Council defers action on Coney Island houseboats

August 2011 News Reg Clayton -

Houseboat owners mooring their recreational watercraft in or around the city water lot off the northeast side of Coney Island received a temporary reprieve Monday.

City council was prepared to order the removal of the houseboats from the site by Sept. 30 but deferred voting on the resolution pending review of legal issues raised in a deputation by a local couple.

Brian Finck and Wendy Capri have moored the family houseboat in the bay for the past six years. They contended their right to anchorage in navigable waters is protected under federal law and council is exceeding its authority by ordering the evictions.

"Unless specific exceptions have been made... a boater's right to anchor in navigable waters cannot be controlled by a lesser authority," Capri stated, reading from a prepared statement.

Finck reacted to complaints that the houseboats pose an "eyesore" on the bay noting he has never been directly notified of such concerns. He suggested if it is council's intent to improve the appearance of the bay they should look into ordering the removal of dilapidated docks, pieces of foam and floating garbage from the area.

Finck noted houseboats have anchored in the bay for decades and continued access is a "grandfathered" right under federal marine law.

"Those boats have been there for 30 years or more. The law states it is far too late to change it without the federal government having the final say," he said.

The couple contends the houseboat provides the family with affordable summer recreation as they and their six children enjoy summer holidays on the lake, supporting local tourism rather than travelling and spending their money elsewhere. They said the city's looming eviction notice was unforeseen, posing unanticipated financial hardship and difficulties in locating alternate moorage on such short notice.

Council's reaction to the deputations was mixed. Coun. Ron Lunny remarked allowing free moorage in the bay has gone on long enough and the time has come to act before the situation gets any further out of control. He questioned if federal regulations guarantee the unrestricted right of long-term use as Crown Land camping is limited to just 21 days per year. He added the rights of Coney Island residents are another consideration as provincial regulations dictate that anchorages in front of private properties must be located at least 100 feet beyond the property lines.

Chief administrative officer Karen Brown confirmed the water lot is municipal property and city council has the authority to impose restrictions in the bay as it deems necessary.

However, following extensive discussion on matters of procedure, council agreed to review concerns raised by Finck and Capri with the city solicitor.

Mayor Dave Canfield cited matters pertaining to 'grandfathered' rights and 'legal non-conforming' considerations which may apply to water lots which require further research and legal opinion before proceeding with the bylaw.

"There are some answers we have to get as far as grandfathering goes," the mayor said.

Coun. Louis Roussin agreed, citing considerations under the Navigational Waters Act regarding anchorages which require clarification.


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