The Riverhead town board has decided that when it comes to houseboats, the door is closed for new barges that might want to tie up at local docks.
The board discussed issues surrounding housboats in January; one issue that arose was whether those living on houseboats would have to pay taxes to Riverhead Town.
Deputy Town Attorney Ann Marie Prudenti said after conducting research, it was established that houseboats can be taxed as real property, but there are very set criteria to determine that they are real property, including the manner in which the boat is fixed to the property and if it is easily removable.
"There are a host of lawsuits involving houseboats," Prudenti said. "In most instances, courts have declared houseboats are personal property and not real property."
Councilman John Dunleavy that it's not possible to tax a houseboat because it's moveable.
The board decided to charge a fee to houseboat residents, rather than a tax.
In addition, the proposed legislation, which is up for a vote at Tuesday's town board meeting, would allow those houseboats that have been in existence and occupied for three months to remain, "grandfathering" them in.
"We won't permit any additional houseboats," Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said. "We don't want to see them popping up."
In the event that a houseboat is damaged by a fire or a storm, if the damage is less than 50 percent and the owner can prove that 50 percent of the value of the barge remains, they would be allowed to reconstruct the vessel.
In January, Bryan DeLuca, general manager of the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center, said he was notified by the Suffolk County Department of Health last year that affluents and gray water -- including dishwater and shower water -- were spilling off.
The Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center, DeLuca said, has five house barges on the property at the marina. One belongs to the he said.
The barges currently have five tenants living on the barges both seasonally and year round, DeLuca said.
The Suffolk County Health Department told DeLuca that the house barges, or houseboats, would have to pump the effluents either into a holding tank -- or tie up to the town's sewer system.
"Because the house boats are stationary, there have been some concern with contaminants to the Peconic Estuary," DeLuca said.
The Riverhead Foundation staffers, he said, do not even use the bathrooms on the barge; employees use the facilities inside the Aquarium instead.
DeLuca said in order to remediate the situation and tie up to the sewer system, an $80,000 investment would be necessary. To that end, DeLuca asked for "clarity" from the Riverhead town board as to whether the existing barges could be grandfathered in.
Also, DeLuca said, down the line, the goal would be to allow house barge owners to choose models that are more attractive -- with new houseboats allowed in town, to create a community.
Walter said some municipalities have banned house barges because no taxes are collected from residents living aboard the vessels.
DeLuca said while tax concerns and health department regulations may pose issues across Long Island, around the world, communities of houseboats are being built.
The board ultimately opted to nix the idea for houseboat communities in Riverhead.
Riverhead Town Attorney Bob Kozakiewicz said in 2007, members of the local citizens' advisory committee expressed concerns about the house barges' impact on local waterways. Legislation was drafted and brought to the town board, where it "sort of died on the vine," he said.
Kozakiewicz said legislation is needed to prevent other house barges from coming and to "protect what's here." Other municipalities, he said, have either eliminated houseboats or taken a hybrid approach.
He added that he has looked at practices in Southold, East Hampton, Southampton Town, and Brookhaven Town.