Bob Bowman and the SMP Workgroup hammered out this response to the Triangle's CAC Draft Report --
G. FLOATING HOMES
Overview of the Proposed Amendments
Background: Floating homes have existed along Seattle's waterways for approximately 120 years. The Seattle Comprehensive Plan recognizes the value and importance of these community assets by stating the need to "Preserve the existing floating home community" The preceding is the language in the current Comprehensive Plan (January 2005). The current Comprehensive Plan does not contain the following quoted language which has been proposed by DPD. To avoid confusion between what is existing and what may be adopted, it should be deleted from the paragraph.
"Existing floating home communities represent an important cultural resource because of their historic role in providing affordable housing for Seattle's working class and their unique contribution to Seattle's maritime culture. Existing communities should be allowed to remain; however, new houseboats should be prohibited since overwater residences are not a preferred use of Seattle's shorelines." Today there are approximately 450 500 floating homes in the City which is several thousand less than the number of floating homes existing in the 1940s and 1950s.
SMA Purpose: While shoreline single-family residences are a preferred use under the SMA, overwater residences (i.e., floating homes) are not. The SMA states that "overwater residences, including houseboats, are not a preferred use and should be prohibited" (WAC 173-26-241 [j]). However, the guidelines include an exception that applies in the case of Seattle's floating home community:
The guidelines further state, "It is recognized that certain existing communities of floating and/or over-water homes exist and should be reasonably accommodated to allow improvements associated with life safety matters and property rights to be addressed provided that any expansion of existing communities is the minimum necessary to assure consistency with constitutional and other legal limitations that protect private property."
DPD Policy Intent: To protect ecological functions, DPD is proposing stronger limits on overwater coverage in general, with overwater residences being a focus of concern due to potential impacts on shoreline natural resources. Specifically, the revisions would prohibit construction of new overwater residences and expansion of existing overwater residences if the existing floating home is on a float that is larger than 1,200 square feet. To further meet the intent of the state guidelines, DPD is proposing that floating homes be reclassified from a "water-dependent use" to an "allowed use."
DPD proposes to allow ongoing repair and maintenance and replacement of existing overwater residences. DPD is proposing to consolidate the existing two floating home moorage standards (termed "non-conforming" and "conforming" standards ) into one standard that will not require floating home owners to reduce their lot coverage when they redevelop. The intent of this policy is to allow floating home owners to maintain, repair and replace their structures, but limit expansion of existing homes on large floats (>1200 sq. ft.). New standards would also be included to prohibit new floating home basements.
Proposed new SMP language treating houseboats as an "allowed" (rather than a water-dependent) use generated vigorous discussion and a diverse spectrum of views and concerns. A few
number of CAC members supported DPD's recommendation to prohibit new floating homes because of their potential to degrade ecological functions, particularly salmonid habitat. However, a significant plurality of the CAC believe that an outright prohibition is too restrictive, fails to recognize the historic diversity and character of Seattle's floating homes community, and would undermine the viability of the floating homes community over the long-term. These members would prefer to continue classifying floating homes as a water-dependent use, and permit new floating homes in carefully limited areas along the shoreline, as is the case under the present SMP. One member representing public access interests suggested that size, scale and location criteria were more important than an outright prohibition of floating homes. Other members agreed with this suggestion. The preceding language beginning with "However" accurately reflects the discussion at the CAC meeting and should be retained.
The CAC member representing the Floating Homes Association (FHA) provided detailed written comments from that organization on DPD's proposed regulatory changes, which stressed the following:
DPD's proposed Comprehensive Plan language should be modified as follows:
- "Existing floating home communities represent an important cultural resource because of their historic and unique contribution to Seattle's maritime culture. Existing floating home communities, moorages and homes, should be preserved, including allowance for repair, replacement and relocation as necessary. Because current regulations treat floating homes as overwater residences, not a preferred shoreline use, extension of floating home communities (as distinct from repair, replacement and relocation) would be allowed only if developed in a manner that provides a better environmental alternative than other allowed uses."
FHA does not support the proposal to require floating homes to meet the setback standards for conforming development, because they believe it would lead to the reduction in size of existing floating homes and potentially eliminate some homes, particularly those located at the end of a moorage. Combining the conforming and non-conforming standards as proposed by DPD would create more complexity and potential contradictions than retaining the two distinct standards currently in use. Therefore, FHA strong ly opposes combining the two standards. FHA does support DPD's earlier suggestion to abolish the conforming/non-conforming nomenclature and substitute categories such as standard A and standard B.
FHA opposes DPD's proposal to limit the depth of floats for floating homes, contending that doing so would be unduly expensive and difficult for owners of floating homes. FHA opposes prohibiting additional floor area unless the total float area is 1200 sq ft or less. This regulation would have a significant financial and quality of life impact on a number of floating home owners, without any perceived gain for the environment.
A CAC member representing shoreline property owners noted that existing overwater residences in the City's Seaview Avenue NW area face similar issues as floating home owners.
Synopsis of CAC Comments on Floating Homes
- Some CAC members support prohibiting the placement of new floating homes as a means to improve ecological function, particularly salmonid habitat. A plurality of members expressed support for the floating home community because of their historical and cultural importance to the city.
- The Floating Homes Association (FHA) opposes DPD's proposed treatment of floating homes as an "allowed," rather than "water-dependent" use, and believes the SMP should continue to treat existing floating homes as a water-dependent use appropriate to specific shoreline environment designations (e.g., UMX).
The FHA does not support the proposal to require floating homes to comply with new setback standards, as the proposal could result in a need to reduce the size of some homes and/or eliminate moorage sites for some homes. FHA opposes combining the conforming and non-conforming standards. Combining the standards will create more complexity and potential contradictions than keeping the two distinct standards. FHA strongly supports DPD's earlier suggestion to abolish the conforming/non-conforming nomenclature and substitute categories such as standard A and standard B.·
The FHA opposes DPD's proposal to reduce the depth of floatation material on existing homes as unduly burdensome and expensive to floating homeowners. Prohibiting additional floor area unless the total float area is 1200 sq ft or less would have a significant financial and quality of life impact on a number of floating home owners without any gain for the environment. Therfore, FHA does not agree with this proposed regulation.
FHA opposes DPD's proposal to limit the depth of floats for floating homes, contending that doing so would be unduly expensive and difficult for owners of floating homes. FHA opposes prohibiting additional floor area unless the total float area is 1200 sq ft or less. This regulation would have a significant financial and quality of life impact on a number of floating home owners, without any perceived gain for the environment. Therefore, FHA does not agree with this proposed regulation.