WILMINGTON—The city’s newest residential development, The Strands, will be 75 houseboats moored at the Port City Marina. Recently announced by developer Chuck Schoninger, many have asked: what will it look like, and how will it work?
Schoninger, who founded USA InvestCo and is also responsible for Pier 33, the Marina Grill and other projects on the Riverwalk, said the idea came to him when he realized how many “liveaboards” were essentially residing in their boats at the Port City Marina.
Related story: City looking into legal and zoning issues around ‘houseboat community’ plan for downtown marina
“I realized, I have 18 liveaboards,” Schoninger said. “You’re cramped, you’ve got no room, you can barely stand up in your shower, and the toilet is, you know, like an airplane toilet – why not live in an actual house?”
Schoninger is converting the southern two docks, of the Port City Marina to accommodate the houseboats.
The Strands’ Houseboats
The houseboats come in three basic models – with one, two or three bedrooms – all built on the same 16-by-40-foot barge frame, constructed across the Cape Fear River at Atlantic Coast Construction.
Each comes with a 50 to 60 horsepower motor, enough to take the house out on the Cape Fear River, although not enough for ocean travel – neither the motor or stabilization system of the houseboats are designed for that.
Each houseboat is further customizable. According to Schoninger, buyers will spend up to 12 hours with a designer going over the general layout – want a hot tub on the second floor? That’s an option – and the finer points as well.
“This is going to be a place to live, a place to have friends over, so we’ll work with you to get it the way you want,” Schoninger said.
The houseboats are true boats though, with a hull identification number and state registry, so owners will pay taxes on them as boats, not as city or county property tax.
So what about power, water, and sewage?
While docked, the houseboats will have a 100 amp power connection, more than enough to “vacuum, have hot water and run the A/C at full blast without worrying,” as Schoninger put it. Generator and battery systems can be added, for those who plan on traveling. The marina will also provide temporary connections to CFPUA water.
The houseboats also have a 650-gallon blackwater septic tank; Port City Marina has the ability to empty those tanks into the CFPUA sewer system and is on the NCDEQ’s list of clean marinas.
Houseboat community, or rather, communities
Schoninger’s goal is to create a community feel between likeminded people.
“That was a light bulb for me,” Schoninger said. “Was having it be a real neighborhood – fun stuff like painted road lines on the docks, we’ve talked about little neighborhood speed limits signs, like ‘maximum speed 3.5 miles per hour.”
Schoninger is also working out the logistics of delivering mail and packages from online retailers like Amazon – popular with those who live on boats and who might not have a car to go to conventional stores.
But, for those with cars, Schoninger said he would make sure he added parking spaces to his current complex to accommodate drivers.
Ultimately, Schoninger sees The Strands as a test run for a more ambitious project to build houseboat communities up and down the southern East Coast.
“After Wilmington, we’ll see how people react, what works and what doesn’t, but then we’d like to go to Charleston, Savannah, ultimately all the major cities south of the Mason Dixon line,” Schoninger said.
One benefit of having multiple houseboat communities, according to Schoninger, would be the creation of a trading pool. Residents could swap spots with a houseboat in another city for a few days – or a few months.
According to Schoninger, he’s already received numerous requests. So, what does a houseboat in The Strands run?
Schoninger said houseboats start at $259,000 for the one-bedroom model. A $2,500 gets you a spot in line and after that payment would be made in installment, with a portion due after design, initial frame construction, delivery and christening.
“Yes, every houseboat will get its own christening,” Schoninger said.
A slip at Port City Marina would be extra, but would include hurricane insurance, power, and other services.
And for those wondering where, exactly, houseboat owners would technically live, those living at The Strand would be Wilmington residents
“You’d be a Wilmington resident, getting your mail at Port City Marina,” Schoninger said.
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.