PORT CLINTON - In about two weeks, Port Clinton City Council members must make a decision that could forever change how some people live in the Ottawa County city.
Council must decide whether to allow a local real estate group's plan for homes on Lake Erie - literally.
Real estate developer Bill Vandergiessen, who owns and manages Coastal Floating Homes, a Port Clinton company selling stationary dwellings that float, has 10 houses built in the Coastal Marine II subdivision on Lakeshore Drive and wants to expand.
He said the city's waterfront is under-utilized and one day floating homes may become as popular in Port Clinton as they are in other coastal states such as Florida and Washington.
"There are a lot of marina operators that are watching what we're doing here," he said.
Two of the Coastal Marine II floating homes have been sold already.
"In order to go beyond the 10 homes, we'd have to go back to the city planning people and request that," Mr. Vandergiessen said. "We have room and are planning to install [about] 80 homes."
Mr. Vandergiessen began asking the city about building a floating neighborhood during a May, 2007, visit to the city's zoning department.
"[He] asked for a zoning permit for floating dwellings," Zoning Inspector Jennifer Burris said. "They did not fall within our zoning code; however, we give them a special permit for 10 dwellings until such a time that we could get the zoning ordinance changed to have a definition and permitted uses."
For more than a year, city officials have been drafting an ordinance that defines exactly what floating dwellings are and where they should be allowed to be built.
The ordinance's third and final reading will be presented before City Council Oct. 14, when council members must vote yea or nay.
"It took us that long to get the ordi-nance prepared," Ms. Burris said.
The zoning inspector said city officials wanted to make sure the floating dwelling definition did not allow for any person with a boat to park his or her floating craft along the shore and call it a house.
"Floating dwellings cannot be self-propelled. They cannot have a motor," she said. "They have to be built to the state of Ohio building standards."
Coastal Marine's floating homes are one to two-story houses, ranging from 700 to 1,100 sq. ft. with one to three bedrooms and one or two bathrooms.
They have space on either side for boats and other nautical vessels to park.
Mr. Vandergiessen said they are equipped with city water and sewer lines as well as an electric utility system.
They are tethered to the lake bed by several dense, metal poles that are anchored about 25 feet in the ground, and as the water rises and falls, so do the houses.
But when standing in one of the homes it is hard to tell that it is floating.
"On an extreme day with high winds, you'll feel it tug a little bit," said Ron Wolf, sales manager for Coastal Marine II and Coastal Floating Homes. "On a day like today [Friday], you can see the water moving a little bit, but we don't have wave action out here and it's just like standing on the black top."
Mr. Wolf said the homes aren't affected by floods because they float and are tethered to the lake bed.
They also are equipped with a "bubbler system," for winter months to keep the water under and around the houses from freezing when the rest of the lake does.
"It circulates the warmer water under the home and around the home," Mr. Wolf said. "You'll still see surface ice around the edges of the home, but what we're trying to prevent is getting the hard ice, the thick ice to freeze although it won't hurt the foundation."
Mr. Vandergiessen said once the floating neighborhood is completed, it will be a gated community with 24-hour security that caters to customers looking for a second vacation home on lakefront property.
"One of the greatest resources in this area in general is Lake Erie. It's a multibillion dollar resource. There's absolutely no reason in the world if people in the Netherlands and people in Seattle are living on the water, that you can't do it in Port Clinton," he said.
Mr. Vandergiessen said the houses cost $129,000 to $220,000, which are much more affordable than much lakefront property.
Although homeowners must pay $350 to $420 per month to rent lake space in the Lakeshore Drive subdivision, they do not have to pay real estate taxes because those are paid by the leasing company.
"The subdivision will have a swimming pool and a community building, everything you'd expect to find in an upscale type of residential community, be it condominium or single-family dwelling," he said.
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