New rules could sink many Seattle houseboats

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by ERIC WILKINSON / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on October 19, 2012 at 5:12 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 19 at 5:29 PM

Calder Mihlon has lived his whole life on the water. All five months. His mom, though, worries how much longer he has on their Lake Union houseboat.

“Honestly, I don't know how many things might be illegal about our house,” said Nancy Mihlon.

Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development is floating 300 pages of new regulations for Seattle's waterway residences. It’s would be a major overhaul of the city’s Shoreline Management Plan. 

Among the proposed rules, according to homeowners: no windows or siding that are used for homes built on land. Essentially, the liveaboards say, nothing that would make a houseboat look like a house.

Many of the floating homes on Lake Union look like they could sit on any city street, with all the modern conveniences. But for reasons Nancy Mihlon can’t understand, the walls around her bathroom would have to come down because they’re built with 2 x 4s instead of 2 x 2s.

“It doesn't have anything to do with the seaworthiness of the boat, or the environmental impact of living on the water,” she said.

Some of the possible rule changes are much more substantial and are anchored in alleviating the environmental impact liveaboards have on the lake. According to the Lake Union Liveaboard Association (LULA), the city could force homeowners to capture and dispose of sink and shower water, also known as “graywater.” That, however, is something many here on the lake say they can’t afford, let alone have room for in their cramped quarters.

“I have no idea where we could put a water storage tank that would hold enough water for a week,” said Mihlon. “We’re a family of three.”

Right now, Mihlon says all food and garbage go in the trash, the rest into the lake.

“There’s hardly anything that goes into the water,” she said. “We even use biodegradable soap.”

Some fear passage of the new rules could mean the end for about 150 of the 600 or so families living on the lake.

“So, what are we gonna do?” asked LULA Vice President John Chaney. “Are we gonna float away somewhere else? Will our vessels be worthless? We have mortgages. This is where we live!”

No one from the DPD was available for an interview for this story. The city is continuing to work on the regulations. A committee meeting is scheduled for October 26.

Some doubt the Seattle City Council will pass many of the proposed changes, but the graywater issue is most likely to stick.

“The proposals have changed four times, so far,” said Chaney. “We just want some clarity.”

 “It would be nice to have some firm footing out here on the water,” said Mihlon,  
  

 

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