Jun

18

There’s a unique and fun attraction in the Seattle area known as Ride the Ducks. The Duck rides have a long history as an essential tourist attraction, cruising past the city of Seattle and through the Lake Union waterfront community. The company describes its rides as a “party that floats,” coming with an eccentric captain who provides narration about the scenery as part of the tour. During the summer, the business really picks up, with more than 150 entrances and exits of Lake Union over the course of a 10-hour day. Now, the Duck boats are looking to dock at a new home that’s just 100 feet away from the houseboats in Lake Union.

A Disruption to the Community
Eastlake residents clearly respect and appreciate the role of the Ride the Ducks attraction, but they have recently expressed concerns over the appearance of a ramp that’s so close to their houseboats and waterfront property. Brian Tracey, the owner of Ride the Ducks, has met with the neighbors on at least two occasions to assuage their concerns about both the noise, safety, and pollution of a new Lake Union access point nearby. They have some valid worries, as the World War II-era boats run on diesel and would be active for many hours every day.

An Interesting Rebuttal
At the same time, Brian Tracey and his Ride the Ducks offer another side to the story. The particular area under consideration is actually an abandoned dock that could benefit from some new construction. Interestingly, the area was already zoned for maritime industrial use, so it’s not without precedent for the site to be home to a structure like a public boat ramp. In addition, the efforts could beautify the area, such as the overgrown street edge that’s already there. The other major concern is that the water traffic would get continually backed up without the additional point of access.

What Happens Next with the Ducks
Both sides of the debate have good points. On the one hand, Lake Union’s floating homes, houseboats, and waterfront houses are a beautiful and unique feature of the Seattle area. Many of these waterfront real estate owners paid a premium for the privilege of having a serene place to live, and it could be damaging to their way of life to have a constant stream of Duck boats streaming in and out of the nearby boat ramp. On the other hand, Ride the Ducks is a key attraction with a tradition of its own, and there didn’t appear to be anything illegal in how Brian Tracey purchased the property or intends to use it. The matter is before the Department of Planning and Development, with the Parks Board of Commissioners having voted back in February to oppose the entry ramp. The case is continuing to develop, but it’s a striking example of how scarce and special waterfront land is in the Seattle area.

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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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May

6

    Elegant living room with stunning puget sound views in Seattle area home for sale.

Water views from Seattle area home for sale.

Getting around Seattle is one of the biggest concerns for a lot of local residents. Traffic can get pretty congested along the major thoroughfares. Many commuters would probably relish the prospect of being able to skip all of that traffic on the road and arrive at work or home almost immediately, but that is obviously not something that’s possible for most Seattle drivers. Fortunately for some lucky Seattleites, however, it just so happens that there is an enticing transportation option for residents in West Seattle. While those living on the east side generally have to rely on either the toll-bridge Interstate 520 or non-toll I-90 to get downtown, West Seattle residents are able to cut across Elliot Bay on the King County Water Taxi.

Getting to Seattle
The big benefit for West Seattle residents who want to get to Seattle is that they can get downtown across the water using the King County Water Taxi. This useful service features a direct route from Seacrest Park in West Seattle over to Pier 50 on the downtown Seattle waterfront. The time it takes to cross is only about 10 minutes, and it’s open to people with bicycles for no extra charge. This unique situation is available to West Seattle residents in Puget Sound homes, and it’s one of simplicity and luxury. When passengers in the water taxi arrive at Pier 50 downtown, they can disembark and walk around the streets without having to worry about the cost or inconvenience of parking.

West Seattle Waterfront Real Estate
The waterfront coastline of West Seattle runs along the mouth of Elliot Bay and features gorgeous beaches and a satisfying mix of private property and public parks. Real estate consists of attractive condos and contemporary homes as well as mature homes. While the area of West Seattle itself is an enjoyable expanse in its own right, full of cafes and shops, many residents with a waterfront home in West Seattle have to go to work downtown. Others like the greater variety of shopping or entertainment options downtown. Either way, one of the main attractions of living in West Seattle is the amazing waterfront property, a view of Puget Sound, and the area’s proximity to the heart of Seattle.

Commute from the Waterfront
With so many reasons to travel to downtown Seattle, it’s fortunate that there’s a quick commute option in the King County Water Taxi, but the presence of Puget Sound and Elliot Bay is a double-edged sword. If it were land there instead, residents would have a direct route for driving. Instead, the water taxi service represents the only straight shot from West Seattle to downtown Seattle. Otherwise, residents have to go around using the West Seattle Bridge, which can result in a commute of 45 minutes to an hour during peak traffic hours. On the plus side, West Seattle and its residents in waterfront houses are geographically quite close to downtown, so there are a lot of viable commuting options, and the King County Water Taxi really makes it a great place to settle.

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May

3

The Environmental Science Center, located on the waterfront at Seahurst Park in Burien, has many fun summer programs oriented to living around the water and Puget Sound:

SEAHURST SUMMER SATURDAYS
10am – Noon (except June 8th)

May 18 Animal Detectives
Practice moving like different animals and make up your own track stories. Then hit the trail looking for animal signs (nests, homes, tracks, scat). Each participant will take home their own plaster track.

May 25 Stormwater Adventure!
Play games, explore tools, tell stories, and dance to learn more about the water all around us!

June 1 Science in Action! Fishery Observers
Place yourself in the shoes of a fisheries observer and conduct your own “fish population survey”! Learn about fish from different places and how to count and identify them. Recommended ages: 10 and up.

June 8 Bats, bats, bats! NIGHT PROGRAM 7-9pm
Visit Seahurst Park at night to learn about the bats of the Pacific Northwest. Spend time outside with an expert “bat lady” looking for signs of bats. Don’t forget your flashlight and hiking shoes!

June 15 & 16 Visit ESC at the Burien Wild Strawberry Festival!

June 22 Dog-Eat-Dog World: Food Chains at Seahurst Beach
It’s a rough life in the wild when everyone wants to eat you. Play games and examine marine plankton to look for earth’s most terrifying PREDATORS!! Also, spend time on the beach with naturalists.

June 29 Nature Scavenger Hunt
Explore Seahurst Park with all of your senses! Learn about the diverse life right here in the park and then explore with a fun and educational nature hike.

July 6 Insect Safari
This is your chance to view thousands of insects from all around the world! Then take a short walk around Seahurst Park to learn how to collect and sample for insects.

July 13 Scatology – Odd Digestion
in the Animal Kingdom
Compare human digestion to other animals then look for scat and food sources of animals at Seahurst. Upon returning to the center, learn about digestion in birds of prey by dissecting a real owl pellet!

July 20 Beach Exploration
Your little ones will love learning about what lives at Seahurst Beach through puppets, art, and hands-on exploration! Also, spend time on the beach with a trained naturalist. Recommended ages: 2-6 years, older siblings can join, too.

Burien Three Tree Point Puget Sound Olympic Mountains water view real estate for sale

New Burien Three Tree Point Puget Sound water view WaterHavens listing for sale

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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.

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Jan

26

The Highline Community College, has a webcam that looks out over Puget Sound. It is located in Redondo Beach and points toward Dash Point of Federal Way.

Highline Community College

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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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