As a Puget Sound native, I can tell you firsthand that most Seattle clichés are, for better or worse, true: yes, it does rain (more of a constant light drizzle than a steady downpour); yes, it’s not uncommon to spot a venti-clutching employee drive a Subaru Outback onto a vehicle ferry as part of their morning commute; and yes Sleepless in Seattle fans, there is a decent-sized community of houseboaters living within city limits, particularly on Lake Union and Portage Bay.

Life aboard the city’s beloved floating hermitages, although heavily romanticized, isn’t exactly without strife. Over the years, Seattle's houseboat dwellers have faced mass evictions, extended legal battles, and straight out persecution. Now, as reported by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the city's active and tight-knight houseboating population is up in arms over drastic new shoreline restrictions that, if passed, will ban new houseboats, limit houseboat development, and downgrade houseboats’ water use from “preferred” to “allowed.”

The reasoning behind these proposals? Environmental protection, as the Washington State Department of Ecology directs Seattle to update its dated Shoreline Master Program to include more stringent measures to prevent “overwater residences” from harming aquatic wildlife, particularly salmon.

Not so fast, says the Seattle Floating Homes Association. The group, which has its own environmental committee (a subcommittee has formed in response to the proposals), recently commissioned its own salmon study and found that houseboats have little impact on the fish since they don’t even come near the houseboats or the shores of Lake Union. Amalia Walton of the Seattle Floating Home Association tells the Seattle P.I.: “I'm really concerned about the salmon, too. But if you're sacrificing people's homes and communities, there has to be some solid science and reasoning behind it."

A primary concern among the houseboating community is that some members will loose their moorage leases or be priced out of their homes once the drafted rules take effect. Margaret Glowacki, a land-use planner and fisheries biologist working with the Seattle Department of Planning and Development, claims that although there is science behind the regulations, houseboaters needn’t worry about being priced out:

It is about balancing the needs of everyone. Essentially, we've got to balance the protection of the environment with development on the water. There's science that leads us to believe that floating structures take away from the habitat for the aquatic species that live in our lakes.
Here's hoping that a comfortable balance is found. I'm curious to see how this plays out as the city’s draft proposals go up for public review in September and are expected to be handed over to the Department of Ecology in June of next year. 

And by the way, there are about 500 houseboats left in Seattle today — in the late 1930s there was many as 2,000.  

Via [The Seattle P.I.]

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

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