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.

Share

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.

Share

Apr

23

It’s common knowledge that major bodies of water are public property. This was established long ago so that no one person could monopolize crucial water sources. What happens though, when a public lake is completely surrounded by private property? That’s exactly the topic of debate for homeowners and public residents who want access to Lake Burien.

Lake Burien, which is a 44-acre lake in King County, Washington located at the old town center of Burien, is entirely surrounded by private waterfront property owners, creating a serene oasis for them to enjoy. Because their homes surround the lake, they have exclusive access compared to the rest of the town. However, since the lake is considered a public resource, this exclusive access has been a point of contention for a now.

Every now and then, public residents who don’t own the waterfront real estate in Burien request that public access to the lake be created. However, the private owners are concerned about what this could do to the environment. To research the matter, several lakeside property owners hired a team of environmental consultants who did in fact conclude that public access to the lake would “entail significant risk of degradation” and that opening up public access would be “ill-advised.” Some of the reasoning behind this is that the lake is too shallow for increased use. At only 29 feet at its deepest and an average depth of just 13 feet, a large increase in boat, pet, and human traffic would definitely have a big impact on the ecosystem of the lake. Of course, while homeowners understand why the public wants access, the idea of destroying an ecosystem and losing their peace and quiet has caused some concern. Their hope is that the environmental recommendation would prevent any potentially-damaging public access even if lakefront property were to be transitioned into a park.

The Burien waterfront home owners say it’s fine for people to want to come and look at the lake, but it’s the access to the water itself that could be detrimental. In other words, they want to keep boats and other water-born activities limited to the few home owners. This is in an attempt to save its environmental state, since increased access to thousands of people could “irreversibly damage” the lake.

The public has also raised some valid points though, saying opening up a park and perhaps some city-owned lots could bring revenue to the town. A proposal to rezone the area was suggested. There is also a children’s center nearby that had hopes of buying and selling adjacent lake lots in order to improve their own financial situation. These ideas have not yet been approved though.

Obviously, this kind of private control of such a tranquil body of water greatly improves home values in the area, and waterfront land owners of Burien are guaranteed to enjoy peace, quiet, and a beautiful view as well as some very exclusive lakeside access. With approximately 48,000 people residing in the city though, the odds of buying one of these homes to take advantage of those benefits are not great. It is possible that an agreement could be created in the near future. Such a compromise would need to take into account the environmental integrity of the lake as well as the overall good of the community.

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

Apr

11

The previously reported battle between the city of Bellevue versus a resident of Newport Shores and his community association came to a legal head recently when a federal judge ruled against the resident and Newport Shores / Newport Yacht Club.

At issue was whether or not Bellevue met its obligations in managing stormwater runoff and sediment issues in Coal Creek, and also whether or not the resident created improper salmon habitat enhancement, all of which was part of a prior settlement. Bellevue was found to have met its obligations and the resident was found to have not created an actual salmon habitat enhancement on their property as specified, but instead to have effectively created a small salmon hatchery for introducing new fish into the creek.

And the battle continues on: The resident has been prevented from moving into his home for a long time now; he still needs to figure out how he can legally occupy his newly built – but never lived in – home. The city plans to file for reimbursement of their attorney fees. No winners in that protracted battle!

Share

Sep

24

Want to see two immovable forces battle over riparian zone and salmon related permit issues? The Seattle Times reported about the legal battle between a Bellevue/Newport Shores attorney and the city of Bellevue over the construction of his home beside Coal Creek.

There are some interesting twists to this story, a bit different than the usual disputes over buffer zones, pervious surfaces, geotech, and such. The two opposing sides had a prior dispute 5 years ago, and are at it again. The home owner has built a nice new home beside Coal Creek and actually installed what amounts to a small salmon hatchery plus water-filtration plant with sump pumps to feed an artificial stream and holding pond! He even has a bridge over Coal Creek. The city claims he exceeded the size and location of disturbance zones around the home, plus says the mini salmon hatchery was never approved and he also did not create required flood mitigation berms. Bellevue is holding back his occupancy permit, and the home owner says he may not be able to move into his new pad for another 5 years.

Wow, what a convoluted mess there for everyone involved. Hope they get it all worked out.

The Seattle Times logo and subscription

Share

Apr

23

I was recently asked an interesting question: who is responsible for removing floating logs from Lake Washington? I did some digging with King County and the US Army Corps of Engineers, and this is what I found out:

The US Army Corps of Engineers is usually responsible for managing on-water safety issues, including occasional removal of floating danger logs from Lake Washington. This is part of their mission mainly because the lake is considered a navigable waterway with heavy marine traffic.

However, a “nuisance log” has many different interpretations and would not be addressed by most agencies, especially if the logs are onshore and not posing a hazard to marine traffic. What one person may not want may actually be good habitat for many creatures, and hence there would be a permitting conflict. There are actually Fish and Wildlife regulations against removing large wood from shorelines because the removal decreases refuge and food sources for fish. Officially, a hydraulic project approval would even need to be obtained from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife before such work could be done in the water. Smaller stuff is usually just handled by home owners on an individual basis.

Updated to answer reader question: I contacted the Army Corps of Engineers to get more information about what they do with the logs that they corral. They try to empty the holding pen monthly plus make a monthly round of Lake Washington as their schedule permits. The collected debris is off-loaded onto storage barges at the Ballard Locks. They dispose of usable debris to government agencies for restoration work or recycle it. The rest goes to the landfill.

Lake Washington waterfront real estate for sale covered porch view of Bellevue and Mercer Island

Share

Feb

17

A waterfront home owner who lives on the Renton shores of Lake Washington was recently found guilty of constructing a dock and boat lift without permits. Apparently a neighbor complained to the US Army Corps of Engineers (they are involved in the shoreline permitting process for docks), and even after the Corps cited the home owner to stop work he still kept going. As a result, he now faces up to a year in prison plus up to a $100,000 fine! He was charged with a misdemeanor violation of the federal Rivers and Harbors Act.

US Army Corps of Engineers logo related to waterfront homes dock regulations
For information on who to contact to determine regulations on dock construction and refurbishing, check my list of Seattle area government waterfront regulatory agencies on WaterHavens.com.

So make sure you have those permits in hand, and then you can relax and fully enjoy a beauty like this Lake Washington waterfront home for sale:

Lake Washington waterfront real estate for sale in Renton, this boat dock and lift IS fully permitted

Share