Port of Poulsbo wants to accommodate more liveaboards, but city may have a say

POULSBO — The Port of Poulsbo is floating an idea past city officials with hopes of putting more residents downtown, full-time. Its method of doing so: liveaboards.

Marinas not only can host recreational vessels for seasonal mariners, but also homes for people that live aboard their boats full-time.

“There’s demand for liveaboards,” Port Commissioner Jim Rutledge said. “We feel liveaboards enhance the marina’s security and increase the number of people downtown, so they increase the number of people using downtown businesses.”

But the road to putting more liveaboards downtown may not be an easy route. The port must first cross a bureaucratic bridge and ultimately get approval from the Poulsbo City Council. The main reason for the journey: a 31-year-old agreement with the city.

“Along with an agreement with the city for the parking slips in front of the permanent moorage was an agreement not to increase the number of liveaboards without providing additional parking,” Rutledge said.

In 1983, the port sought to expand its marina by 24 transient slips and two seaplane berths, and also construct a restroom facility on shore. The City Council at the time approved the additions, but on the condition that the port limit liveaboards to 12.

The council reasoned that downtown parking was tight, reflecting common complaints about downtown parking today. Liveaboards would therefore take up space in an already competitive parking area. But the port has since established its own parking lot on Jensen Way that can accommodate liveaboards and more.

“In response to tenant requests and demand, we’ve been asked to get approval for the new liveaboard spots and (the Jensen Way parking lot) is the additional parking we have to offer up for that,” Rutledge said.

Mayor Becky Erickson and city planning department officials met with Port Commissioner Steve Swann and Port Manager Brad Miller on March 11 to discuss the idea.

“If the port is very serious about wanting to increase liveaboards, then they need to go through a process on how they will increase parking,” Erickson said. “They will need to work it through our system, put it through to the council.”

She added, “We are willing to have conversations with the port. But until they give us a formal proposal on what this will look like, then we don’t know what the city’s position will be.”

Erickson points to parking as a key issue. More downtown residents means more parking needs, among other considerations. She also notes that the port was supposed to add one parking space for every two boat slips it has, something that the city has failed to enforce.

“Now they have created the parking lot on Jensen, which we are grateful for, but the fact remains is they are still short on parking for what they have now,” Erickson said. “They haven’t created enough over time to keep up with the slips they have.

“They just can’t walk in the door and say, ‘We want more liveaboards.’ They have to say what the parking will be, what the sanitary situation will be. Then they take it to the council, and they will decide.”

Erickson said that adding liveaboards downtown is akin to adding a small housing development or an apartment complex on land. Considerations for traffic, parking, sewer and more must be made.

“If you’re going to do something that is going to impact Liberty Bay, we’ve got to make sure we mitigate that impact,” she said.

The state Department of Natural Resources caps the number of liveaboards at a marina at 10 percent of its total slips. For example, if a marina has 100 slips, then 10 slips can be occupied by people who live on their boats.

With 384 boat slips split between permanent and guest moorage, the port could therefore host approximately 38 liveaboard residents. But the port is far shy of that number.

“We have 12 people with liveaboard status, but only about half of those are literally liveaboards,” Rutledge said.

Six boaters actually live aboard their vessels full-time. Part of the reason some have sought liveaboard status, yet without living aboard full-time, is because the port’s definition of a liveabaord has been somewhat restrictive. Boaters who spend a lot of time on their boats during summer days and nights risk fitting the definition of liveaboard. The port abandoned its former definition at its March 6 meeting and adopted the state’s guidelines for liveaboards. In doing so, port commissioners hope to free up a few slips for full-time marine residents.

State regulations consider liveaboards anyone who resides on a vessel more than 30 days out of a 40-day period, or 90 days out of a 365-day period.

Rutledge notes that the port is also pursuing other means of adding downtown parking. The port is considering buying the former city hall property on Jensen Way. Port commissioners are investigating a variety of possible projects for the site, each focusing on parking as its nexus.

Rutledge said it will play into future possibilities for downtown development, such as the city’s long talked of prospect of turning Anderson Parkway into a pedestrian park.

“The only way that’s going to occur is if we provide ... a greater magnitude of parking downtown,” he said.

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