City Council: Rule change would protect Lake Union liveaboards

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on December 12, 2012 at 1:57 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 12 at 7:38 PM

Members of a Seattle City Council panel on Wednesday said the council will consider changes to a citywide shoreline management plan to save 150 embattled liveaboard homes on Lake Union.

Seattle's Dept. of Planning & Development is proposing an amnesty program that would allow most current houseboats to stay put.

But members of the Lake Union Liveaboard Association on Wednesday told the council's Planning, Land Use and Sustainability committee they would prefer a "grandfather" program because they say "amnesty" implies their homes are in violation of the law, which they say is not the case.

The issue before the council does not involve the more than 400 floating homes on Lake Union -- the residences made famous in postcards and the movie "Sleepless in Seattle." The city is not proposing any rules changes that would endanger these homes.

At issue are the 150 ships moored around the lake that are used as homes. Many of the ships have been substantially modified to reflect the fact that they are in fact permanent homes, not to be used for navigation.

People living on these vessels said a new shoreline plan introduced in the city council earlier this year didn't address their unique class of homes. They said the city could order their homes removed from the lake unless the plan was modified to make specific reference to them.

Richard Conlin, the councilman who chairs the planning committee and who introduced the new shoreline plan, has said his intent was not to leave the 150 liveaboards in limbo.

But a representative from the state Department of Ecology expressed to Conlin's committee concerns about whether an amnesty program is viable.

"The shorelines are designed for ecological protection, water-dependent use and public access. So we're trying to find a way to help the people who need help but we've come up againstthat boundary that ecology has defined," Conlin said. 

City officials plan to meet with the state to find a compromise that will satisfy all parties, and they said they hope to have an announcement in the coming days.

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