On July 23, 2014, in a case argued by Schwabe lawyer Steve Morasch, the Multnomah County Land Use Hearings Officer issued an important decision directly affecting all marinas and moorages along Multnomah Channel. The decision holds that houseboats are not "permanent single-family dwellings" subject to the Goal 14 implementing rule limiting the density of such dwellings to two acres per dwelling. The decision further holds that the current rules governing houseboat moorages and marinas adopted in 1997—which allow houseboat moorages to be expanded in certain areas along Multnomah Channel up to a density of one houseboat per 50 feet of frontage—are "acknowledged" under Oregon's land use program and are therefore immune to challenge.
Although the decision, which could still be appealed, directly affects only marinas and moorages along Multnomah Channel, the logic and reasoning behind the decision may have implications for houseboat moorages and marinas throughout the state.
Several anti-development activists, including a member of the Multnomah County Planning Commission, as well as noted land use attorneys, have been opposing any new houseboats, arguing that houseboat marinas are prohibited in rural areas by statewide planning Goal 14 (which limits urban densities to urban areas) and that houseboats are prohibited everywhere in Oregon by Goal 15 (which reserves Oregon's waterways for water dependent and water related uses).
In another case also argued by Mr. Morasch, a different Multnomah County Land Use Hearings Officer held on May 30, 2014, that houseboats were a water dependent use allowed by Goal 15, and that the County's existing rules allowing houseboat marinas and moorages were "acknowledged" and therefore immune to challenge.
Despite winning two strong victories, the battle over houseboat marinas and moorages is not quite over. Multnomah County is considering whether to revise its long-standing rules allowing houseboat marinas and will hold a Planning Commission hearing on October 6, 2014, in the Multnomah County Building, Room 100, 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, OR 97208. These two hearings officer decisions will play an important role in that debate, since the County planning staff and the anti-development activists had been arguing that the existing rules violated Goals 14 and 15 and must be amended to comply with the state law.
Now, because of these two hearings officer decisions, it appears that the question of whether to continue allowing houseboats along Multnomah Channel is an open political question, since two different hearings officers have held that the existing rules allowing houseboats fully comply with state law. Depending on how the situation turns out in Multnomah County, other jurisdictions may follow suit, so this has potential to become a statewide issue.