as salmon and orca whales, and the interconnected web of shoreline management with their lifecycles and range of habitat.

    In response, FEMA is working on more restrictive building rules for around 122 western Washington communities. This will only directly affect new construction and those interested to get insurance through the program (which can sometimes be required for financing).

    So, as with many things, this can be good or bad depending upon what kind of waterfront property you own. If you own or are looking to buy land to develop, this will be a new consideration. If you already own or are looking to purchase an existing waterfront home, it only makes your property more valuable since future supply of competing waterfront homes is more restricted, and waterfront is a fixed commodity. Your neighborhood will also more likely have continued salmon friendly natural habitat.

    Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) logo

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    Jul

    9

    The Seminar Group is organizing a day long seminar for those interested in the implications of FEMA’s floodplain re-mapping (that I wrote about back in December). It will be rather technical and oriented to professionals, but for anyone who wants to learn more about the re-mapping and how it may affect insurance, development, or local regulations, you may be interested to attend.

    Here are the details from their seminar announcement:

    “Impacts of FEMA’s Floodplain Re-Mapping: Regulatory Changes & Implications for Local Jurisdictions & Property Owners”
    October 14, 2010
    Grand Hyatt Seattle

    SUMMARY
    Floodplain Mapping: Standards/Methodology; Levee Accreditation; Process/Appeals
    Biological Opinion: What Does it Require and What Does it Mean for Local Jurisdictions and Property Owners?
    Impacts to Local Governments: How are Local Governments Responding to the Mapping and BiOp?
    Recertification of Levees
    Relationships with Other Local Programs
    State Involvements

    AGENDA
    9:00 Introduction and Overview
    Steve Bleifuhs, Program Co-Chair
    Section Mng., DNRP/WLRD, River & Floodplain Management Section
    King County, WA

    Robert Brenner, Program Co-Chair
    Environmental Program Manager
    Port of Tacoma

    Molly Lawrence, Program Co-Chair
    GordonDerr LLP

    9:10 Floodplain Mapping
    • Standards/Methodology; What is Risk MAP and Next Steps
    Ryan Ike, Branch Chief
    Federal Emergency Management Agency

    • Levee Accreditation
    Steve Bleifuhs
    Section Mng., DNRP/WLRD, River & Floodplain Management Section
    King County, WA

    • Process/ Appeals
    Kevin Rogerson, City Attorney
    City of Mount Vernon, WA

    10:45 Break

    11:00 Biological Opinion: What Does it Require and What Does it Mean for Local Jurisdictions and Property Owners?
    • Discussion of Science Behind BiOp
    DeeAnn Kirkpatrick, Invited
    Fisheries Biologist, Washington State Habitat Office
    National Marine Fisheries Service

    • FEMA’s Plan for Implementing the Biological Opinion
    Mark Eberlein
    Regional Environmental Officer
    Federal Emergency Management Agency

    • Background and Substance of Biological Opinion
    Molly Lawrence
    GordonDerr LLP

    12:00 Lunch (on your own)

    1:15 Impacts to Local Governments: How are Local Governments Responding to the Remapping and BiOp?
    Molly Lawrence, Moderator
    GordonDerr LLP

    Patrick B. Anderson, City Attorney
    City of Snoqualmie, WA

    Robert Brenner
    Environmental Program Manager
    Port of Tacoma

    Timothy LaPorte, Dir., Public Works
    City of Kent, WA

    Scott Thomas, City Attorney
    City of Burlington, WA

    2:45 Break

    3:00 Recertification of Levees
    Steps Required to Recertify a Levee once it has Lost Certification
    Harold P. Smelt, PE, Surface Water Mgr.
    Pierce County Public Works and Utilities

    3:45 Relationships with Other Local Programs
    • Relationships with SMA
    • Relationships with GMA
    • Other Local Programs
    Alexander W. “Sandy” Mackie
    Perkins Coie LLP

    4:15 State Involvement
    • Washington State Department of Ecology’s Role Regarding Floodplain Management/Development
    • Potential State Action to Address Impacts of Remapping and BiOp
    Daniel Sokol
    NFIP State Coordinator
    Washington State Department of Ecology

    5:00 Questions and Answers
    Members of the Faculty

    5:15 Adjourn

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    Jul

    6

    Supporters of an officially sanctioned clothing-optional beach in the Seattle area gained a little bit of momentum recently, although the parks board of commissioners have placed it as a low priority until there’s a clearer sign of broader support within the community.

