Environmental and Privacy Concerns Raised Over Luxury Floating Home

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Environmental and Privacy Concerns Raised Over Luxury Floating Home:

Miami Beach Commission will discuss vessel touted as home of the future

Arkup’s livable yacht has been touted as a “home of the future,” one solution to sea level rise, urban growth, and energy independence. The prototype is by now familiar to many who have seen it docked in various places in Biscayne Bay. Its developers say it is more environmentally friendly than other vessels but local residents are challenging that, questioning the impact of the spuds or “legs” that anchor it to the bay’s bottom.

Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola says he’s been contacted by a number of residents from the South of Fifth, West Avenue, Palm/Hibiscus/Star Islands and Venetian Islands neighborhoods who have raised not only environmental concerns but concerns about the floating home's impact on privacy and quality of life. Arriola has sponsored a discussion item at this week’s Commission meeting to “explore ways to regulate these houseboats, including working with the State of Florida to prohibit them in Florida’s coastal waters.”
Arkup’s first floating home was unveiled during this year’s Miami Boat Show. It is seventy-five feet in length, contains 4 bedrooms, 4.5 baths, and an open kitchen and large living area in 4,350 square feet. It’s price: $5.5 million.
There’s plenty of glass and outdoor space to connect owners with the water and the natural environment wherever it is. It’s fully solar-powered and runs silent and clean according to its developers. They also say its hydraulic spuds (or “legs”), stabilize the yacht in a more environmentally friendly way than a traditional anchor, lifting it out of the water and protecting it from the effect of waves and tropical winds. Impact resistant glass and a steel hull allow the home to withstand category 4 hurricane-force winds up to 155 mph.
Eventually, the developers hope what they learn with their first efforts at creating the home of the future can be applied to floating communities and resilient housing for the age of sea level rise.
Since the Boat Show, Arkup’s floating home has been docked in various locations but its current spot at the Suntex Marina South of Fifth puts it in front of William Beach’s townhome at the Murano along the Baywalk. He said he and his wife used to enjoy their outdoor space facing Government Cut, watching the cruise ships and enjoying the view. But that view has been blocked by the new dock location of the Arkup vessel.
Beach said, “I love the houseboat,” but he added, “It does not belong here.” It would fit in “down in Key West with a bunch of other houseboats, but it does not belong in Miami Beach,” he said.
Many of his neigbhors share his concerns, Beach said. “As a businessman, I would not want one boat to create such a hostility for so many residents in Miami Beach.” He’s hopeful Suntex will address the issue. Though he said “It’s a beautiful structure,” he reiterated his objection about its location. “It’s right in front of a residential property… it does not belong there.” 
Roger Shields, a real estate professional and long-time resident of Miami Beach, objects to the anchoring system. “The average homeowner or business owner who wants to put in a single piling has to go through an extensive permit process which is in place for multiple reasons including the highly sensitive and protected environment of our marine life. The law needs to be followed across the board including floating home owners,” which he points out is to protect the environment. Divers, he said, inspect every square inch of the bay bottom in the permit process “to make sure that nothing sensitive is there.” 
“Everyone else has to comply with the law and that should be the same for the trend of floating homes,” he said.  When asked about Arkup’s claims that the spuds are better than the impact of an anchor, Shields said, “People aren’t necessarily supposed to be anchoring all over the place. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
In a text exchange, Dave Doebler, Chair of the City’s Sustainability Committee said he shares some of the concerns. “I’ve been on the boat. It’s very nice – super high end and self-sustaining. Runs on solar power and I think rainwater and onboard sewage treatment – they did a lot of it right. The only environmental concern I have is when they put the feet down onto the floor to stabilize and raise it. They don’t have cameras to make sure there’s nothing underneath them so what are they stepping on? But honestly that’s no different than any other boat throwing an anchor in the middle of the bay into coral and sea grass.”
He said he understand concerns over quality of life and blocking of someone’s view by the Arkup vessel, “but it is public waters” and no different than someone blocking a view by building a structure on their property. “Sucks, but you can’t restrict that,” he wrote.
Doebler has a bigger concern. “If the city really cared about environmental issues from boats, they would turn the waters outside of Maurice [Gibb] Park into an organized mooring bay with a dock master and pump out stations for poop and charge a fee and restrict how many days you can be there.” He cited “all kinds of derelict boats… that don’t operate under their own power” that are anchored around Sunset Harbour while those who live on them “just throw trash and poop straight into the water.”
Arriola is supporting a mooring field for the area. Commissioners authorized the hiring of a consultant to do a feasibility study on the idea which will include a hydrographic survey, seagrass survey, conceptual designs of a mooring field, upland programming possibilities such as a pump out station or Dockmaster office, cost estimates and funding opportunities.
“As a kayaker who used to live facing that area, it’s an absolutely brilliant idea,” Doebler wrote in a text message. “I think that gives the marine cops the ability to then regulate mooring / parking outside of that area. The biggest issue is getting people to properly empty their poop tanks. Huge water quality issue. Right now the bay is [the] Wild Wild West.”
It’s not just Sunset Harbour, Doebler added. “We should also put up mooring balls in the water between hibiscus / palm and star island. People always anchored and I’m sure it tears up whatever is under water.”
Back to the Arkup discussion item… RE:MiamiBeach reached out to Suntex regarding length of the lease and what they’re hearing from neighbors. After a brief hold, a woman who answered the phone said, “We’re not going to make a comment at this time regarding Arkup.”
The City does not have the ability to take action on its own. Melissa Berthier, a City spokeswoman told us, “The State of Florida preempts the City of Miami Beach from enacting any legislation that would prohibit houseboats or live-aboard vessels within the territorial jurisdiction of the City of Miami Beach" which is why Arriola wants the City to explore the options with the State.
Nicolas Derouin, Arkup’s CEO, was not available for comment.

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