Many people took issue with my post about Lake Union liveaboards yesterday, where I outlined a fight happening right now between the City of Seattle and a group of homeowners who are afraid that their floating homes on Lake Union are going to become illegal if the city updates its shoreline regulations. (If you don't know what the fuck I'm talking about, you can play catch up here.)

Some Lake Union residents contend that I have my facts wrong—that this fight isn't really about what the Department of Planning and Development estimates are 100-odd illegal house-barges (think a floating house with an outdoor motor slapped on the back) that have popped up over the last 20 years. Instead, they say that its the city's changing definition of the word "vessel" that will render them all suddenly illegal.

Here is the DPD's current definition of a "vessel":
"'Vessel' means ships, boats, barges, or any other floating craft which are designed and used for navigation and do not interfere with the normal public use of the water, including historic ships which do not have a means of self-propulsion and steering equipment."

If your home didn't fit this definition of a vessel, then it was either a houseboat (i.e. a floating home permitted through the DPD) or a house-barge, which have been illegal since 1990 (with 34 grandfathered-in exceptions).

Now let's take a look at this new definition, which clarifies how DPD determines what a "vessel" is:


Call me crazy but "designed and used for navigation" and "designed primarily for recreational or commercial navigation" do not seem dramatically different. It seems to me that some homeowners have been liberally applying the term "vessel" to fit their housing needs, instead of using the definition as a guideline to what their house could be, which is why the DPD felt the need to offer up this clarifying definition in its update.

But I could be wrong—it's happened before. I've contacted several homeowners and the Lake Union Liveabord Association to see if they can provide me with examples of legal, permitted homes that will suddenly become illegal if these new regulations are passed. (And, as always, people are free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments.)

Like I mentioned yesterday, the DPD states that people are still welcome to live on their vessels—you know, boats designed and used for navigation. And all permitted houseboats would be grandfathered in with the new rules.

And I'd like to point out one final thing: The DPD isn't in the habit of proactively storming into people's residences, citing them for violations, and/or kicking them out of their homes. They're a complaint-based department, meaning they won't come sniffing around your home unless someone complains about you.

So I think the wisest course of action is to be nice to your neighbors, Lake Union residents.