Commissioners try to balance boathouse policy with private owners’ interest

It was a small meeting, but the issue was quite large for those in attendance: What is the Port of Poulsbo going to do about its boathouse policy? "Regulations are really meant for boats, and not boathouses," Port Commission President Mark DeSalvo said. "We don't have anything that relates to boathouses."

POULSBO — It was a small meeting, but the issue was quite large for those in attendance: What is the Port of Poulsbo going to do about its boathouse policy?

“Regulations are really meant for boats, and not boathouses,” Port Commission President Mark DeSalvo said. “We don’t have anything that relates to boathouses.”

Boathouses are privately owned at the port’s marina, yet they are moored in a rented slip like any other boat. The port’s policy is that slips cannot be transferred with the sale of a boat. It is no different for boathouses. That policy has not been followed over the years; boathouse owners have sold their structures and the new owners have taken over its slip. Legal counsel for the port has told commissioners that they need to create a solid policy and follow it.

Commissioners DeSalvo, Jim Rutledge and Stephen Swann hosted a community meeting at Poulsbo City Hall on Jan. 15. It was meant for a discussion between the public and commissioners to forge a path forward on an emerging issue. No decisions were made and little agreement reached on aspects of the issue. Rather, there was back-and-forth between 13 concerned constituents and the three commissioners. “When (a boathouse) is sold, it’s like a boat. This is something that needs to be resolved,” DeSalvo said, noting that boathouses are not like boats and should perhaps be treated differently.

Recent incidents involving a boathouse at the port have shed light on the port’s slip transfer policies, lack of enforcement, and more. But creating a new policy, or simply adhering to the existing one, has created debate between commissioners and boathouse owners.

“To qualify this discussion anything other than putting in a place a new policy is disingenuous,” said Bob Johnson, a boathouse owner who attended the Jan. 15 meeting. “The policy of the Port of Poulsbo has been to transfer the slip to a buyer. It’s not just the policy of the Port of Poulsbo, but the Port of Everett and any other port I’ve contacted in Puget Sound.”

But some commissioners don’t see it that way.

“You call it a change of policy, I call it lack of enforcement,” Swann said.

The issue gets further complicated when taking into account that the marina has a wait list for slips. One idea has been floated to create different wait lists for boathouses and boats. But if such a policy is made, what happens to those that have waited years on the list for a slip?

“I have spent over $4,000 maintaining the maintenance and refloating my boathouse,” Johnson said. “When I go to sell it, I should be able to sell it to whoever I want to. They should have a right to come to the port as long as they qualify. Not a situation where someone has to go on a waiting list.”

Then there is the financial issue.

“The other thing is the valuation of a location on public land,” DeSalvo said. “The person doesn’t own the public land, but is going to sell it and make a profit off of it. How do we justify that and not violate public trust?”

The port doesn’t want to put itself in the place of allowing profit off of a public asset. Since the port is a public entity, it cannot be a factor for profit for private sales. If the location of Poulsbo’s marina is a factor in the price of a boathouse, it could be a problem for the port.

“First off, I’ll start by saying anyone who buys a boat is crazy, and anyone who buys a boathouse is crazy, and I bought two boathouses,” Butch Lundin said.

Lundin said boathouses often come with a boat that needs extra protection, such as a wooden boat, and that should be a consideration. He also said that boathouses are difficult to come by in the area.

“I’ve been looking for a boathouse over here for four years, there’s one for $31,000 that no one is looking at. I offered $25,000 for it, and the guy turned me down.”

Commissioners left the meeting with more information to weigh.

Councilman David Musgrove also attended the meeting, and offered some parting advice to the commissioners.

“Look longterm,” Musgrove said. “Whatever your solution is, whatever you think the problem is, look longterm, for the longevity for the boathouses in Poulsbo. That (solution) may not be what you want. But we don’t want a solution that in 10 years the boathouses are gone. We want them here for the next 50 years.”

He added, “If it’s in the public’s interest of retaining them here in Poulsbo, you might want to keep that in mind.”