Makers of sustainable vessel fight to dock in Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Tucked into Conley's Wharf in South Providence, a ramshackle barge bobs peacefully at the end of a pier off Allens Avenue. The vessel looks more like a floating tree house than a typical motorboat, but owner Zachary Weindel says his home, named Landlord Independent, is a part of the industrial waterfront.

"The boat really blends in, with the cedar poles that stick up and the dock it's kind of an urban camoflage," says Weindel.

Weindel and his friend and shipmate Dan Gladstone began building the boat two years ago out of materials like plastic barrels and recycled wood. It's about 800 square feet, with beams that support a second story. There are two small bunks, a living room with a woodstove, and a composting toilet. Weindel says there's even a nest for their pet raven, Gurgy.

"She just kinda talks when she wants to, right now she's mostly inquisitive and wondering what that thing in your hand is," says Weindel.

Weindel and Gladstone say they see their home as a model for sustainability, but also freedom and mobility. They have a vision for a community of floating homes in Rhode Island. But their future at the wharf has been called into question.

"Our program prohibits mooring of houseboats within all tidal waters of the state, unless within a marina," says Laura Rickerson is a spokeswoman with the Coastal Resources Management Council, or CRMC.

The group is in charge of regulating coastal activity in Rhode Island. The Council has sent a letter to the dock owner asking that the boat relocate to a more suitable location by March 1st. Weindel and Gladstone disagree with the CRMC's assessment.

"It's really a misunderstanding because they cited us as being a houseboat, but we're actually a luxury yacht," says Weindel. "If I have a canoe and I sleep in my canoe, does that make it a houseboat?"

"A lot of the regulation for houseboats, or luxury yachts, is a grey area," says Gladstone.

They say unlike a house boat, their vessel is mobile and travels around Narragansett Bay. But the CRMC's Laura Rickerson is not convinced.

"I don't think it could be considered a yacht, I think that brings to mind a different sort of boating product," she says. "I think we're categorizing it as a houseboat because they're living on it, correct me if I'm wrong but it seems to be some sort of barge setup with salvaged materials."

From their current spot, Weindel and Gladstone have a view of Fox Point, a nearby group of tugboats, and cars passing overhead on 195.

They say they're committed to working with the other stakeholders in the waterfront community, and they think of the CRMC as their allies. But if they have to move, they say they will. They say there are other places to keep the boat that are legal - more or less.

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