The Seattle Times has finally caught on to a quacking big controversy: plans for a boat ramp for Ride The Ducks on Eastlake Avenue next to the little park named for beloved houseboat protector Terry Pettus.
Naturally, we're not talking about the feathered sort of aquatic fowl but the motorized tourist vehicles that you see full of screaming passengers, tearing around city streets, honking horns and terrorizing small children. Curbed readers learned all about these Eastlake plans back in October.
Despite his New England accent, Ride The Ducks owner Brian Tracey is a longtime Seattle resident. He was the original host of KING TV's Evening Magazine. Today, he owns 11 Ducks, so-named because the original models, called DUKWs, were modified GM trucks used as landing craft in World War II. (The Seafair Pirates have one of their own, "Moby Duck.") And very popular they are, running 90-minute land-and-water loops from departure points at the foot of the Space Needle and Westlake Park.
The water portion of the trip currently launches from the public Sunnyside boat ramp on the north side of Lake Union, and neighbors there have been quacking for years that a public facility in their backyard (so to speak) is used up to 30 times a day for private purposes. Tracey recognizes the problem, so a couple of years ago he paid $1.5 million for part of a waterfront warehouse on Eastlake, originally used to support NOAA's research ships before they were redeployed to Sand Point. That's where Tracey wants to build a new boat ramp for his Ducks, but his Eastlake neighbors are no less noisy in protest.
In October, 2012, they started circulating petitions, invoking the Shoreline Management Act, among other statutes. In fact, the SLA is pretty clear in allowing for commercial use of "aquatic and marine-related activities." So they've turned instead to what happens on land: two-ton trucks roaring through their peaceful waterfront community of apartments and houseboats.
It didn't help that a Duck ran over and dragged a motorcyclist last November in the middle of downtown. (The lawsuit hasn't been heard yet; Ride the Ducks has no comment.) It doesn't help the neighbors that the City's Department of Economic Development is solidly in favor of the project. On the other side: the Department of Parks and Recreation, which sees infringements on two of its properties: the Cheshiahud Loop Trail around Lake Union, and the tranquil little park named for Terry Pettus (1904-1984),
"We know that Lake Union is mixed use, industrial and residential, and we don't mind the shipbuilding barges or even the seaplanes," said neighbor Karen Lorene, who owns a jewelry shop downtown and lives on a houseboat near the park. Her concern is that the Ducks are heavy trucks filled with roistering passengers, and that their passage will disrupt the entire neighborhood. "This isn't what we signed up for."