This Rule clarifies the extent to which floating homes located beyond the Construction Limit Line in Lake Union may be remodeled. Clarification is necessary because the language of Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) Section 23.60.014B7, if construed to prohibit even those structural modifications which do not increase the footprint or water coverage of such a floating home, would be at odds both with the standards in Title 23 and with the practice and understanding between the City and the State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) with respect to these floating homes. Therefore, it is necessary to clarify the meaning of SMC Section 23.60.014B7 in light of the apparent legislative intent for the remodeling of these floating homes.
Section 23.60.014B7 of the Land Use Code states:
While Section 23.60.014B7b prohibits any structure including floating homes beyond the Construction Limit Line in Lake Union, it provides for an exception for the maintenance of floating homes which are already in existence at such location prior to December 18, 1968. This exception recognizes the status of these floating homes as "lawful, nonconforming" structures, and allows their continued existence so long as they are "not extended, expanded, or structurally altered."
It has been the practice and understanding between the City and the DNR to allow the remodeling of such floating homes, so long as there is no change or increase in the dimension or water coverage of the float already in existence. Neither agency has interpreted the Code to strictly prohibit any remodeling. Expansion of these structures has been permitted within the limits generally applicable to nonconforming floating homes moorage. These limits, including no extension over water "beyond the edge of the existing float," are specifically stated under SMC Section 23.60.196.C.1.
Remodeling of a nonconforming floating home located in whole or in part outside the Construction Limit Line in Lake Union prior to December 18, 1968 shall be permitted so long as the remodeling does not extend, expand, or structurally alter the floating home beyond the footprint or coverage of the float already in existence.
Remodeling of such floating homes shall also satisfy the development standards of SMC Section 23.60.196.C.1 for structures in nonconforming floating home moorage.
For purposes of this Rule, permitted "remodeling" shall include the removal and replacement of all or part of the float and superstructure, so long as the replacement has been performed within twelve months of the removal or demolition, and so long as the replacement structure is within the footprint, or area covered, by the original structure. If a floating home subject to this rule is to be replaced in this manner, application for permits associated with the replacement structure, including but not limited to SEPA review and a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit, shall be made at the same time as application for the demolition permit.
A review of the legislative history shows that the goal of the original Title 24 provision restricting floating home remodeling is not the eventual extinction of these nonconforming structures. Rather, the thrust of the legislative intent is to implement the concern of the United States Army Corp of Engineers to protect navigable waters from further encroachment by unwarranted expansion of floating homes.
When the City Council first established the Lake Union Construction Limit Line in May, 1964 under Ordinance 92887, the Ordinance posed the warning that "it is unlawful to erect, construct, or maintain any building or structure" outside of the Construction Limit Line. In October, 1977, Ordinance 92887 was amended to provide for an exception for the remodeling of floating homes already in existence. This new Ordinance, No. 106804, which is the same Ordinance that enacted SMC Section 24.82.020 of Title 24, refers to "December 18, 1968," as the threshold or qualifying date for the pre-existing floating homes to legalize their nonconforming status. This was the date when the United States Army Corps of Engineers issued an order to require "Section 10 permits" for any structures located in navigable waters (see Resolution 25508, which provided for the passage of Ordinance 106804). Under this order, the Army Corps of Engineers allowed the continued existence of floating homes pre-existing as of December 18, 1968, but prohibited any expansion of such structures that would further encroach the navigable waters. Incorporation of this particular date into Ordinance 106804 suggests that the City Council’s intent, in restricting the remodeling of these floating homes, was merely to reflect limits imposed by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The legislative reading of SMC Section 24.82.020 under this Rule to allow the referenced nonconforming houseboats "to remain" is also supported by the following recommendation found in Resolution 25508:
In 1995, the text of Section 24.82.020 was transferred verbatim to Title 23 (Section 23.60.014B7).
Finally, the interpretation of SMC Section 23.60.014B7 under this Rule is consistent with the Implementation Guidelines of the Goals and Policies of the Seattle Shoreline Master Program, to "preserve the existing floating home community in recognition of its historic role in Lake Union and Portage Bay . . ." (Guidelines A2 and A7).
In some cases, it is impractical to perform repairs while a floating home is in place, such as when, due to normal deterioration, the entire float must be replaced. In such cases, the rule logically extends to permitting the temporary removal and replacement of the nonconforming floating home float and its superstructure in lieu of requiring that repairs be made in situ, so long as it is made clear, at the time the permit application is made, that the removal is temporary, and so long as the structure is replaced in a timely manner.