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The Globe and Mail

Okanagan houseboats increasingly unwelcome

Keith Newcomb of Kelowna has had a houseboat on Okanagan Lake since 1983, and feels people discriminate against houseboaters because of a perception that they're 'trailer trash.'

daniel hayduk The Globe and Mail

Thirteen houseboats on Okanagan Lake are once again looking for new homes after getting the heave-ho from the municipality of West Kelowna. But with fewer and fewer places willing to accept them, it's unclear where the much-maligned vessels will go.

The houseboats first occupied West Kelowna's Gellatly Bay in October, 2008, when the newly incorporated municipality was less than a year old.

"The boats arrived pretty much as a flotilla over a two- or three-week period," said West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater. "We've hosted them unhappily out there ever since."

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For a year and half, the local government was powerless to do anything about the houseboats, despite complaints from nearby residents who consider them an eyesore, because it didn't yet have control of its foreshore.

But now West Kelowna has signed a joint management agreement with the Westbank First Nation, which claims the bay as part of its traditional territory, and the province has given the municipality the right to regulate its use.

So on Monday, boat owners were notified they have 30 days to move.

"It's our front yard. It's like having somebody come and plunk an RV right on your grass," said Mr. Findlater, explaining why residents finds the houseboats so offensive. "People are using our bay to store their boats."

He added that while the houseboats don't pay anything to be in the bay, they make it harder for other users - such as kayakers and canoeists - to access it.

Some of the houseboats' most vocal opponents live on Angus Drive, whose large million-dollar homes have unobstructed views of the bay.

"I don't like looking down every day at that," said Angus Drive resident Steve Smith, adding that the effect of the houseboats on his view is driving down his property value.

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As far as he is concerned, the boat owners are essentially squatters who are taking away from other people's ability to enjoy the bay.

"Why can't we water-ski through there? Because of 13, 14 houseboats that are permanently sitting there as anchors," he said.

The problem for houseboat owners is that even if they want to leave, there are not many places left on Okanagan Lake for them to go. The exodus to West Kelowna coincided with a move by the City of Kelowna to ban houseboats from a protected bay on its side of the lake and a decision by a nearby marina to no longer accommodate houseboats.

Keith Newcomb lives in Kelowna and has had a houseboat on Okanagan Lake since 1983. He moored his boat in West Kelowna after he was kicked out of the marina. Of the boats currently in the bay, he said, only one is used as a permanent residence. The rest, including his, are pleasure craft used to cruise the lake by people who live on shore.

"Just like any other boat out here," he added. "We're just shaped a little different. We have a bigger cabin, we're on pontoons."

He said people discriminate against houseboats because of negative stereotypes that portray their owners as a kind of "trailer trash."

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"I've spent a lot of money setting up this boat and keeping it maintained," he said. "It's my lifestyle."

Ideally, Mr. Newcomb would like to pay for a spot in a marina, but "there's no marinas that will take us and any marinas that are being built are excluding houseboats," he said.

It seems neither the private sector nor local government wants to accommodate houseboats on Okanagan Lake.

"In all honesty, we've had our fill of houseboats," Mr. Findlater said, before suggesting houseboat owners look to other lakes in the B.C. Interior, "where houseboating is big business."

But Mr. Newcomb has no intention of leaving. "I will find another bay," he said, "and I will keep moving from bay to bay to bay."

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