    There are currently three unofficial nudist beach sites around Seattle located at Magnuson Park, Discovery Park, and the “Secret Beach” of Lake Washington. However, people get asked by police to wear clothing at those beaches from time to time by the beach.
    Maybe if there are more 90 degree days locally they’ll get that broader support! 🙂

    Click here for Angle Lake SeaTac Seattle waterfront house for sale, lakefront real estate

    Angle Lake waterfront home for sale close to Seattle (click photo for info)

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    Jun

    24

    For those inerested in tracking and provided inputs to the King County Shoreline Master Program Update, here is an announcement from the King County Department of Development and Environmental Services:

    “On Tuesday, June 29 at 6:30 pm, the King County Council’s Environment and Transportation Committee will be holding a public meeting on the King County Executive’s proposed Shoreline Master Program Update. The meeting will be held on Vashon Island at McMurray Middle School. The Committee’s announcement of the meeting is available here.

    Staff from the Departments of Development and Environmental Services and Natural Resources and Parks will be available beginning at 5:30 pm at McMurray Middle School to answer questions about the Executive proposal.

    Information of the Executive Proposal is available here.

    The King County Council has information about the proposed update available here.

    The King County Council’s Environment and Transportation Committee is scheduled to take action on the Executive Proposal at its July 27th meeting. The King County Council will consider the committee’s recommendation in September.”

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    May

    9

    For anyone living on the shoreline, and especially on bluff properties, here is an informative workshop that is also free! I participated in a version of this same workshop years ago, and found it helpful. The instructors are knowledgeable about ways to improve bluff stability, reduce erosion, install appropriate plants, deal with drainage, work within complicated permit systems, and more. The first half is indoor instruction, and the second half is outdoors “hands-on” obeservation and recommendations at actual shoreline bluff properties.

    The workshop is offered at three different places and dates: in Normandy Park, Vashon Island, and Discovery Park / Seattle.

    From the workshop announcement:

    Is your marine bluff or beach property eroding or jeopardizing your house? Do you want to manage vegetation to stabilize slopes while maintaining a beautiful view of Puget Sound?

    The King Conservation District invites you to attend a FREE workshop developed for property owners along the marine shorelines of King County. The workshop will provide participants with an opportunity to learn about the ecological, geological, and vegetation management issues associated with owning property Where the Water Begins.

    Topics:

  • Understanding the Ecology of Marine Nearshore and Riparian Ecology
  • Recognizing Coastal Geological Hazards
  • Using Native Vegetation to Reduce Erosion & Improve Fish
    and Wildlife Habitat
  • Who Should Attend:

  • Landowners interested in stable natural marine shorelines
    & in reducing the potential for erosion and landslides
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    Dec

    24

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that its new revisions to flood insurance maps had so many errors in them that they are re-drafting a new set, perhaps to come out again within six months.

    This can affect any waterfront home owner – whether on Puget Sound, a lake, or river – if you want to have flood insurance. Your home may have not been in a designated flood plain, but could potentially go into one now, or even vice versa.

    The issue was primarily raised by city and county officials around the country who saw some aspects of the new maps being too stringent for their development plans, and in some cases completely important topographical details were missed. So FEMA will have their contractor redo all of the maps, and they will be more involved with quality control for this second round.

    Federal Emergency Management Agency logo

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    Oct

    31

    The Puget Sound Partnership doubled its budget this year with a new large injection of $50 million in federal funding. Separately, $152 million is being received for other Sound related restoration projects. Here is a summary of some of the initiatives that the money will be used for preserving Puget Sound:

    • Determine performance measures
    • Reduce storm water pollution
    • Preserve specific habitats
    • Remove Elwha River dam
    • Build Belfair sewer system for protection of Hood Canal
    • Remove dikes to restore Nisqually estuary habitat

    Puget Sound Partnership logo

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