DCI Director Updates FOWR Permitting Response

On March 5th, we posted Nathan Torgelson’s (Director of Department of Construction and Inspections) response to our questions regarding permitting for Floating On-Water Residences.  Since that time, the Director of DCI has met with State Senator Jamie Pedersen and representatives of Lake Union Liveaboard Association. As a result of these meetings, DCI has revised their position and we have received an update from Nathan Torgelson.

Updated Email from Nathan Torgelson

In the past couple of weeks I and other SDCI staff have spoken with State Senator Petersen, the Department of Ecology and the Lake Union Liveaboard Association (LULA), and I think all of us can appreciate the complexity of the State and Seattle regulations and procedures surrounding over-water residences. Thank you for your patience as SDCI works through the issues of Floating On Water Residences (FOWR) and House Barges (Barge), and the procedures and regulations surrounding their replacement in Seattle. I am including a number of folks on this email so we can hopefully all be on the same page.

SDCI is in the process of developing a notarized or sworn statement form that the buyer and/or owner of a FOWR/Barge will sign when a FOWR/Barge is replaced, and it will lay out the points spelled out below. I am sorry if previous emails from me have created confusion on this topic. I hope that a forthcoming SDCI “Tip” and “Replacement form” on these issues will provide clarity. I want to emphasize that the points below lay out our general policy thinking at this time. The exact wording may change in the final Tip and Replacement Form.

Please let me know if you have further comments and concerns.


The Washington Administrative Code lays out the policy intent for floating on water residences:

New over-water residences, including floating homes, are not a preferred use and should be prohibited. It is recognized that certain existing communities of floating and/or over-water homes exist and should be reasonably accommodated to allow improvements associated with life safety matters and property rights to be addressed provided that any expansion of existing communities is the minimum necessary to assure consistency with constitutional and other legal limitations that protect private property.

A floating on-water residence legally established prior to July 1, 2014, must be considered a conforming use and accommodated through reasonable shoreline master program regulations, permit conditions, or mitigation that will not effectively preclude maintenance, repair, replacement, and remodeling of existing floating on-water residences and their moorages by rendering these actions impracticable.

Seattle’s Shoreline Code

If an existing FOWR/Barge is replaced in Seattle, the FOWR/Barge status will stay with the replacement structure, and the original FOWR/Barge will no longer have FOWR/Barge status in Washington, nor can it be used as a vessel with a dwelling unit in Seattle.

The form will lay out options for the existing FOWR/Barge that is being replaced. (I acknowledge that previous emails may have confused some of the options laid out below):

  1. The current owner may decommission the FOWR/Barge in a manner that it can no longer be used as an on-water structure or craft in Seattle. An example of this is drilling holes in the hull so that structure will no longer float and moving the structure to dry land. This option may require submitting a permit to SDCI to place the decommissioned FOWR/Barge on dry land where it is allowed.


  2. The current owner may decommission the FOWR/Barge in a manner that it can no longer be used as an on-water structure or craft in Seattle, and then demolish the FOWR/Barge. SDCI would require proof of demolition.


  3. The purchaser may apply for a shoreline substantial development permit for the new location of the former FOWR/Barge in Seattle in a legal location, and at the same time demonstrate that an existing FOWR/Barge will be removed from Seattle waters


  4. The purchaser may remove the former FOWR/Barge from Seattle waters and place it in another Washington jurisdiction subject to that jurisdiction’s current or future regulations. The purchaser must recognize that the former FOWR/Barge cannot be legally established as a FOWR/Barge in another location in Washington.


  5. The purchaser may remove the former FOWR/Barge from Seattle waters and remove from Washington State waters.

The purchaser must agree that if the existing structure leaves Seattle waters if cannot return, and must acknowledge that Seattle’s Shoreline Code has a cap on the total number of FOWRs/Barges, and the overall policy intent of Seattle’s Shoreline Code is to not increase overwater coverage.


I hope this helps clarify some of the issues with FOWRs/Barges

Nathan Torgelson


Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections
O: 206-684-0343 | M: 206-255-2911 | [email protected]
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