Seattle wants to ban new houseboats


In a city of lakes and bays, squabbles about water are inevitable. But as Seattle mulls over a hefty set of new shoreline rules, one of the most iconic waterfront symbols -- houseboats -- is feeling the squeeze.

City planners have drafted rules that would ban new houseboats, limit development, and demote the preferential water-use status currently enjoyed by floating homes.

That of course comes as worrisome news to Seattle's eclectic, tight-knit community of 500 or so houseboaters, many of whom see the rules as the latest browbeating from landlubbers.

"We feel like we've been clamped down on more and more and more," said Amalia Walton of the Seattle Floating Homes Association.

Of the proposals, she said: "People could be priced out of the community... The worst case scenario is that houseboats might disappear."

Part of a massive updating of Seattle's shoreline rules, the houseboat changes are intended to protect the ecology of Lake Union and Portage Bay, where most of the floating homes are. The official thinking is that houseboats and other "overwater residences" are harmful to wildlife habitat, particularly for salmon.

But many houseboaters, who see themselves as stewards of the water, are suspicious of that reasoning. The Floating Homes Association has commissioned its own salmon study, which found that the fish don't come near the shores and houseboats on Lake Union. Houseboaters interpret that as them having little impact on salmon.

"I'm really concerned about the salmon, too," said Walton, a second-generation houseboater who chairs a shoreline-use committee for the floating home group.

"But if you're sacrificing people's homes and communities, there has to be some solid science and reasoning behind it."

'Balancing the needs of everyone'

Bryan Stevens, a spokesman with the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), said Seattle is following a position held by the state Department of Ecology. The state is directing Seattle to update its Shoreline Master Program, a comprehensive set of rules governing use of Seattle's waterways. The last time the program was updated was in 1987.

Among the policy goals: Environmental protection and public access.


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